OHE May 6, 1997

I've hiked many trails on Oahu but the section of the Koolau Summit Trail from Poamoho to Schofield-Waikane may top them all on the breath-taking scale. What follows is a write-up about a trek along that route Patrick Rorie and I tackled this past weekend (5/3 & 5/4). Also included is a segment where Patrick describes a short side-trip he took along the summit trail toward Kipapa.

Patrick and I rendezvoused with my younger brother Alika at the end of California Avenue in Wahiawa on Saturday afternoon at around 3. Patrick and I left our vehicles there and jumped in my brother's pickup for a dropoff at the head of the Poamoho trail.

The road to Poamoho is in good shape most of the way thanks to the work of a state-hired bulldozer which has smoothed out most of the rougher spots along the route. About a half mile prior to the trailhead, there is a hilly uphill section of the road that still is rutted fairly severely and after seeing a truck in front of us having some difficulty negotiating it, I suggested to my brother that he drop us off at the point before the bad section. He agreed. Patrick and I shouldered our packs and walked the final 15 minutes up the road to the trailhead, on the way passing a makai-bound truck carrying pig hunters, their dogs, and a sizable black pua'a they had put the coup de grace on.

Poamoho, a graded trail, is in good shape, so much so that Patrick and I, even with our bulky loads, were able to complete the 3 miles and change to the campsite just below the summit in under 90 minutes. It was about 5:30 when we got there, and with white clouds speeding by and occasional wind gusts whipping through the narrow valley we were in, we hustled to set up our tents and prepare our evening meal. At around 7:30, a sudden rain shower forced us to take cover in our shelters and hit the hay (or try to) for the night.

I was up and about the next morning around 6 and Patrick popped out of his tent a little bit after that. The skies were cloudy and gray but some bright patches gave us hope of better conditions ahead. We ate breakfast, packed up our gear, and were headed for the summit at 7:55. Five minutes later, we passed the Cline Memorial stone and hiked a few yards further to the wind-whipped crest. Clouds obscured the view of the windward side but we remained optimistic that the white stuff would dissipate at some point.

From the high point of Poamoho, we headed southeast along the Koolau Summit Trail, a graded mountain byway that jumps back and forth between the windward and leeward sides of the spine. The initial half mile is mostly along the leeward (and more overgrown) side. In 20 minutes, we plowed our way through the uluhe to a little ravine where the Poamoho cabin once stood. All that remains now are its cement foundation blocks. During my previous visit to the site about a year and a half ago, the wooden shell of the cabin was still there. Where had the shell gone? Blown away by a storm? Burned down by vandals? Who knows.

Eventually, we pushed through the worst of lee-facing sections of the summit trail and began a long contour section cut into the windward-facing mountainside. At one point, maybe about 30 minutes into the hike, Patrick and I were looking into clouds. Then, whoosh, like a Steven Speilberg movie, a sustained gust of wind drove the clouds upward and out of sight. Voila! Kahana Valley was spread out at our feet. We paused there, muttering stuff like "awesome," "unreal," "spectacular," "amazing." No exaggeration, gang.

While the view was superb, equally impressive was the summit trail itself, still holding steadfastly to its basic design despite 60-plus years of exposure to wind and rain. A nice array of native vegetation populates the trail, and despite only a modest knowledge of Hawaiian flora, I could recognize species such as loulu, lapalapa, lobelia, kopiko, and hapu'u. Occasionally, small landslides, erosion or slippage forced us to scramble and pick our way along the slope, but nowhere did I ever feel imperilled even with the pali dropping 2,400 feet to the floor of Kahana Valley below us most of the way.

One of the most memorable points along the trail was when we rounded a corner below Pu'u Pauao. There we could see the trail etched into the mountainside a good mile away. Also in view were much of the windward side to the east, including Kaneohe Bay and the Mokulua Isles off Lanikai. Of course, Ohulehule and Manamana dominated the nearby landscape. In fact, we constantly scanned the ridgeline leading to the former because we knew the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club had a hike scheduled to the saddle just below the summit of Ohulehule that morning (later on, we did spot HTMC hikers eating lunch at the saddle).

