Dupont Trail - July 11, 2008

First, I'd like everyone to give Shanoah a big round of applause for hiking eleven miles with me to the highest mountain of Oahu today with only three hours of sleep under his belt and a small hangover to boot. I told him to prepare himself the night before, but being the idiot he is, he didn't listen to me. Last night he had his fair share of beers, came home, and stayed up till about 4am, only to wake up three hours later to get ready for one long ass hike. Three hours of sleep after a night of drinking followed by an eight hour hike? I don't even think you could pay me to do that.

And so the story begins, with everything a hike can offer. The Dupont trail is one of the oldest trails on Oahu, and it is one of the few trails that start near sea level. The trail climbs Oahu's highest mountain, Mount Ka'ala, and it delivers a grueling 4,000 foot elevation gain starting at Waialua High School on the North Shore. Permission is said to be obtained before trekking Dupont, but after hearing countless stories of people doing it without permission I decided to give it a go.

The hike begins on a private road that shoots straight toward Ka'ala past a resevior and cropland. Once the paved road ends, a gate adorned with "No Hiking" signs must be climbed to advance onto a dirt road. Past this gate is private property owned by Kamananui Macadamia Orchard where a slew of cattle graze and roam the area. Shanoah and I were actually chased by a huge male cattle with horns. We sprinted up the dirt road a good distance until we felt safe. The story of another cattle encounter will come later. The dirt road was hell. Peacock feathers and cattle and horse feces littered the trail. The road climbed gradually and wasn't very steep, but it did give us a major workout. The road eventually narrowed to a trail that pushed through a section that was burnt by the huge 7,000 acre brush fire in 2007. The green vegetation contrasted by the burnt trees was actually nice.

Soon after, the trail descends to the start of the ridge that is to be climbed all the way to the top. The initial ascent up the ridge is steep and eroded in spots. The trail gets even steeper as you advance higher and higher. There were a lot of ripe strawberry guavas along the beginning ridge. Shanoah opted to starve; I chose to eat -- alot. The strawberry guava tasted like candy. Shanoah, you missed out.

The trail became exceptionally narrow with huge drops on both sides after the groves of strawberry guava. One section of the ridge drops near vertical for about thirty feet, with ropes to aid the descent. From here the trail is all uphill with steep scrambling involved. Do not expect to have clean hands once you reach the top. There are a lot of ropes to hold on to, but most of the ropes aren't needed for the climb up; most of the ropes are for the trip back down.

As the top nears, the trail turns into concrete steps, passing a run-down shelter, two small radars, and eventually meeting the paved road that the military uses to gain access to the huge "golf ball" radar that sits atop Mount Ka'ala. After five hours of hiking we finally reached the top and followed the paved road to the fenceline that blocks access to the radar. As we approached the radar installation we found that there were around ten military personnel who didn't mind that we bordered outside of the fenceline to get a better view. The views from the top are pretty cool; the North Shore and South Shore can be seen, with the Ko'olau Mountain Range straight ahead to the east. The view also spans from Kahuku to Diamond Head and every town in between. Maile town on the West Shore can be seen as well, but the view is somewhat obscured by Ka'ala's vegetation. Ka'ala has a massive flat area; a whole town could be built up there, but the Air Force owns it. Shanoah actually asked the military personnel if we could catch a ride; they told us they were not authorized to give rides to hikers. So five-and-half miles up meant five-and-half miles down.

Shanoah and I began our descent down the ridge around 3pm. The descent was a hell of a lot faster than coming up -- only about an hour descent. We reached the dirt road around 4pm and was immediately startled by the sound of a calf. It chased us for a bit back up the dirt road. We each grabbed two rocks because we knew that the calf was close to its mother or father. We kept walking on the road cautiously and finally met a section of the trail where around eight cattle were grazing, three of which were males, and they did not look happy to see us. Shanoah and I veered left off the trail in some brush, with rocks in hand, ready to strike. I even busted out my knife. After figuring out a few failed strategies as to how we were to get around the herd, we knew that the only way to end our stakeout and get pass them was to just walk on the road where they were cruising. We waited for a few of the cattle to head uphill and gathered ourselves to cross the path of one male and one female. The cattle stared us down as we passed, but they didn't do anything. I've never had an adrenaline rush like that before. I look back on it now and it's pretty funny when you think about what we experienced. Two guys hiding in the bushes from cattle, ready with rocks. Comedy.

The Dupont Trail is hard. Most of it is on a hot dirt road filled with angry cattle, and because of that I probably won't do this hike for a very, very, very long time. If you have the time, do it. It's the longest of two trails that climbs the highest peak on Oahu; the other trail starts from Waianae Valley. Once you reach the orchard and pasture, try to keep yourself unnoticed. There are cattle everywhere, and they know that you're there. Shanoah had his video camera and shot some footage of the hike that I will post later on YouTube. But for now here are some pictures from the hike.

Mount Ka'ala straight ahead.

