Kipapa to Manana--Day 2
The night we spent at the summit went fairly well--for most of us, that is. At about 4 a.m., strong gusts of wind slammed over the top of the hill to the south of us, and Pat's tent could not weather the storm, as it were. His attempt to fix it proved futile, and he decided to ride out the rest of the night in his rain gear and the collapsed shell of his one-time shelter. That wasn't so bad until periodic rain bursts pelted us. To say Pat had a less than restful night would be an understatement.
Most of us were awake by six and with mist and cold winds coursing through the ravine we were not eager to rouse ourselves from the shelter of our tents. I had grabbed at least six or so hours of sleep throughout the night, not bad considering I only had a plastic tarp for a blanket and my Thermarest mattress had slid out from under me so I was only sleeping on portion of it. Fatigue not only makes us cowards and idiots, as a famous football coach once said, but more prone to sleep heavily even under adverse conditions.
Eating breakfast and then packing our gear in the mist and cold went slowly. Pat was unusually somber, certainly as a result of the rough night he had. It seemed no one was eager for what lay ahead, particularly since the weather was so dreary. But eat and pack we did and by 8:15 we departed our little ravine on the Koolau summit and were off for the unknown.
We climbed the hill to the south of us, dropped down, then climbed a narrow wind-whipped ridge. While ascending, the top button of my military fatigue pants popped off. Not good. Since I was beltless, my trousers summarily fell to my ankles. While ordinarily a comical situation (we can all laugh about it now), I was not in the guffawing mood while perched thusly on a precarious ridge. With 20 to 25 mph gusts ripping over the crest, I yelled to Laredo, who was right in front of me, asking for some rope or string I could use as a makeshift belt. Turns out Gene had a coil of string, and Laredo, always one to lend brevity in the face of peril, asked, "Whatdaya need, 100 feet?"
Har, Har, Laredo.
Actually I needed about 96 feet less and after cutting off such a length, threading it through my belt loop, and tying a knot, I had my belt.
About a quarter mile from our campsite, we climbed a hill with a metal pipe pounded into the ground at its crest. This appeared to be the 2,750-foot elevation point on the topo map and also a favorable site for pitching tents. It is also there that a fairly massive ridge drops to windward and divides Waiahole from Waikane Valley. We were still clouded-in at that point but we continued on nonetheless.
From the 2,750 point, we descended a hillside of low grass and continued down on the shoulder of a shallow ravine to the right. This looked to be the domain of na pua'a, although we never saw any. Pat did point out a clump of guava trees in there, noting his displeasure about how such a pesky species had established itself on the high summit of the Koolaus. On that same topic, Pete mentioned how surprised he was that clidemia had made inroads on what he thought would be totally pristine summit sections. While not overly plentiful, clidemia was certainly visible along the way. And as Pete mentioned, as much displeasure we hold for it, clidemia makes for sturdier handholds than many species of native plants.
As for native species, I spotted many I had never seen on other outings on Oahu's mountain ridges. Unfortunately, I'm not nearly as well-versed in identifying flora as HTMC colleagues Kost Pankiwskyj and Ken Suzuki, but I'm improving. Among the species I did recognize include ohi'a lehua, including some very ancient ones covered with limu (moss); hapu'u (fern); hulumoa (Hawaiian mistletoe); wawae'iole; kopiko; alani; ohelo (edible red berries); akala (raspberry); and maile.
We climbed and descended a hill, climbed another (2386 point on the map) and began a steady descent to Waiawa gap, the lowpoint of the summit traverse at an elevation of 2,100~ feet. During this descent, we spotted the first of several blue ribbons along the route. This was a surprise because although the ribbon was old, perhaps 2 to 3 years, it was not 25 years old and left by the hiking legend Silver Piliwale, who we knew had traversed the route in the 1970s. We speculated that perhaps some military type had ramrodded along the crest. Maybe it was a hunter. Who knows?
As we continued the descent to the gap, the views began to open up. The sight of the windward side, especially green Waiahole Valley below, was superb. Even more superb were the views of the ridge ahead of us, the distinct bend where the ridge bends east, and the section we had negotiated from Kipapa. "We did that?" I yelled while gazing back at some imposing pinnacles and slopes. "Unreal." Pete, Pat and Gene snapped photos to document our journey in that way.
One of the benefits of having visual clarity at the crest is some foreplanning can be made for upcoming sections. For example, while making our way down to the low point of the gap, we could see several steep slopes ascending its far side. At a distance, we could determine which one looked more manageable and choose what seemed the most promising. By 11 a.m., we had reached Waiawa Gap and began a grueling ascent to regain most of the elevation we had lost.
I should note we had planned to look for water at the gap since topo maps show the head of Waiawa Stream quite near there. But our water supply was judged adequate at that point; plus the area was thickly vegetated and finding the stream would have required an energy-burning bushwhack, so we opted to press on.
From the gap, we made several big climbs, the first up a muddy- soiled hillside. At around noontime, after more tough climbing, we reached hill 2520 on the map where we had nice panoramic views to windward and leeward. Near the top of the hill we found a ti plant and some ginger, perhaps planted by the great Piliwale himself. We ate lunch on the hilltop, with the main entree being some humus and pita bread Pete had brought along. I was so tired I could only force down half a power bar. Plus I only had a quart of water left (I had consumed a gallon up to that point) which would have to hold me until the Manana summit, where I had staged a gallon of water the week before. Pete remarked if we reached Manana by at 4, we could still make it out "with artificial illumination." What a prophet he turned out to be.
