OHE May 26, 1999 (Old Pali Free-climb)

Date: Wed, 26 May 1999 20:02:09 -1000
From: Greg Kingsley (gkingsle@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Old Pali Made Interesting

Free-climbing was something I never attributed to the Old Pali Road hike! But the variation a friend and I took this Tuesday made this easy "WUSS" trail relatively interesting.

We took the usual, leisurely route down Old Pali Road, passed a bunch of uphill huffers and puffers, crossed underneath the Pali Hwy, and traversed the downhill section of Kionaole Road. The temperature was perfect as skies remained overcast for most of the journey. We proceeded up the vegetation-covered steps and switchbacked into the forest. Reaching the first junction, I saw the trail to the right and wondered (as usual) where it went. We continued on the regular trail and meandered in and out of the gullies with occasional photo ops, such as at the small fern pool tucked away into the trees. I noted how dry the path was this time of the year (as compared to the last trip I took during winter). We reached the white-washing waterfall and broke for lunch about 10 minutes later, admiring the fluorescent impatients in bloom.

With our lunches downed and her photo session finished, we headed back for the uphill walk. We got to the second junction (as counted from the road toward Likeke) and decided to turn downhill instead of returning along the prescribed route. The path took us on a wide trail through wide leaves, various gingers, and, of course, more photo-ops of the plants. About 15 minutes later, we emerged on a lower section of the Kionaole Road.

We turned right, after encountering a walker with her two playful mutts. After about 10 minutes uphill, we found a 4WD road to the right (approx elev. 520-ft). We decided to veer off the asphalt and continue up this grassy path. It eventually narrowed into a trail atop a minor ridge on which a large powerline pylon resides. Looking back afforded better views of Kaneohe/Kailua than the road walk. Passing under the pylon, we continued up the ridge as it retuned us to the overhead vegetation. Eventually, we encountered the first junction of the Old Pali/Likeke route.

Again, we decided to opt for the less-travelled path. We continued straight up the ridge (instead of turning left to return to the road). The trail was well-defined and it encouraged us with the idea that it was leading us somewhere. It began to steepen and I started to pine for my cleats.

About 15 minutes later, we topped out at the end of the trail: the small, flat, grassy section on the right town-bound shoulder of Pali Hwy (just before the first of the two tunnels). The maps show this to be at an elevation of about 900 feet. We both knew we were going to continue, regardless of how steep things were getting. At this point, my only concern was getting up and over the concrete sides of the Old Pali Road, since most of one side was built into the mountainside and most of the other side didn't come within a manageable height to climb (without climbing straight up a rope).

After a moment to collect our thoughts and enjoy being an unusually-dressed roadside spectacle to passers-by, we ducked off a corner of the grassy flat, took off our packs, and squeezed through a road expansion slot less than two feet across, spanning the townbound lanes. Popping through a small space between road and earth, we emerged between the two directions of rush-hour traffic. We walked up to the opening of the Pali Tunnels to get a better view of the oncoming cars. I spotted a sign at the entrance which I never noticed before, which gave reference to the 1956-1959 construction during territorial Hawaii. We crossed the highway (the most dangerous part of the trail), walked on the right side of the Kailua-bound lanes, and turned right just at the "Lights?" sign. So began the free-climb.

Vines and grassy overgrowth became our footholds since the soil was too loose to depend upon. Rounding deeper into the gully, we took a quick side-ways detour after spotting the base of a waterfall - the headwaters of which came from the "hidden valley" along Old Pali Road. After poking about, we continued up the vines back up the near-vertical 80-foot ascent.

About 10 minutes of exciting foot-slips and loosened roots brought us an idea of what lay ahead. We could make out a location along the Old Pali Road in which either the makai edge was accessible or where we could back-track a little, duck under the road, and come up on the mauka side (theoretically). Zig-zagging through the vines once more, with an occasional glance at the Kailua-bound cars and trucks zipping right below our climb, I really wished I had my cleats on. We finally reached a short section just below and to the side of the road in which you could actually stand upright and hike up. A minute and an ally-oop later, we were both up and over the concrete side.

We crossed into the hidden valley and to the small waterfall in the back. As we sat, I remembered Sacred Falls and began to wonder if there was any way to detect the "symptoms" of an impending rockslide from above. We thought about continuing the adventure up the ridge and down into the parking lot, but the overcast skies drooped low and began pelting us with raindrops. We dashed out of the valley and up the now-slimy road (thankfully, I DIDN'T have my cleats on!).

We got back to a clouded, misty, tourist-less Pali Lookout and sat on a nearby tree limb to wait out the rain. We talked about "what in the world were we doing" while she dined on an apple. The only fee for today's jaunt? A wheezy chest-cold from the wet motorcycle ride home.

Happy (and SAFE) hiking, everyone!

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