OHE October 19, 1998

Date: Mon, 19 Oct 1998 23:33:07 -1000
From: Greg Kingsley (gkingsle@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Waianae-Kaala, 18OCT98

On Sunday, October 18, 1998, the good folks of HTMC gathered for their weekly clearing project. This time, it was the ascent to the mighty Mt. Kaala (elev. 4,025 feet) through the Waianae Kai Forest Reserve. Personally, having come with various expectations of the trail, it proved to be a very surprising hike!

The morning started out with the meeting and exchanging of pleasantries at a parking lot off of Farrington Highway (just after Waianae Shopping Center), Curious Sunday-strollers watched as our sickle-and-machete-wielding crew set out to the trailhead deep in Waianae Valley. Reaching the gated entrance to the concrete road leading into the reserve, we all piled into five 4WD trucks and SUVs and drove through. After approximately ten minutes of steep-grade gasoline-burnin', we disembarked and loosely huddled around Mabel Kekina for the plan of the day.

Since we had heard the trail was heavily overgrown, preparations were made for an onslaught of the nasty blackberry scurge accompanying the usual uluhe thickets. One of our objectives was to open up the trail for some local school groups which expressed interest in exploring the vegetation of the area. As a result, long-sleeved shirts, pants, gaiters, and gloves were strewn about the individuals of our bush-whacking clan. Luckily, this day's event had brought a considerable number to our little expedition. In attendance were (in no particular order) Mabel Kekina, Dayle Turner, Arnold Fujioka, Carole Moon, Lynn Agena, June Miyasato, Nathan Yuen, Ralph Valentino, Kim Roy, Judy Roy, Grant Oka, Georgina Oka, John Hall, Erin Reagan, Bill Gorst, Joyce Tomlinson, Ken Suzuki, Pat Rorie, "Famous Woman Hiker", Thomas Yoza, Doug "Dusty" Klein, Ellyn Tong and friend, Kris Corliss and friends, Deetsie Chave, and a few other individuals, including a father-and-son team. And so, we set out into the lightly wooded trailhead where the road switched from concrete to dirt.

After about 200 yards, the wide, distinguishable dirt road petered into a footpath which led into a thickening forest of tall guava. The narrow path soon filtered through a patch of waist-high guava, affording a view of Kamaileunu Ridge. The trail levelled out just enough for me to catch my breath and realize that I didn't expect any of this plant-life to be flourishing here. Passing a small streambed and following the gently-rising contour to the left, I gazed up at the towering trees above in amazement - I had expected desolate, crumbly, sun-parched wasteland. Yet, a lush canopy resisted the sun's pounding while a cool breeze (from where?) circulated up past the trunks. The trail quickly returned to a steep ascent up the "finger" ridge.

Quite simply, this was an "honest" trail - no hidden "downs", just "up, up, up" all the way. I finally emerged from the smaller ridge onto the actual ridge (Kamaileunu) as a light rain began to trickle. Here, a group of 10 or so were standing close to the triple-masted power lines, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Mabel. Some were to head down to the left along the Waianae Kai trail, which double-backs in the valley and junctions into the trail we had just ascended. A little less than half of the entire clearing group continued up the spine toward Mt. Kaala. I could see some of the faster hikers midway up the ridge.

The long-awaited view of the Waianae Valley had come to fruition. Standing on the foot-grass clearing, rehydrating myself, I gazed across the huge valley to the coastline, turned to peer into Makaha Valley (behind me), then turned my view to the "summit of Oahu". I packed my water and camera away and continued my trudge.

It was wonderful! The overcast skies had littered the 6 - 7-foot high trees (such as the ohia) along the ridge with crystal-clear drops of water. Every brush against their trunks brought down a cool sprinkle onto my face The ridgetop was an average of four feet in width with native vegetation to each side. Perhaps because of the gently rising valley below, it didn't feel like I was very high up. In actuality, the grassy area on the ridge I had just stopped at for water and view was over 2,700 feet in elevation - higher than several peaks on the Koolau ridgeline!

I was excited! The ridge broadened out like the calm before the storm. I skipped past a few boulders and reached the infamous "last one": a smooth, 9-foot high rounded boulder. Thankfully, Ken Suzuki caught up behind me as I stood there pondering my footing up this thing. Having done this on ten separate hikes prior, he went first. It saved me a few minutes of trial-and-error straggling as I studied his maneuvers. I soon followed (literally) in his footsteps, placing my feet (and hope) onto the scattered ripples on this rounded boulder. Slowly, carefully, with the help of the cable and well-placed fingers, I hoisted myself up and over the boulder.