From hill 2520, the ridge temporarily ends its southern tack and veers sharply to the east heading for the point we called "The Corner." There the crest turns sharply south again and in half a mile is the summit of Manana. But we still had a way to go before gaining the Manana summit.
Ups and downs continued, and I'd say 75% of the time we were hiking along the perilous windward edge of the crest. In such a situation, we took every step with care, tree branches became our best friends, even the usually dreaded clidemia was an ally. More times than I care to remember I found myself in the following scenario: hands grasping the branch of a tree; backside facing windward; heels on the edge of a cliff that falls off a long way; one foot swings around tree to solid ground; then while holding fast and hoping the branch won't break, the other leg follows. And onward I trudged. Factor in a heavy pack, gusty trade winds, fatigue, and slight dehydration and an accident becomes a real possibility.
Entering my mind were thoughts like "Is there solid footing under that mat of uluhe?" or "Will I scream if I fall?" Such questions, coupled with the strenuous physical exertion, added to the continuous mental concentration we had to put forth for long periods of time equalled fatigue, simple and plain. Somehow, the will to push on won out, I suppose. And push on we did. Pat, Gene, and Laredo began to put a fairly substantial gap between Pete and I. Gene did a superb job as the ramrod and used good judgment in choosing the best routes across the summit crest.
While making our way along one of many cliffy sections of the ridge, Pete and I spotted about 10 feet below the trail a red- flowered lobelia, a rarer variety according to Pete. Affixed to the plant was a new pink ribbon. Later, we found out Pat had climbed down to mark the lobelia so Pete and I would be sure to see it. Well, see it we did. We were astounded anyone would risk a death fall to do such a thing. As it turned out, Paka-lolo is such an individual.
The area right before "The Corner" is memorable because it is composed of wide, windswept, grassy slopes. Pete mentioned what a relief it was to finally be walking on something other than a narrow ridge where a fall to forever always loomed. I agreed. As we worked our way up a windy slope, Pete noticed a pair of small indentations in the hillside with water in them. We filled our water bottles, treated it with iodine, and had this in reserve if we needed it. A surprise bonus!
We climbed a couple of gentle slopes, passing a charismatic ancient ohia tree with its top shaped like an umbrella. Then we were at "The Corner" where the summit crest ended its easterly swing and again headed south for Manana and points beyond. This ridge slopes to the windward side, a spur of it extending to the ocean and forming the boundary between Waiahole and Kaalaea Valleys. Pete and I whooped with happiness at our arrival at such a long sought-after landmark. Feeling invigorated, we pushed on for a bit and reached a point where we could look across to the summit of Manana about a half mile away. Our three comrades were already there and waved and shouted when they saw us. It was about 3:30.
The final stretch to Manana took 45 minutes for Pete and I. When they saw us making our way over, Gene, Pat, and Laredo knew we were in good shape and began the trek down Manana. At 4:15, eight hours after we set out from our campsite, Pete and I reached the summit of Manana. Factor in the hour we had hiked along the crest the day before, and the entire crossing from Kipapa had taken nine hours, an average of a third of a mile an hour for the three-mile span. I think Pat, Laredo, and Gene could have completed the crossover in 6 to 7 hours if presented with the opportunity to just blaze ahead. To their credit, they remained in sight distance all the while during our trek.
In a remarkable display of speed and endurance, Gene reached Komo Mai Drive at 6:10 and Pat and Laredo at 6:30. Anything under three hours on Manana, up or down, is booking. And doing that after the long day on the trail we had was miraculous. True hiking machines are those three.
Meanwhile, after a rest break (the gallon of water I had staged was still there), Pete and I departed the Manana summit at 4:45, giving us approximately an hour and a half to hike before nightfall. Since it was apparent we'd be hiking in the dark no matter how fast we proceeded, Pete suggested we descend in the slow-but-steady mode. His idea made sense.
On the way down, Pete snapped several rolls of pictures, including many of the rolling hills illuminated brilliantly by the setting sun. Darkness hit at around 6:30 and out came our artificial illumination, a mini mag light for me and a headset light for Pete. Making our way carefully in the dark, we reached the approximate halfway point of Manana, the grassy knoll that serves as a helipad, at 7:25 and decided to fuel up and rest there till 8:00. I had left another half gallon of water there and fished it out of the bushes.
We reached my vehicle on Komo Mai Drive at 10:30 p.m. and Pete and I--muddy, tired, but happy--officially ended "The Mother of All Hikes" with a firm handshake. Patrick, Laredo and Gene had long departed and had informed us of such with notes on my vehicle. Mike Uslan also left a note on my car, saying he had waited for us till 9. Mahalo to him.
In retrospect, this was easily the most thrilling, grueling, and challenging trek I've ever completed. And while the auspiciousness of this undertaking remains to be determined, at the very least, my hiking comrades and I will always be able to gaze up at a particular lonely stretch of the Koolaus and say to ourselves, "We were there."
Aloha and safe hiking to all,