OHE November 13, 1997

Date: Thu, 13 Nov 1997 08:04:50 -1000
From: peter caldwell (pekelo@lava.net)
Subject: Puu Kaaumakua, NE Ridge

Trying to reach the moss-covered exposed root of a small ohia tree, I tentatively tried a foothold to my left. Damp rock,dirt, and ferns slid away below me. Above me, the top of the ridge was tantalizingly close. Don climbed up to a secure foothold om the roots of a guava tree that now held both of us. To have come up over 100 nearly vertical feet from the trail below and to be stopped now would definitely be frustrating. I suggested that maybe he would have better luck from his lower position. With a big stretch, he was able to make it to the tree and from there on up the remaining 12 feet to the ridgetop. I followed with Paka-lolo shortly behind, and the three of us were sitting on the very narrow ridge whose steep drop-offs were masked by the dense vegetation. Time to assess the situation as going back down the way we had come didn't look too appealing.

The goal for the day had been to explore the ridge as an alternate route to the washed-out Waikane trail. Dick Davis, the old-time HTM stalwart, had told me once that it was no problem, but he could be a teller of tall tales. We also planned on doing some work clearing the ditch trail on the way up to the Waikane-Kahana saddle. This well-built contour trail with its huge albezia trees and rockwork was suffering from the same neglect as the upper trail. After an hours walk up the road and from the flume close to the end, this trail climbs up in 45 minutes or so to a spectacular viewpoint, arguably one of the very best on Oahu. We had paused there again to whoop it up at the sight of Waikane Valley and Kaneohe Bay beyond, Koiele and Ohulehule, upper Kahana to the north plus the whole sweep of the Koolau pali with the noticeable groove of a windward section of the KST high above near the Schofield-Waikane trail junction.

We then turned our sights to the Puu Kaaumakua ridge which looked reasonable but heavily vegetated. A lttle out of view was some narrower sections near the top that we knew existed form the contour map and seen from profile vantage points. Why?? Probably only a major reconstruction job would be able to make the severely washed-out upper Waikane trail safe again. From our June Kipapa-Schofield KST adventure, we had seen glimpses of the region already, and we wanted to explore this relatively remote area with its wonderful vistas again preferably under clearer conditions. What better way to return than by a new, more direct route?

So after warming up by cuttting a few guava tree that had fallen across the lower trail, I ditched my saw, Paka-lolo, the ribbon man, unlimbered his bolo knife, and off we went. Deciding to gain the ridge as easily as possible, we started up right from the junction with the saddle trail. Wrong! This move turned out to be good for a laugh plus a frustrating half hour battle through tangled uluhe and clidemia as we found ourselves back down on the trail again when the ridge took a dip down. Reasoning we could make better progress on the trail itself for awhile,, we went along trying to pick another likely spot to climb up to the ridge again. After one false start and passing a bend in the trail, we reached a point where it was now or never. The trail, now clinging to the side of a steeper slope and overgrown with clidemia and ginger, was dropping too far below the ridgetop, and above us it was getting very steep.

Yelling back to Paka-lolo that we were going up, I led off picking a route that went from tree to tree and seemed to offer a chance for us. It was pretty exhausting work, and without the small trees, mostly sturdy guava, I don't think we could have made it very far. I looked down and saw Paka-lolo flagging away. What kind of nut would follow those ribbons? There had to be an easier way I thought.

So it was after a lunch break, we decide to push on up the ridge and see how far we could get. Then the plan was to descend the main ridge further down and try and pick up a side spur that would take us to the bend in the trail we had passed.

Paka-lolo plunged ahead and disappeared from sight. Very little in my mountain experience with the exception of deep snow equals these frustrating conditions. Uluhe up to mid-chest, 'ie'ie vines and branches restricting every movement, and uncertain slippery foooting combined with the effects of gravity slow upward progress to a crawl (which also is necessary occasionally!). At times, you are walking on tree limbs as the actual ground is hidden below you. A step into uluhe can result in a plunge into a hole between rotting branches and roots or worse yet, off the narrow ridge itself just as though you had stepped on an unsupported snow cornice. Time for caution but yet an exhilirating challenge knowing that very few people if anybody at all had ever been here before.

Every so often, we popped up above the vegetation for an increasingly spectacular view across to Ohuluehule, now Manamana, and more of Kahana Valley. An adjoining ridge to the north was now below us, and the actual crest visible to the south seemed a lot closer now. As always, the lure of the summit was getting strong, but we knew we would have to turn back soon because we still didn't know what was in store for us below.

We probably were getting close to the 2000-foot level, and the vegetation problems would lessen as we got closer to the top. Another Schofield exit by flashlight? Who would we call to pick us up this time? Nah, nah. Logic prevailed, and Paka marked our high point in a small gap next to a loulu palm. We reversed course with Don in the lead. Time for some more pictures for sure, and I took out my camera, shaking off uluhe fragments. Not being in the lead had its advantages from a photographic standpoint. I burned up some film while Don probed and pushed his way back down. I tried to take a shot of an unusual scale-like layer of tiny ferns in its own ecosystem on one of the trees. Trunks and limbs were covered in places with a thick carpet of moss along with other epiphytic vegetation. I recognized olomea with its red-veined leaves, some tetraplasandra oahuensis with bracts of buds, and also what looked like a cyanea one of the lobeliods.

Once past the lunch spot, the ridge continued to be narrow, and several times was just impassable requiring a bypass on the less-steep right side. "I'm not touching anything yet!" said Don as he carefully lowered himself down through uluhe trying to find solid ground. The downward trip presented its own kind of uncertainties. After another 30 minutes, the slope on the left looked less steep and seemed to be broadening out suggesting our side ridge. We agreed it was time to bail and hope we didn't get stuck somewhere further down out of sight.

Down we went and after a few early anxious moments, it looked like we were on target. Sure enough, Paka and I spotted the trail down below to the left. A few minutes later, Don shouted up, "I'm on the trail!" , and we slid through onto familiar territory. It had only taken us a little more than an hour down from our high point, and best of all, we know had an easier route up to the main ridge. We high-fived all around, and I took some classic shots of Paka and Don prostrating themselves paying homage to Ohulehule.

After guzzling some drinks and refueling, we headed down to the saddle junction. Wielding his bolo knife with a vengeance, Paka-lolo attacked the clidemia and uluhe overhanging the trail. "Time to do a little harvesting," he said taking some vicious cuts. I had my own machete but soon realized that it had to be good and shatrp to do much damage to the clidemia. We reached the saddle viewpoint in time to catch another wonderful view as the sun ducked below the top of Puu Kaaumakua.

After retrieving my abandoned saw and in a flurry of trail clearing zeal, we spent the rest of the time removing some guava and old koa deadfalls blocking the trail. Getting rubber-armed from the effort, we started saying this one was going to be the last. Sometimes all three of us had to combine forces to send the offending tree crashing over the side. Yes! Paka-lolo earned himself a new nickname - Buzzsaw! Getting his crack at using the saw, he amazed us with his high RPM performance. It was like watching a video fast forward. Go for it, Paka! We finally called it quits as the hour was getting late. An okole-sliding shortcut down to the flume brought the session to a close.

Nothing left then but a long walk out the road, part of the way by flashlight. A partial moon cast ghostly silhouettes as we passed the abandoned cars on the lower section. Covering the last stretch of Waikane Valley road accompanied by a chorus of barking local dogs, we were back to our cars on the highway around 6:30 PM. Up above the dark shadow of Puu Kaaumakua seemed far away now. See you later! We'll be back to finish the job one of these days!

Aloha, guys!


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