Kamaileunu - February 22, 2009

The massive mountain ridges on the west side of Oahu have always intrigued me. Hiking never interested me as a child, but bodyboarding west side spots such as Tumboland and Makaha while growing up was -- and still is -- a favorite past time of mine. I would've never thought that hiking would then become a major outlet to the great outdoors for me. I also would've never thought I would climb the giant ridge that separates Makaha Valley and Waianae Valley -- a ridge that I used to stare at while waiting for a wave in the lineup at Makaha. But hike that ridge I did, and now I'm paying for it, dearly: stiff legs, toasted skin -- the normal side effects of a west side hike.

Kamaileunu Ridge may very well be the most grueling hike on the island of Oahu, and it's without a doubt an expert hiking trail. The annual hot and dry atmosphere on this side of Oahu makes this ridge a bitch to hike, and I definitely would not recommend tackling this trail during the summer; it is definitely a winter hike. The trail harbors many living species: wild mountain goats, bird-sized dragonfly, and a certain type of bird/pheasant to name a few. After passing a slew of false peaks -- with barely any shade along the way -- the ridge finally tops out at around 3,200 feet with unbelievable views in every direction. However, successfully reaching the peak requires narrow ridge hiking, lung-busting climbs, and no fear of heights. I had no idea before the hike, but Kamaileunu has some of the most extreme sections I've ever encountered other than Pu'u Hapapa. On the steep sections where rock climbing is required, there are no ropes, and I didn't spot one single rope on the trail.

My friends Basil, Chase, and Neal built up the courage to try out this rugged hike with me. We got off to an 8:15am start. To get to the trail we took a right on Ala Akau Street. Ala Akau Street is located right across Waianae High School. We parked right before Ala Akau Street swings right (directly across Kamaile Elementary School). Across Ala Akau Street is a well-defined dirt road. The road contours along the school fence. After passing the school, the dirt road passes a few houses on the left and eventually connects to a paved road named Kaulawaha Street. We turned right on Kaulawaha, walked to its end until another road connected. We turned right. We continued straight and found the trail right below an abandoned metal irrigation ditch. We briefly pushed through some grass and climbed over the irrigation ditch and searched for ribbons.

The trail contours along the Makaha Valley (left) side of the ridge for a bit and eventually crests above an ancient Hawaiian heiau. The ridge is very rocky here, as is most of the hike, and steep climbs with the use of all four limbs are required at times.

After the steep climb, the ridge levels out in a grassy trail. It was here that we all joked that the hike should be nicknamed "The Goat Shit Trail." Goat shit pebbles littered the trail all the way to the summit, and Chase even got a chance to take some pictures of some goats along the way with his 200mm zoom lens. Those goats are crazy. They were in some of the most sketchy parts off the ridge line, running at full speed down hills that were almost vertical. Some hiking shoe companies should invest some money into making the tread on hiking shoes similar to the hoofs of goats. I'd buy em.

Dangerous climbs resumed after the level section. The trail narrowed, and climbing over rock faces with drops on both sides were the norm. I'm not one to be scared of heights, but this trail made me dizzy. Super steep climbing went on for a long ways until the ridge lost its dry, black color. The ridge now started to take on the same color as Pu'u Kalena and Pu'u Hapapa: a rocky beige color. After more steep climbs, we reached a peak that gave us a good look at the rest of the trail ahead. From this peak the trail dropped to a small saddle of ironwoods and eventually contoured along the ridge on the Waianae Valley (right) side. The trek beyond seemed too lengthy for Neal and Basil, so they decided to rest where they were for a while and head back to the car while Chase and I headed for the apex of the hike.

Hiking the saddle garnered the first sign of shade the trail had to offer. Within the ironwoods Chase and I found remnants of what seem to be a sleeping bag torn to shreds. We assumed this was the work of the goats, for goats -- I've heard -- eat literally everything.

There are many variations to the trail after the ironwood saddle. A fence line briefly comes into view on the ridge crest, hindering progress along the ridge crest. Ribbons mark the trail pretty well, but there are so many that it's really easy to go astray. Some ribbons redirect you to the narrow ridge crest after the fence, and some ribbons lead you around the narrow ridge crest, eventually regaining the ridge at a certain point. We were lead around well below the ridge crest.

