Date: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 15:30:42 -1000 From: Wing C Ng
Subject: Pohakea Pass
I have wanted to do Pohakea Pass for 20 years. One time in '82, I took my dirt motorbike to try to go up the dirt road. I think I was stopped by pineapple people.
Got to the Golf Course shortly after 8. Paka is said to be coming, but never showed up even at 8:30.
"Dispute" flared up immediately. Steve wants to go right, I want to go left, and so we parted ways. Greg meekly goes right.
Two minutes later, there is a major compacted dirt road. Take that. About 10 minutes in, there is a fork, and there is a sign saying "3D Ranch -->". The dirt road to Pohakea goes to the right, through the ranch, and so I took the left fork.
I think this is the same road that goes to Palikea trailhead. It makes a sharp left turn some 20 minutes later, and there is a gate on the right, with a sign "No T, No shooting" etc. I crawled under the fence-gate.
If you look at the map, that road curves right and almost meets the Pohakea road. I thought I might be able to cross the gully, and then meet P. road higher up, beyond the Ranch.
I just picked the path of least resistance right and up, leaving lots of ribbons, so that I won't get lost coming back. After a while (didn't even look at the time), I reached a major dirt road, and I was elated: Honouliuli!!
I am actually not sure what it is, almost certainly not Honouliuli, too low yet. There is a fence on the mauka side of the dirt road, indicating it might be the forest reserve boundary. The map shows that the slope is very gentle up to the f.r.b. and then it gets steeper, and the slope has been very gentle. I contemplate hopping the fence (very easy at this point), and was startled by animal noises. I had no weapons today (Steve mumbles about being unarmed entering Nature Cons. territory), and turns out it was a horse. Why a horse _beyond_ the fence? Maybe he escaped??
I can see a big ridge on the right, separated by a considerable gully. That ridge is probably the one going to Pohakea South Peak. The map shows that the P.road takes the ridge to P. South, and then hops over the ridge to P. North, and so if I cross over, I shall reach Pohakea Road somehow.
But I don't feel like doing this alone, and so I retreated.
I decided to check out 3D Ranch. I took the right fork and in no time there are houses near the road. I decided to keep going, hoping to find an opening ....
A truck came by, and backtracked. It's got coils of fence on the truckbed. Driver identified himself as owner of the Ranch, so the Ranch extends all the way almost to Kaua trail. I identified myself as member of Nature Cons., and asked for permission to do Pohakea road, indeed I asked, doesn't Nature Cons. deal with you? He refused permission, but did say, "you should have Joanne call me". (Joanne must be N.C. honcho.)
Since there is no point in finding an opening, I told him I am going back, which I did.
Steve and Greg were not back yet when I got to the parking. Wondered if they got busted by 3D or M16?
Seems that there are two ways to get to Pohakea: continue what I did, or go up Kaua and take Honouliuli left. Unless you manage to convice "Joanne".
Del Monte is cool today. Workers looked at me walking and ignored my presence.
Ever since I nabbed a copy of the Schofield Barracks Quad topographic map, I've always wondered about the lesser known of two passes along the Waianae crest called Pohakea Pass. One reason for this curiosity was due to a mapped trail from the fields at Kunia right through Pohakea Pass and down into the Lualualei basin. I had never seen it nor known anyone who'd traversed it.
Meeting up with Steve Poor and Wing Ng at the Hawaii Country Club (elev. 760 ft), we did a quick topo-map review to determine if we'd head up Puu Kaua (elev. 3,127 ft) first then head south to the Pass or if we'd traverse into military territory after reaching the Pass. When no one else showed up, we set out on our way.
The day was excellent, in terms of weather. The Waianae crest, which had a light crown of cloud earlier in the morning, was thrillingly clear. The skies were mixed, offering either overcast or scattered clouds, and the breezes were brisk enough to penetrate the shallow gulches Thus, temperatures were quite pleasant, even when we entered areas sheltered from direct wind.
To hike any portion of the windward Waianae Mountains, one must proceed through restricted territory and this particular area was the domain of Dole Foods. On the drive to the HCC, I had spotted a gray vehicle parked in the pineapple fields in the vicinity of a fruit hauler in operation. It was surmised that this was a supervisor's truck or van - something to avoid on the walk in. I wasn't sure if it was still there fifteen minutes after my arrival, but Steve decided to play it safe and headed north along Kunia Road before entering the agricultural property. I followed along, but Wing decided to hang back and wait for the others to show - it'd be the last we'd see of him for the remainder of the day. He later took a more southerly approach, came close to the road up to Pohakea Pass, but was intercepted and confronted by a ranch owner who then denied his request for permission to cross.
About 50-yards from the HCC, we left Kunia Road and wagged our way through the sparse trees and onto the dirt road at the edge of Ekahanui Gulch. Working Steve's idea of a clandestine approach, we ducked under the cover of lantana shrubs and high grass at the sign of an approaching gray SUV which later whizzed by on the dirt road. From then on, we remained ducking and diving through the mass overgrowth of trashy weeds towering above the tops of our heads. What would normally take about 30 - 40 minutes to reach the foot of the mountains ended up costing us over double that time.
Finding a distinct, but overgrown (what's new?), dirt path that probably has not seen any continual use since the days of pack mules, we ascended a gently rising finger of land - the early form of a ridge (it looks, on the topo-map, to be between the letters "I" and "U" in the big "HONOULULI"). We penetrated a grove of eucalyptus trees - the scent a welcomed change from grass sap. As the path veered to the right (heading toward the Kaua Trail), and after a short break, we crossed a wire fence at the high side of a bouldery streambed. A dance with the thick clumps of unrelenting vines, followed by scramble up the loose hillside, resulted in obtaining the defined ridgeline bound for the crest. (On the topo-map, this looks to be above and just to the right of the "I" and forest reserve boundary.) Steve affixed the occasional ribbon en route.