We completed the traverse from Poamoho to the top of Schofield-Waikane at just past 10 a.m., taking a bit more than two hours (and well-spent hours they were). Patrick, who has the stature of a football defensive back, undoubtedly could have negotiated the distance in perhaps a half hour less, but the good hiker that he is, he would forge ahead and then slow down or pause for me, built more along the lines of an offensive lineman, to catch up.

At the junction, a small clearing with a nice view right down the heart of Kahana Valley, Patrick decided that he wanted to do some exploring further along the summit trail toward Kipapa in preparation for a future trek (his write-up about this interlude follows).

I decided to stay put to rest for a few minutes and then begin hacking vegetation from the upper part of the Schofield-Waikane trail as part of the scheduled outing of the HTMC maintenance crew, who began clearing from the trailhead at around 8. I met the first member of the HTMC gang, Mike Mottl, along the trail at 11:15 Other HTMC clearing gang members arrived during the next hour. Also swinging by overhead was the HFD rescue chopper at around 11:40, ten minutes after the time Patrick agreed he'd return to the S-W summit from his exploratory jaunt. Was Psycho in trouble?

Turns out he wasn't. Neither were any members of the HTMC clearing gang. The chopper? Dunno why it was buzzing about deep in the Koolaus.

== Pat's supplement to my Poamoho-Ko'olau Summit-Schofield writeup ==

After departing Schofield summit area at approx. 10:15 I headed for Waikane/Ko'olau Summit Trail (KST) junction which can be clearly seen from Schofield summit. It took about 13 minutes to get to the junction. I almost walked past it but looked right and noticed a 5 foot rusty metal post marking the junction. Three minutes later I finished the short windward section and entered the long leeward section expecting (and finding) the worst.

Just a quick note: the windward sections of the KST tend to be much easier to hike because they are windswept (vegetation growth is held in check by the strong gusts). The leeward sections on the other hand tend to be overgrown.

This leeward section leading to Kipapa summit was no exception. Uluhe and clidemia choked the trail so much that I was forced almost completely off of it. Instead of pushing thru I cleared anticipating a Kipapa/Waikane trans Ko'olau hike in 6 weeks or so. About 8 minutes down this leeward section I found a major landslide. Drawing from Waikane landslide experience I cut my way thru the uluhe and carefully stepped over the soil and large tree trunks. Pressing on I discovered another less severe landslide. This time I simply walked down into and across it to where the trail continued. A little further on a third landslide could be seen just below the trail. I walked gingerly past and stopped for a breather. This first section of the leeward side had been a "Bear". Knowing that I had a time limit I moved forward and much to my surprise and delight the trail became a freeway. Apparently it was windswept enough to keep the foliage from taking over.

Unfortunately the freeway came to an end but the trail was not as bad as the first section. After I turned left around a bend, a shortcut down into a small gully and thru a clidemia thicket appeared. I moved reasonably well thru it still cutting with bolo knife. After going around two more corners and a short stretch I got to a nice windward lookout. Ohulehule could be seen to the left with Waikane valley almost straight down and Chinaman's hat between the two. Continuing on the trail for the remaining time it never became a freeway again but did not return to conditions similar to the first section either. Also, most of the Waianae range could be seen along the trail. A big regret was not bringing ribbon to mark the progress made. Having exhausted all of my alloted time I turned around and headed back to Schofield summit.

== End of Pat's Supplement ==

The rest of the day was uneventful. After clearing down the trail for an hour, I returned to the summit to eat lunch with the HTMC gang and to retrieve my pack. On the descent, we cleared for about the first hour and then hiked out to the trailhead for the remaining 90 to 120 minutes.

After a 2-mile truck ride on a dirt road to the Ranger Station near the watertanks at the top of California Avenue, we partook of our traditional post-clearing "goodies" prepared by Mabel Kekina and crew. Then HTMC vet Kost Pankiwskyj ferried Patrick and I to our cars a short distance away to complete our most excellent adventure.

What's next? Stay tuned.

Hike safe everyone and keep me posted about your hiking haps.


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