The contour trail is somewhat irritating. It was probably because it was hot, and Chase and I hate an uneven trail. But the trail regained the ridge crest and we found ourselves on our last stretch to the summit. The ridge was relatively wide toward the summit, and it was not steep, relatively speaking. But the drops on both sides of the ridge were gigantic: over 3,000 feet down on the left was Makaha Valley; likewise, on the right, was Waianae Valley. And when I say gigantic, I mean royally gigantic! One slip, and it's a few seconds of free-falling and then death.

Chase and I topped out at the summit around 12:30pm: about four hours of hiking. If we hadn't stopped and taken so much pictures along the way, I'm pretty sure we would've hit the summit in three hours. The views toward Mount Ka'ala were blocked because of clouds and rain, but we could see over surrounding ridges to the left, right, and toward the ocean. We could even see the Ko'olau Mountain Range! The breeze was cool as we ate leftover Zippy's chicken I had packed in a plastic bag and gulped down our small bottles of water. The breeze was so cool, in fact, that hypothermia would've set in if we stayed longer at the summit, so we decided to head down after only about twenty minutes.

From the summit, Chase and I opted for the ridge line until we hit the fence. Ribbons were marked perfectly, and finding our way was a cinch. However, going down the steep climbs that we hiked up in the beginning was hell on Earth. As I'm writing this, everything below my waist is in pain.

With the grueling descent behind us, we reached the car at exactly 4pm: seven hours and forty-five minutes on the trail. We picked up Basil and Neal near the beach. They looked fresh and revitalized from a cool dip they took in the ocean, while Chase and I reeked of sweat. We reminisced about our first west side hiking experience on the drive home -- goat shit stuck underneath our shoes, how some sections of the hike dropped our throats to our feet -- but we were really, really fortunate to hike the trail on what I assume was the best weather conditions any hiker could ask for. Light drizzles, the abundance of clouds, the occasional sun showing its face through the clouds, and the cool tradewinds were a blessing. Any other deviation with the weather would have had us scarred with third degree burns from the sun and and an empty hydration pack. The king of dry, Oahu ridges, Kamaileunu, has finally been accomplished, and by the looks -- and feeling -- of it, I won't be doing another hike on this side of the island for quite some time. Maybe next winter.

Almost to the end of the dirt road. (photo: C. Maglangit)

Heading towards the trailhead.

Contouring the left side of the ridge.

Neal, climbing.

The level section, with clouds and rain in the distance.

Looking back toward the ocean. Neal in the red shirt, Basil in the white.

Last part of the level section. Beyond this is where the scary parts begin.

The ridge narrowed considerably.

We even found some goat bones along the way.


Oh boy. Don't slip, Basil.

As narrow and as scary as it gets.

Basil, showing you how to deal with gnarly sections like this one. How's the drops on both sides!

Definitely needed a foot shot on this hike.

Basil, edging around a rock dike.

More steep climbing.

And more.

The ridge still climbed steeply, but it wasn't as dry as it was previously.

And here's the saddle. The summit is about 45 minutes to an hour away from here.

Here's that shredded sleeping bag. Looks yummy, if you're a goat.

Chase, climbing down to the saddle.

Here's Chase contouring around the ridge crest. It's possible to walk on the crest, but we decided to walk below it.

Looking back at the ridge.

And here's the last ridge section. Look at the huge 3,000 foot drops on both sides. Do not fall, Chase.

And here's Chase at the peak, four hours from the trailhead. Phew!

Here's looking towards Waianae and Nanakuli.

And here's looking back at the ridge we just hiked.

Basil's pictures:

Chase's pictures:

If anyone knows what kind of bird this is, let me know, please.

The load of goats cruising in the shade well below the ridge. There's gotta be more than 20 down there.

Chase's camera is unreal. Here's more goats cruising on the Waianae side of the ridge.

Good times. But what the hell is Basil and Neal doing. Brah, you guys are weirdos. Remind me never to take you on a hike again.


Unknown said...

lol...haha...great presentation bullet, hands down, the best one yet...blog as well as hike.

Anonymous said...

you guys are nuts.. that is a gnarly hike. i hope you guys were prepared with flares, just in case. nice pics tho

Anonymous said...

that is heavy!!!

that one photo showing how narrow it gets!

Anonymous said...

The bird is an Erkles Franklin. Might have spelled it wrong.

Anonymous said...

Itʻs spelled "Erckelʻs Francolin" (Francolinus erckelii).
Just fyi

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