Dirt road through cattle pastures.

Burnt trees along the trail.

This is where the trail began to narrow. You can barely see Shanoah near the middle of the picture standing on the ridge.

Looking back at how far we hiked.

The 30 foot drop.

Looking back at the drop.

From here it was all scrambling.

Run-down shelter next to two radars.

Half clouds, half clear.

End of the trail.

Following the paved road leads to the big "golf ball" radar.



Looking over to the West Side from the ridge trail.

Deep ravine.

View from the top of Mount Ka'ala.

North Shore to the left, South Shore to the right.

North Shore.


Anonymous said...

Great trail summary and rad shots! Some coworkers and myself are doing this hike on Friday thanks to Independence day. We will be going up the Waianae Valley Trail and down Dupont.

If you ever get a chance, (you might have it posted somewhere but I'm too lazy to look) you should try go Poamoho to the Summit Trail. There are a lot of trail options once you reach the actual summit.

Happy hiking!

Unknown said...

Aloha, just wanted to share you you that we did this trail last week. It was a difficult trail, especially dangerous when it was wet and muddy/slippery, but it was well worth the effort. The last 1,000 ft section was 'no hiking' indeed, it was all 'climbing' and you will be on your hands and knees hauling yourself up the many dangerously steep inclines. But once you get up to the top, you will feel a great sense of accomplishment and you will be proud of yourself. That is a great feeling and the view is magnificent!

When you reach the gate of Kamananui Orchards adorned with "No Hiking" signs, you should really heed that sign. We met with one of the land owners ourselves and they are nice people who did not mind people on their land but they would like to be informed that you are coming. Think of it this way, if people keep climbing over your front gate, walk around your own home, and walk out your back gate, how would you feel as a home owner, especially if you have animals in your land? Really, please do call Randy or Mary at the Kamananui Orchard at 808-778-6014 and let them know that you will be coming at least 48 hours prior. If they are there when you arrive, they will probably tell you about the mac nut trees and other things they grow on their lands.

When you are up the mountain on the rope/cable section, always check the rope before you use it. One rope broke on us. Don't wear your pretty brand name hiking clothing and equipment if you can't stand getting mud on them. If you are a fairweather hiker, leave your shorts at home and go for long pants, especially on a wet rainny day. If you have gloves with good grippy material, use them on the rope/cable. It will make a difference. A walking/hiking stick is very handy on the hiking section but cumbersome on the climbing section so find ways to secure it. Ka'ala is a long hike. It goes up and up and up, and when you think you are done with the rope section, don't get your hope up yet as there will be more and more rope section. Go there early. An expert hiker can probably go up and down this climb in just about 7 hours. I have heard of people doing this climb in 11 hours. I don't want to discourage but I am telling you, if you get tired walking in Walmart Supercenter or you find the Diamond Head hike 'intermediate' then Ka'ala is not for you.

Remember to LNT - Leave No Trace. Enjoy the hike. Aloha.

kaleo said...

very useful advice NBK. i actually got that phone number from my friend chris about a month ago. it's very cool that the landowners allow people to call for permission to hike the trail. bottom line, this was one of the hardest trails i've ever done on the island. thanks for the input...

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to comment on the playlist; I'm a huge Bonobo fan (you're the first person I've seen with his music...I first discovered his music from a Teton Gravity Research movie...and the Aphex Twin tracks brought back college memories...thanks for sharing both the hike description and the music.

Paul - Royal Kunia

Anonymous said...

What do you think of a couple of guy riding down the Dupont trail on down hill bikes?
Im guessing it would take 20 minutes.

Unknown said...

a couple years later....

can this end result be reached by starting at the kolekole pass??

kaleo said...

yeah the top of ka'ala can be reached from kolekole pass. go up the ridge to kalena, then do the summit connector between kalena and ka'ala...

Anonymous said...

Just thought I'd share an update:

The trail is apparently closed. My friend and I showed up to hike it a few months ago, I think it was August, and we ran into Randy who told us it was closed and that we should petition the state or whoever was in charge of it to get it reopened. I can't remember if he gave a reason.

I've done the hike a few times before, and (if it was hypothetically open) you just call the number on the sign on the fence that says 'no hiking' and leave a message if anything saying you're gonna hike it. The very first time I hiked it, Randy (a local-Haole cowboy type, super cool) told us how to get there and everything. He said you should call 'cause sometimes they do cattle-drives across the property and they don't want to run over anybody.

Another time I went my friend and I thought the horses were going to attack us (mad cattle i'm sure are worse, but definitely funnier) and we hid then jumped over a barbed wire fence and totally got yelled at by Randy.

One more thing I find interesting: I hiked the trail after that fire Kaleo was talking about and the burnt section was pretty cool and really beautiful, oddly enough. And when I returned a little more than half a year later to hike it again, there were just a couple of signs that there ever was a fire. Nature is amazing.

Great site Kaleo. Real handy.

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