OHE September 14, 1999 (Kuliouou)

Date: Tue, 14 Sep 1999 22:44:17 -1000
From: Kirby Young (kyoung@kahala.net>
Subject: Kuliouou and beyond, 8sep99

I'm in town for two weeks visiting my mother, but am unfortunately saddled with work from home (sigh). I decided to make time for some fun, however, by taking a muscle stretching hike my first full day here, Wednesday, Sept. 8. Several previous writeups on OHE have described a steep ascent out of the narrows of Kuliouou Valley just a bit beyond the end of the Valley trail [1,2,3]. As I'd never walked up this valley before it seemed an opportunity to both do that and tackle something a little more rigorous at the same time.

Leaving my car at road's end in Kuliouou Valley at 11:18 AM, I arrived at the hiker check-in mailbox a minute or two later. Besides the usual sign-in sheets bearing literally what seemed like well over a hundred names just for Sept. 1-8, I noticed an extra bundle of sheets...with pictures. It was laser printer output of a webpage (I forgot to make a note of the url) with a hiking story originally posted by Grant Tokumi [1] describing the very route I was planning on taking to reach the summit of the Koolaus! Bizarre. No doubt some international hikers will get their hands on it and.... oops.

I soon passed the junction with the Kuliouou Ridge Trail, and proceeded up the Valley Trail under sun, clouds, and still air. This contoured trail was in pretty good shape so the walking was easy. Beyond an access point for the very dry Kuliouou Stream, the continuing tread became somewhat rougher, with plenty of small ups and downs to negotiate. Following yellow ribbons I continued to a place where the trail finally turned to join the bouldery bed of Kuliouou Stream in a narrow defile. Continuing on, I couldn't help but think a little of the dry-weather rockfall at Sacred Falls. There is always a very slight risk...

From here, previous OHE writeups [1,2,3] were invaluable in reaching my goal. After five or ten minutes of slippery rock hopping, I came to a prominent tributary junction. (On topo. map, just off the upper right corner of the letter "N" in "KOOLAU RANGE"). The main channel turned right beyond a small plunge pool, while the tributary to the left climbed to the base of a two-tiered waterfall (dry). I proceeded left towards the dry waterfall, where minutes later at about 12:00 PM I spied a _very key_ pink ribbon on the right marking the beginning of the tread up, up, and more up.

Once I embarked on this seemingly vertical path, the tread was distinct and easy to follow. Angling briefly right and up to attain a favorable line, the path then attacked the slope head-on. It was very steep, but the vegetation was thick, so exposure was minimal. There were many stout tree trunks, limbs, and roots which I thankfully grabbed at various times during my climb.

The angle of attack eventually became a little less steep, but a mass of vegetation rose so high beyond the canopy of trees directly in front of me that it was clear another very steep section would be encountered. Sure enough, a 10-ft high rock band came into view with a blue rope dangling down towards me. This scramble was easier and safer than it first looked thanks to numerous _dry_ hand and footholds, as well as a couple of well-placed tree trunks.

More steep hiking followed until a bright window appeared in the foliage ahead and above. Suddenly I popped out of the forest and onto a narrow, grassy, and slightly rocky ridge top. My guess from a review of the topo map is that I was at about 1600' elevation. Now I could see clearly everwhere! Far down the valley were the houses of Kuliouou. Below me was the narrow gorge of Kuliouou Stream. Across the way was the somewhat higher ridge of Kuliouou east, location of the Kuliouou Ridge Trail. Finally there was the grassy, undulating head of Kuliouou Valley, with Kuliouou west summit rising 800 ft above me on the left, and the plateau-like profile of Puu o Kona above me on the right.

Following the moderate grade of the ridge up, I had to remind myself to watch my footing as there was a significantly steep slope on my right. The ridge I was following rises out of Kuliouou Valley to join the main ridge at the same place as the well-traveled Kuliouou middle ridge intersects the trailless Kuliouou west ridge. That's a lot of Kuliouou's. For those following at home, on the topo map the ridge I was following has "1600" emblazened on its side.

There was surprisingly little in the way of a path, but this side ridge is so windsept only the very lowest vegetation grows here. This made for great walking! Approaching the crest of the main Kuliouou middle/west ridgetop, I passed some old plane wreckage in a small hollow on the makai (left) side of the ridge crest. Better not mention that to my wife, I thought, she has fits about plane accidents. A few steps later, I contoured right to join the main ridge that would take me to the summit of the Koolaus. Windward views grew more expansive as I passed successive "false" summits, until I finally topped out just short of 2400' at about 1:20 PM.

There were many views in the clear weather and light trades. Only the tip of Konahuanui had clouds scraping over it. The air was crisp enough for me to see the neighbor islands of Moloka'i and Lana'i. I could distinctly make out the immense north-facing sea cliffs of eastern Moloka'i and a tan strip marking Papohaku Beach along that island's western end. The view of Olomana's three narrow peaks is odd -- third peak is seen edge on, but peaks one and two have a broadside aspect.

Following lunch, I headed downhill along the fairly dry Koolau crest, my first objective being Puu o Kona. There are some great views of the Koolau pali towards Konahuanui from here, as the crest bends outward towards the jutting Puu o Kona. Passing an eroded spot, I climbed to and crossed the extended summit of Puu o Kona, then proceeded to descend a severely eroded slope to an exposed traverse of the crest ending at the head of the Kuliouou (east) Ridge Trail. All the ropes that used to be here for protection against the sliding crumblees were gone.

Passing the summit of Kuliouou Ridge Trail, I continued onwards along the crest towards Mauna o Ahi ridge, arriving there about 3:00 PM. Here a very wide trail naturally guided me from the summit towards a makai descent that rapidly brought me down 900 ft to increasingly dryer vegetation and an ironwood-shaded junction with an old jeep road.

Here I turned sharp right to follow the old track mauka as it contoured along the east side of Kaalakei Valley. Towards the back of this valley, the tread angled up a bit, finally coming to a washed out crossing where I dipped down, then up and out of the dry streambed. The rough road on the far side immediately headed makai and gradually down, soon coming to a switchback junction with yet another jeep track. The lower branch of this switchback continued makai and at a downgrade much like I'd been walking. The upper branch climbed in undulating fashion makai towards the top of Kuliouou Ridge (east). This upper jeep trail appears on my 1969 version of the topo map, but oddly is absent on my 1983 version.

I followed the gently climbing track to the Kuliouou east ridge crest, where I rested in an expansive grove of ironwoods. Dayle Turner has mentioned a shortcut trail from Kuliouou Valley, so I explored makai a ways along the jeep road until finding it. Great! My last mystery solved would be to learn how I had always missed the lower junction of this shortcut with the Kuliouou Ridge/Valley Trail. Okay... not obvious, and not hidden. A couple of minutes later I arrived at my car, around 4 PM, having completed an odd circumnavigation of the Kuliouou ridge and valley area.



[1] Grant Tokumi http://www2.hawaii.edu/~turner/ohe/Feb98/2-3.html
[2] Dick Beaton http://www2.hawaii.edu/~turner/ohe/June98/6-8b.html
[3] Dayle Turner http://www2.hawaii.edu/~turner/ohe/Sept98/9-5.html

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