OHE November 10, 1997

Date: Mon, 10 Nov 1997 00:37:03 -1000
From: Wing C Ng (wing@lava.net)
Subject: "Auntie of all hikes"

We already had "mother of all hikes". How about something that is similar to a mother but not quite, like her sister, the Auntie? How about a hike in which I lost _both_ my machete _and_ my lopper?

In Jan. 1975 I came first time to Hawaii, and stayed in the East-West- Center dormitory in Manoa. I stared at the Koolau skyline, the jagged peaks between what I later knew as Konahuanui and Olympus, and wondered if there is even a way to climb them. More than 22 years later, I finally did it.

Many years ago, Stuart Ball told me about this crossing. He said it was "not particularly hard", but there is a spot with a tree that is steep and narrow, that is better done going up, from Olympus towards Konahuanui. The rest of the crossing is "not particularly hard".

Mike Uslan and I decided to do this crossing today, Nov. 9. We met at his house in Manoa, and then his wife drove us up to the Tantalus trailhead, from which we started at 7:20.

He had a lingering cold, and was coughing horrendously. He was also going slow, slower than _me_ going up Konahuanui. We saw 5 other people coming up behind us, and hoped that they would be joining us in the crossing also. I inspected the spot where there used to be a metal stake marking Olympus-Castle contour trail, and just as Mae reported, that stake is gone. I was feeling extremely good though, as the weather was cool, breezy, clear below 3500 feet, with high overcast; can't get any better. Mike asked me whether we'll be able to do it, and I replied that "I have no doubt".

We got to the top at 11:10, and the 5 came up after us. They _did_ intend to cross over: there is one older guy, one middle-aged guy, and 3 teenagers. The older guy says he's done the crossing before, citing a time of 3 hours. We were elated and waited for the 5 to finish lunch, and then started the crossing at 11:45.

As you can tell by looking at the skyline, or reading a topo map, Konahuanui is at 3105, Olympus is at 2486, and about 2/3 of the way across is the low point at about 2100. The crossing is thus "mostly downhill". The "steep point with a tree" is right there at the low point, but is hidden from sight by other peaks and quite invisible most of the way.

The trail was excellent at first, and I was making optimistic prediction of 2.5 hours crossing and be out "by three". In about an hour things turned ugly, at the descent from the second major peak after Konahuanui. This is at the word "RANGE" on the topo, between R and A. The descent was steep but manageable, but immediately we ran into a section where the top is too narrow, but there is no trail on the leeward side. We ended up hanging onto trees for dear life, to prevent us slipping off the leeward side down the steep slope. By this time Mike seemed to have kicked his cold and was in excellent shape. At one point I slipped and fell, and few minutes later, I discovered that my machete fell off. Mike's machete fell of earlier, and I said this is "the graveyard of a thousand machetes". Little did I know, it is also the graveyard of a thousand loppers.

Things then turned better and we topped another major peak and then came down a curious formation with two ridges enclosing a bowl. After that was several minor, unmemorable, but time-consuming ups and downs, and it's soon 3:30 already. So much for "be out by three".

By the way, all this time the older guy was acting as ramrod and as trail-finder. Without him our progress would have been definitely slower, and without him showing the way, I might have decided to call 911 Rescue at the "steep point with a tree".

That comes up: I see a clump of ironwoods, the only place there is ironwoods on this entire crossing, and I see the 5 disappearing totally under the ironwoods. Then I saw Mike in any acrobatic position, yelling at me, "hang on to the tree!"

I got to the spot and was astounded. It is a narrow rockwall with vertical 2000 feet drop on the left, and maybe 500 feet "merely steep" dropoff on the right. The ridge top is only a foot wide, and is occupied by the ironwood(s) [I never determined whether it was one single ironwood or more than one]. There is no cable or anything, and one has to hike through this tree, hanging onto it for dear life. Gosh, I've never done anything this dangerous!! The dropoff on the left will definitely end one's life.

I did manage to do it, and then ascended the next minor hill, which, by the way, is clearly visible from Manoa as a minor pyramid. It started all right, but gets steeper and narrower towards the top. I tried to find a detour on the right, and was sure there was one, but it looked too overgrown. So I had to climb straight up this narrow steep ridge, where one slip of the foot will send me hurtling on the left to my certain death. There was one critical maneuver that I contemplated for a whole minute before making it; thankfully I did not slip.

At the top I saw Mike on top of the next hill, furiously gesticulating about it being 4 pm. I yelled back "I am having the time of my life", and then noticed a fantastic rock formation in front of me actually with a ridiculously slim cable. Mike yelled "go down the crack!" Great advice: the crack goes down to a one inch wide crumbling foothold. Again, any slip will send me hurtling (definitely) to the left down 2000 feet. I hung my lopper from the loop on my pack, and contemplated for a full three minutes on what to do. I finally grabbed the cable with both hands and eased myself down on that miserable one inch crumbling foothold. I put my foot there for a second and then moved my weight to the right away from the edge, all this time hanging on to that slim cable for dear life. I can't believe I am doing this ... , for "fun".

I was so relieved that I immediately took a tumble after this, at a non-critical area. Few minutes later I realized that my lopper attached to the handle is also swallowed by this merciless trail. I assumed that this merciless trail intends to extort everything I own for letting me live past this day, and I did not dare to argue. I am definitely not going back to retrieve my lopper, like I did not go back to retrieve my machete couple hours ago.

Finally there is another ascent, up narrow, steep, slippery rock, just like the one on the pyramid, but I survived this last one, and by now everything is a blur ... .

The trail now ascends relatively gently to Mt. Olympus. This section is relatively easy and uneventful, and we got to the Olympus-Castle contour trail section that I opened up last year, and finally to Waahila ridge itself, by 5:20. The crossing took 5 hours 35 minutes. The older guy maintained that he started at 8 and came out at 5 about ten years ago, and that he did take only 3 hours for the crossing back then, for "there was a trail at that time".

Going down Waahila and then Kolowalu was uneventful. It got totally dark near the junction, and I hiked down wide-open Kolowalu in complete darkness, with only my flashlight and a half-full moon. Came out 7:40.

I realized that I (and Mike) never even had lunch today. It was so exciting that, like on Kipapa two weeks ago, I was living on pure excitement hormone.

What's the name for that "excitement hormone"? I can't recall, maybe some other day ... .


P.S. I did recall, it's adrenaline.

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