The ridgeline maintained its constant grade, except for a considerably level section. A fifteen minute crest-bound trek brought us smack into the Honouliuli Contour Trail (elev. 1,760 ft). We took the left-turn and progressed in a southerly manner into the first gully's head. Steve was about to ascend its rather steep face, but I felt we had not gone far enough south to have cleared the wide shoulders (and a steep drop-off) of Puu Kaua. As such, we continued along the firebreak trail, noting how unmanaged this particular stretch was and how it was getting progressively worse as we continued. Although severely littered and blocked with tree blow-downs and landslides, only a few detours above/below the trail were necessary. However, at one gully crossing, we did lose sight of the trail for about five minutes.
In a relatively decent section of the Honouliuli Contour Trail two gullies south of our initial entry, we took a short break along a minor ridgeline (an outside apex of the winding contour trail). We decided to ascend at this point since we spotted, what Steve dubbed, the face of John F. Kennedy (an outcropped formation along the crest). Based on what I saw when I walked a few yards past our rest-stop and a post-hike map review, we were on the north "toe" of a two-toe unnamed ridge I'll dub "Pohakea Ridge". If we had continued along the contour trail for about fifty yards, we'd have met up with the Pohakea Trail which is on the south "toe".
Unaware of this, we began the ascent. Less than fifteen minutes later, when the two toes merged to form a single ridge, we came across the Pohakea Trail. Wide enough for a standard truck, the trail remains atop this graded ridgetop throughout the majority of the climb. Overhanging limbs and rogue trees (and deep ruts lower in the trail) prevent vehicular traffic, but hiking through is a breeze. And since longitudinally the approach to this section of the Waianae crest is about 0.5 mile closer (toward Kunia) and less of an ascent (about a 1,000-foot difference) than the neighboring Kaua and Kanehoa Trails, the trek to Pohakea Pass is a speedy one.
The natural music as you approach the Pass is awesome! The wind, channelled through pine trees nestled between a pair of 200+ foot peaks, creates a sound similar to a crashing waterfall. After passing a dilapidated platform and the corrugated-metal remnants of what was most likely a round-the-clock guard shack, lantana dominates the final approach. At this point, the trail contours off the ridgeline to the left (south) of the base of a relatively treacherous, rocky, 240-foot drop along the crest. In the past, several hikers, attempting to reach Pohakea Pass from Puu Kaua, were stopped out at the top of this drop.
Almost immediately, Steve and I reached the actual crest of Pohakea Pass (elev 2,170 ft), which is a narrow saddle buried under swaying pine fronds. Steve pointed out the descent trail which eventually leads to the cul-de-sac on Dent Street (Lualualei Naval Magazine). The view along the entire section is impaired by the cluster of trees, but the bedding of pine needles and blast of cool air remedies the hiker's troubles. For those who demand clear panoramic views: we trekked about five minutes southward to the base of the climb to the top of the rocky crest and to crest peaks toward Makakilo. Though no easy or risk-free task, the climb definitely looks doable.
At about noon, we plopped down for lunch on the leeward side of a rock pile. I noted here, and all throughout the ascent, the signs of a forest fire many years ago. Despite the few used cans laying about and the abandoned water vat and framework, the whole stretch contains several shady, pine-matted spots perfect for campsites. Relunctantly, I heeded the 12:30 queue to depart.
As on our way up, we did a little clearing on the way down. Instead of taking the north "toe", we continued down the Pohakea Trail past the Honouliuli Contour Trail junction. The overgrowth was worse in these lower sections as there was a greater density of trees in the center of the trail. However, the 15-minute descent proceeded without significant hindrance on the part of vegetation.
Interestingly enough, we came across the second junction with the Honouliuli Contour Trail when the Pohakea Trail eventually merged into an unimproved dirt road in excellent condition - even for regular passenger cars! The map indicates this dirt road is the southern half of the contour trail while the simple foot-path comprises the northern half. However, as we did not investigate this road, its continued prime condition deeper into and south of the Pohakea Valley is unknown.
Side-stepping a healthy smattering of horse pies all over the road, it was obvious that they were allowed free-reign to the area. Spotted en route was a helicopter landing zone marked with a large, white-painted, wooden "X" on the ground. Shortly after, we reached the first gate (of the descent) lacking any identification sign other than the usual "Welcome, hikers... feel free to enter" message. Directly across, and to my surprise, was another gate to a notable complex of cattle/horse corrals and a big overhead sign reading "Pohakea Ranch". To the left (north) was yet a third wooden, but unsigned, pair of gates - a vehicular gate to a wide dirt road and a personnel gate to a descending footpath. Other than the Pohakea Road, none of this is on the map, mind you...
We climbed under the left footpath gate to avoid the ranch and as we had done in the beginning of our day, bushwhacked with shins and arms our way through the mass hysteria of hyper grass blades and assorted weed life. Luckily, we intercepted an overgrown pack-mule path, but that was cut short by a horde of vehicles and jolly workers or ranch residents gathered at the junction. Again, we dropped down low into the brush and maneuvered until we reached the pineapple fields. We reached the HCC at around 2 PM.
It was an interesting day finding an old trail called by Steve, "a four-star hike!". It will definitely be seeing more use in the future.
Happy Hiking! Greg