OHE--KST Backpack Day 6

Date: Mon, 26 Jul 1999 19:37:03 -1000
From: Greg Kingsley 
Subject: Koolau Summit Trail, Day 6

"Courting the Glorious Punaluu and Kahana Valleys"
Day 6:  Poamoho Cabin to Schofield-Waikane Trail 
Saturday, June 5, 1999

You'd think a posh cabin tucked high in a mountaintop forest would spell the grandest rest. Five days of backpacking, only to stretch out on the floor of a tent at the end of four (and huddle upon a cold rock at the end of an unforgettable one), made these tested backs yearn for a comfortable cottage bunk. Though neatly constructed, clean, and cozy, a night upon those wooden racks built into the stilted shelter seemed to be a spinal punishment concocted in some medieval leech-lined apothecary.

After a rather thick quasi-egg and semi-hashed browns breakfast, we restored the cabin to the condition it was found in and scooted into the final day of our Koolau Summit Trail adventure. We expended the fifteen minute head-start hiking beyond Poamoho Trail to Poamoho Cabin the previous day by twirling aimlessly about the brush in search of the continuation of KST. Climbing to the top of the hump behind the cabin, we backtracked about fifteen yards down the actual summit's ridgeline and connected with the graded footpath as it swept from left to lee.

The leeward side was definitely a muddy, weedy section but paled in comparison to the uluhe and clidemia-choked portions encountered in days prior. The trail had progressively become dryer, the mud-pits shallower, and the summit crest narrower and more defined. In addition, as the wondrous views would return to our eyes, it was obvious why this section of KST to points south probably received vastly more traffic than the leg through the Kahuku - Peahinaia stretch.

The KST eventually abandoned her western routing and delivered us back into the embrace of such stunning views. Throughout the traverse, I couldn't help but marvel at the more refined footpath: over 2,000-feet in elevation and chiseled several feet wide into the windward side of the Koolau Range. We took frequent pauses to stand above the verdure of Punaluu Valley, recalling that someone once reported that forty shades of green can be counted on the highlands of Scotland. That be the case, this place probably had a hundred! As we pressed forth, our gaze constantly featured the mysterious ridges about the treacherously reclusive Puu Manamana and Puu Kanehoalani: two prominent peaks above the ocean to our southeast. Directly south was the grim reaper of Puu Ohulehule, standing as a towering sentinel above Waikane Valley.

In too soon a time, we rounded about the peak called Puu Pauao, crossing above her child: the Pauao Ridge, atop which Puu Piei sits at the foot. Passing the junction, I pointed out various spots along the ridgeline on which the HTM trail clearers carved a trail a week earlier. Just like when I was bashing away at the uluhe from below on that day, stopping short within sight of the extensive ascent, I stared at the same precariously steep section - this time from above. It wasn't as steep as other trails I had been on, but being able to see the ascent/descent without obstruction and in its entirety was persuasive of its physical taxes. I knew the members of the HTM were to ascend from Kahana Valley to this exact spot on the next day.

The grade was gently ascending as we continued toward the junction with the Schofield-Waikane Trail. Two or three minor landslides littered this section of KST whereas the major impediment was the expanding brush from the mountain wall. Where the KST narrowed, a slight lean into the bushes while we walked added some protection to our footing: protection, not necessarily peace of mind. Views of mighty Puu Kaaumakua to the right of Ohulehule appeared at spur-points as we worked in and out of the small gullies. Viewings were, of course, at times when we weren't performing balancing acts wedged between the pushy plants on the right and a rather spacious void to the left.

Two hours from our start, we emerged onto a significant clearing, as the KST broke out from the wall into a pause between crest peaks. Realizing this would be the last of the Koolau Summit Trail we'd experience, we lounged about under the noon sun soaking in the grandeur of Kahana Valley. To the far left was our previous day's entrance onto this spectacular section of KST, the Poamoho Ridge Cabin hidden behind two of those open spots in the crest, while the rest of our journey from Laie Ridge was obscured by the peaks to the north. I yearned to continue on the KST as the skyscraping Puu Kaaumakua had barely a cloud at its flanks! Early KST planning had included an extra day and night to camp just off Kaaumakua and return via the Waikane Trail. Unfortunately, I was worried about the long road walk and access problems.