That was the fun part. Next came the "very steep ascent" of almost a thousand feet (or so). The sweet rain which had been so pleasant earlier turned the blades of weeds slightly moist and muddy. Yet, cables all along the sometimes ladder-like climb remedied this. Huffing and puffing, I neared the summit.

My enthusiasm waned when I was told (at one point halfway up this ascent), that it was another 45 minutes to the top. In my mind, two things happened. First, as I always have a map or trail description, I'm usually very clear on where I am (progress-wise and geographically). Hearing I made a serious miscalculation of both, I was suddenly demoralized. Second, 45 minutes might have translated into 60 - 75 minutes at the pace I hike at. I felt I was far off in my calculations and probably wouldn't make it to the summit before running into the returning gang. Considering the time factor, I had thoughts of turning back. However, I shrugged it off, told myself, "get to the top of this summit, then decide", and continued ascending.

Hikers, such as Doug Klein, Jason Sunada, and Bill Gorst were already making their way down the trail. Intercepting them, I asked each how far it was to go (expecting the disappointing news that there was another summit after this one). To my surprise, the responses were akin to "it's only 10 minutes away". Boy, did that lift my spirits! With a skip to my steps, I pressed on and voila! Sure enough, the summit I was climbing was, indeed, the final ascent to 3,800 feet From then on, the trail eased out along the ridge toward the bog just shy of 4,000 feet..

I'm not ashamed to admit that I felt like one of those kids trotting through the foothills in "The Sound of Music". The area was lightly socked in as I followed the narrow spine through the thickening native vegetation. Although disappointing for those who might've been anticipating the great views, I found the cottony-misted surroundings heavenly! Besides, I had actually been up here once before (via truck) during an extremely clear day.

Reaching the Kaala plateau and bog, I brushed-off and checked my shoes for mud build-up (and seeds), then proceeded into the vegetation sanctuary. Halfway through the boardwalk cruise, I caught the gang on a speed-walk return to the trail. I could sense a little disappointment in the group because of the socked-in conditions and assumed this to be a reason for their early departure from the summit. I think the majority got to the summit at noon.

I reached the heli-pad, walked along the Air Force installation's perimeter fence, and plopped down for a sandwich and water. The hum of the cooling systems faded in and out of the gentle winds. I felt the hot sun finally break through the overcast and remembering a little physics/meteorology, I decided to stay a few more minutes to see what would happen with the clouds. It was still white-out, so I decided to diddle-dally, taking a closer look at the plants and the Kaala benchmark.

At some point, I looked up - and there it was! The misty blanket lifted just enough for Oahu's colors to break through. The scattered gravy n' greens of Waialua through Schofield appeared, while the blue-and-white frosted North Shore through Kahuku performed the backdrop role. Overjoyed, I yanked out my camera and shot off several clicks. Soon enough, the rift in the clouds past and the veil descended once again. By then, I was already on my way back through the bog.

Thankfully, I can report that nothing "eventful" happened on the return. I guess in my cheer and concentration during the ascent, I didn't quite fathom how steep the ridge was. Let's just say that I found the cables more useful on the descent. Ken Suzuki, who stayed behind and didn't continue to the summit, was working around that "last boulder". He installed a rock in a wide crack, making a nifty foot-hold for future hikers. Ironically, though the hike was easy (relatively speaking) going up and the boulder difficult, the opposite was true for me on the descent.

To save time, Ken and I turned left down the trail at the junction instead of continuing along the ridge on the Waianae Kai Trail. Well-versed in botanical themes, he pointed out various species, including some extremely rare plants endemic to the lower ridgeline we were on. Stomping the heck out of our knees and feet, we made it out of the forest to the cheers of our hiking companions, sprawled about the trailhead with desserts and drink in hand.

As for the clearing, it was obvious that earlier reports of overgrowth were exaggerated. The only clearing along the Waianae-Kaala portion involved (this time) was minor maintenance - nothing huge to remove, no swath to blaze. Also, there was evidence of earlier clearings. However, it's not to say that we weren't ready for it!

As for my own personal experience, this was an awesome hike with a great group of people. The trail's rated as "intermediate/expert" in Stuart Ball's book. Unlike Du Pont (which is about 5.5 miles in length and starts at sea level), this trail is only 2 - 2.5 miles in length and starts at about 1,440 feet. You've got a pleasant forest during the first third, an interesting climb in the next two, and awesome views (if you have the time and patience) at the top. And, of course, nature's little treasure chest of native Hawaiian plant-life known as the bog at Mt. Kaala..

