OHE May 22, 1999 (Kealia-Nihoa)

Date: Sat, 22 May 1999 22:34:18 -1000
From: Dayle K. Turner (turner@hawaii.edu>
Subject: The Junction Hike: Kealia-Nihoa

Clear skies, variable winds, and high humidity characterized Oahu's weather today, and after some contemplation, I decided to drive out to the North Shore to hike the Kealia Trail. The trailhead is located by the control tower of Dillingham Airfield, and I parked my vehicle in the lot by the tower and began hiking at 11:15.

A bunch of tents dotted the lawn fronting some structures across from the tower. An American flag billowing lazily from a makeshift flagpole amongst the tents clued me in that the tents might belong to a Scout troop.

The trail commenced just past a gate in a fence. Koa haole dominated early on. As the path switchbacked up the face of the pali, an array of vegetation lined the path, including some unusual trailside specimens like tomatoes, tobacco, and dates.

Because of the nearly nil winds and thick mugginess, I sweated heavily and gasped for breath at times during the climb. About halfway up, I realized my earlier hunch was correct when I encountered a half dozen scouts and their two adult leaders heading down. One of the leaders, seeing my sweat-soaked state, offered encouraging words, saying that the air was cooler at the ridgetop. With a half-smile, I nodded and plodded on.

When I reached the picnic shelter at the top, a dirty-coated poodle dashed over and darted around my feet. Its master, unaware of my presence at the moment, was seated at the picnic table, his back to me. While I wasn't concerned about the pooch biting me (its behavior was playful and non-aggressive), I was afraid that I'd accidentally step on a paw or dropkick it while it scampered yon and hither at my feet. This scenario was avoided when its master, a Professor Fun look-alike (remember him from Checkers & Pogo?), heard me approaching and summoned the poodle to him.

I had hoped to rest for a couple minutes at the shelter, but since the dog/man duo were there, I left them to their solitude and chugged on up the dirt road. The scout leader was correct, for the air was cooler at the top. Cooler didn't equate to comfortable, though. It was still hot, just not as steamy as the switchbacks.

About a quarter mile upridge of the picnic shelter, I reached a junction and made a right turn (toward Kaena Point) on a lesser-used dirt road (the main road continued straight ahead to eventually reach the rim of Makua Valley). The lesser-used road was quite pleasant as it dipped into a shady gulch lined with kukui trees. On the far side of the gulch, I reached another junction. There, I turned left and up (toward Makua) on an old, rutted jeep road lined by ironwoods and eucalyptus. The rutted road was steep at times, but when it leveled off at one point, I stopped at an open spot with a pretty view back toward Haleiwa and Waimea Bay. The hot climb up the switchbacks was forgotten by then, and I felt energized by the quiet, cool serenity of the forest.

After ascending the old road for a few minutes, I arrived at yet another junction (the dirt road system in this area is extensive). At that point, I headed right (toward Kaena) instead of continuing straight ahead toward Makua. By this time, it was a few minutes past noon, so at a cool, shaded spot under some ironwoods, I sat down to rest and to eat a peanut butter and pickle sandwich I packed for lunch. While eating, I noticed some reddish puffy blossoms on the branches of the ironwoods. I'd never seen ironwood blossoms before (if these indeed are blossoms), and I examined some more closely.

I spent ten minutes for lunch, and after popping a couple aspirins (an after-lunch ritual while hiking), I set off again, continuing on the old jeep road in the general direction of Kaena Point. The road was open and sunny for a spell, so I put on a pair of shades to cut the glare. In a few minutes, I found myself descending into a kukui-populated gulch, and when I ascended out of it, I arrived at another junction.

There I went right (the other option was to continue straight ahead and up toward Makua). Following the old road, I made a decision to leave it when I arrived at the head of next mauka-to-makai spur. I seemed to recall a group of friends using a faint trail on this spur as a shortcut to reach a sentinel hill with a panoramic view of the Mokuleia side and back towards the Kaena Point Tracking Station, so I figured why not give it a shot. Mauka up the spur I headed.

The trail, though not well used, was easy to track, and the vegetation was of the dryland forest variety, such as pukiawe, Christmas berry, and ilima. After a steep climb up a crumbly slope, I emerged on the upper Kuaokala Road (the one I had been on prior was the lower road). Above the road was the panoramic pu'u, and after circling to its backside, I climbed it to reach its crest.

Steve Poor used this pu'u as the lunchspot for the most recent HTMC version of the Nihoa Gulch hike, and I recognized the clearing in the grass that we cleared for this purpose. Since I had already eaten lunch, I didn't linger long atop the pu'u. I did spend a few minutes scanning the horizon to see if I could spot Kauai. I've never spotted the Garden Island from an Oahu vantage point but I heard such is possible from up high in the Waianae Range. I had no luck today even though viewing conditions were good.

While Kauai was out of sight, one advantage of scaling this hill was that I could scan the route I'd need to take to reach the spur I'd ultimately descend back to Mokuleia. If I could help it, I wanted to walking on jeep roads as much as possible for the rest of the hike, and I spotted a way where this might happen.

From the hill, I scrambled down a slope on its Kaena-facing side, pushed through some brush, and emerged on Upper Kuaokala Road bound for the Kaena Point Tracking Station. In a couple of minutes, I left the road to climb a small hill, and then descended a spur that headed makai toward Mokuleia.

Orange ribbons were tied to trees and brush along the spur, and a faint trail was visible. In about five minutes of descending, I noticed some of that mysterious string that was spotted in Kahana, Wahiawa Hills, and other places in the backcountry. I then spotted numbers on the ribbons--a sign that the string layers were of the same ilk.

Even though I had to scramble and weave a bit, I felt good to be on a trail instead of a road. There's something invigorating about the concentration that's needed to look for a marker, swath, cutting, or some other sign of a trail, and I enjoyed this much more than trudging along mindlessly on a dirt road. It appears that there may be a small population of goats in the area, for I spotted some scat and hoofmarks.

Twenty minutes of route-finding on this spur brought me to Lower Kuaokala Road again. I followed it toward Kaena for maybe five minutes then I arrived at a familiar junction--the one with a trail/old road that headed makai to a descent of the steep spur across from Camp Erdman.

Almost all the ribbons from the club hike have been taken down. Fortunately, I've hiked the route a handful of times since the club uses this route on the Nihoa Gulch outing, so I was sure I was heading the right way. The approach to the ridge-edge was dramatic, with the ridge proper, backed by the wide expanse of ocean off on Mokuleia, standing out as if it was an island.

The descent to Erdman, steep in spots, went well. I was in no hurry and stopped to watch some rock climbers practicing their avocation on a face a quarter mile away in the Kaena direction. Cables are in place at several pitches, and these aids are of the helpful-but-not-required category.

I needed about half an hour to complete the descent to Farrington Highway by Camp Erdman. From there, I walked a mile back to my vehicle at Dillingham Airfield. In all, I encountered no less than seven junctions. Fortunately, I'd hiked the area before, so I had a good understanding of what went where.

Tomorrow (Sunday), the HTMC trail maintenance crew is scheduled to work on Pauao Ridge--the north shoulder of Kahana Valley. I'll be joining a small group that will ascend the Poamoho Trail, cross over on the Koolau Summit Trail, and descend and open up a swath on Pauao Ridge to Kahana Valley. The bulk of the crew will be working from the bottom-up.

Safe hiking,


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