Of course, nothing can be left sacred these days, as the junction (and an earlier trailside rest stop) had signs of human presence. Juice bottles, MRE's, ration wrappers, and other litter (all of which looked like stuff one would obtain only at the military's commissary or military-related outlet) was tucked into the brush. For those who like to spend the time and energy to experience nature, why the same would trash the joint will always boggle me.

With one final long gaze and a deep breath of freedom above Kahana Valley, we bid a both jubilant and somber adieu to the Koolau Summit Trail and proceeded quietly down Schofield-Waikane (FKA Wahiawa and Wintera Trail) toward Wahiawa. With the exception of flat spot with a wide-open view of the Waianae Range, the excitement of the spectacular view to windward was replaced with capitulation: acknowledgement that the adventure was coming to an end. We sped down the trail at a full clip, moving as best we could with camping gear strapped to our backs.

The Schofield-Waikane Trail, for a ridgetop trail in this neck of the Koolau woods, was impressive! Short uluhe mounds to each side, a packed-mud path neatly manicured, and barely a need for any feet n' hands action, it was a welcomed way to exit. I had always wanted to try this trail, but never imagined it to be so pretty. In fact, the lower half of the trail was a pleasant, wide, grassy stroll through the woods. It was wide enough to be for a 4WD truck, but occasional narrow sections, ruts, and side-slopes precluded that possibility.

The only complaint we had (which was probably a product of post-KST-partum depression) was that this trail had become the Energizer Trail: it kept going and going and going. We passed the monotony by counting out the numbers almost-successively marked on pink ribbons at three to four yard intervals - from "50" to "1". These came in sets, found about halfway down the trail, segmented by ribbons with "DLNR Pig Transect" penned in black . . . I think there were five sets . . . Six miles shouldn't have lasted that long!

We finally reached the trailhead, dragging our 6-day trail-marinated, battered corpses up and onto the gravel road. We quickly (relatively speaking) shuffled down it, with verbal excuses pre-planned in case of an encounter with the Army's Schofield Barracks' military police patrols. An unforgiving sun, its round face unblemished by clouds, basted us in our juices, undoubtedly adding a third sunburn to the previous two I had acquired sometime over the past five days. I moaned and groaned as my cleats got banged up on the sharp pebbles until we finally entered the cool forest of the Army Rangers' East Range training center. Having been to this area before (with an unscheduled foray off the trail during the Wahiawa Hills trail clearing), I easily recognized this section. We ducked into the paperbark trees, evading military detection since the center was manned, and merged onto the loop trail which runs parallel to the training center's dirt road. Not more than five minutes later, we took the left at the water tanks and emerged into civilization just before 4:25 PM. We prepped our packs for the car ride, which fellow hiker Patrick Rorie was kind to supply. Ironically, as we would later discover, he was doing trail maintenance work on Puu Ohulehule before coming round to pick us up.

Content with seeing another human soul in this Wahiawa neighborhood after one hundred twenty four hours of being alone in the mountains, we boarded the Pat-mobile near 5 PM, scored a bladder-buster 64-oz drink at a 7-Eleven, and headed home to heal wounds and recount the tales for the next month. The lush mountains rapidly receding into our wake, the asphalt seemed a bit louder, the sidewalks a bit more crowded, and everything familiar just a tad more foreign, yet inviting.

As the deep abrasions and near-lacerations of those six days began to heal, I felt an invigorated fondness for the Koolaus. Though at that point the unspoken words "never again" seemed prominent with our disheveled hair, our tattered rags, our shredded limbs, our forlorn countenance, we never predicted that in the next month our paths would cross once more with the Koolau Summit Trail. For within the moment I recalled a part of a poem I wrote long ago, during my Boy Scout days, regarding a backpacking trip I took which best describes the solace to all my physical strains almost fifteen years later:

     ". . . I know a mountain, which has a piece of me, 
     and I have a piece of it,
     I know a Mountain and the mountain knows me . . ."

Happy hiking, everyone!

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