Happy Hiking!

Greg

P.S. Thanks, Ken, for "trust the cable... trust the cable"!

References:

Ball, Stuart M., Jr. "The Hikers Guide to Oahu", University of Hawaii Press, 1993



Reply From: "Dayle K. Turner" (turner@hawaii.edu>

As Greg reported, over thirty eager hikers turned out for Sunday's HTMC trail maintenance outing on the Waianae Kaala/Waianae Kai trails. At one point, there was a bit of drizzly weather to deal with but the day ended up as a pleasant, sunny one.

As Greg pointed out and as Thomas Yoza reminded me, the trail to Kaala from Waianae Valley is an honest one. That is, one goes up and keeps going up without any rollercoaster la-la-las. Not surprisingly, Paka led the push up to Kamaileunu Ridge despite being sidetracked early on after following me when I took a wrong turn. Club veterans John Hall, Bill Gorst, and Dusty Klein were in fine form on the heart-pumping climb to Three Poles.

From Three Poles (2,720) the ascent continued in earnest, and soon enough we were scaling the notorious cabled boulder that is even more of an adventure when wet. But with care, the boulder, even though slick, was negotiable, and all who tackled it made it up and down without accident. Mahalo to Thomas for using his small pick to widen what was once a ridiculously minuscule foothold. We talked about coming back with hammer and chisel to fashion some other foot and hand placement spots. Maybe next time.

Mahalo also to Ken Suzuki who found a perfectly sized stone to place in the crack at the base of the boulder. That stone now provides a welcome foothold. Kudos to Ralph Valentino who descended the boulder rappel-style on the return trip. Impressive.

Beyond the boulder, the trail to the top was in nice shape, with much less mud to muck through and less vegetation overgrowth to hack down than last year. Ken did a bunch of work shoring up some eroded footholds, and some frayed rope sections were replaced with sturdier cable. As he usually does, Pat manned the ramrod spot with Dusty Klein right behind him. Jay Feldman was making his return to the trail clearing gang after taking some time off while he recovered from mononucleosis. He hiked strongly. Judy Roy, Kris Corliss, and her two wahine friends also reached the summit in good form. Nathan Yuen celebrated his first anniversary with the HTMC with his second ascent of Kaala.

The summit bog was socked in when we reached it, and the cloudy conditions abated only briefly through the hour and change we spent topside. After a 10-minute jaunt across the sometimes slippery boardwalk, we ate lunch outside the fenceline of the FAA radar installation, where incredible amounts of snack food, ranging from mustard pretzels to Snickers bars, were passed around for those with trail munchies. Lynn Agena even had lugged a package of Oreos to share. We didn't have any views (we would have been looking down on the Schofield area if the clouds weren't there), but we certainly ate well. Before we shoved off from our lunch spot, Lynn and Grant (Oka) snapped pictures of the group as we sat in a line on a gentle slope above a menacing thicket of blackberry.

Greg, who reached the summit area just as we were about to descend, was rewarded for his deliberate pace with clear views. Hopefully he'll post some pics on his webpage at some point.

On the return leg, we met Kim Roy, who'd hung back to do battle with Australian tea plants. He couldn't locate us and while searching for the lunchspot he ventured briefly down the Dupont (or De Ponte) Trail.

On the way down, we one-by-one descended the cable boulder and continued makai on Kamaileunu Ridge instead of heading down the same route we had used to ascend to Three Poles. Mabel, Carole K. Moon, John Hall, and Famous Woman Hiker (my idol) were in the group that worked on the Waianae Kai trail instead of heading to Kaala. In fact, John and Charlotte continued on to No Name peak before descending to Waianae Valley. Most of the clearing needed this day was on the Waianae Kai segment, and Mabel and crew did a fine job. Before the junction to head down to Waianae Valley, there is a huge fruit-bearing lobelia along the trail, and we all stopped to admire its unique beauty.

We assembled for the post-hike refreshment gathering next to the pumping station at the end of the steep, paved road. The snacks and soft drinks were welcome, and the talk story session relaxing.

Mabel announced that this coming Sunday's maintenance outing will be Halawa Ridge. Apparently, she will be looking for an approach from Halawa Valley other than the one the club has used in recent years. It should be fun whatever the route.

--DKT


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