Pu'u O Kila - June 11, 2009

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Kahana Valley is “The Disneyland for Hikers” on the island of Oahu. The massive, undeveloped valley offers everything from swimming holes along the stream to mountain peak climbs along steep and narrow ridges. Kahana Valley is home to a several very dangerous hikes, most notably Pu’u Manamana and Pu’u Ohulehule, both of which hold true as to being one of the most dangerous hikes on the island. Shadowed by Ohulehule is the pointed peak of Pu’u O Kila. With only an elevation of about 1,540 feet, Pu’u O Kila also makes the list of being one of the most dangerous trails on Oahu.

Chase, Daniel, and Kulani joined me in conquering O Kila. We set off from our cars just before 8:30am. Finding the ridge leading up to O Kila can be hard to find because of the many trails that make up Kahana Valley’s floor. Don’t be intimidated though. If you follow these directions, you should have no trouble. Upon entering, park on a grassy area on the right just before the Kahana Valley housing area. A sign will indicate that vehicles are not allowed beyond a certain point unless you live in the housing area or you have a permit. Walking in is fine, and no permit is required to hike in the valley, just don’t park past the sign. After parking, follow the road past the houses to a gate. Go past the gate. You will soon reach a hunter check-in with a brown mailbox. The trail forks at this point. The left fork is the return portion of the O Kila loop. Take the right fork. Walk along the road until you reach a fenced-in water tank. The trail forks at this point also. Do not take the left fork. Instead, take the trail along the left side of the fence, keeping the water tank on your right. Ignore an obvious trail to your left that climbs an eroded embankment. Keep walking on the very shady and vegetated trail. You will then reach two old concrete bunkers. As you face the bunkers, look to your right for ribbons marking the route down to the stream. You will soon reach a thick bamboo grove at the edge of the stream. Cross the shallow stream. Continue along the trail, again keeping an eye out for ribbons. The stream will immediately come into view on the right. Cross again to a narrow strip leading toward the left side of the stream. Walk along the boulders and pick up a trail coming out of the stream. Walk a short ways and take a left. This left is the start of the ridge heading to the top of Pu’u O Kila.

Our day started off with rain. It actually rained so hard along the road to the water tank that we thought about canceling the hike. But the shower’s would come and go, and the showers would turn on and off for the remainder of our hike. The trail along the stream was beautiful. There were tons of mosquitoes nipping at our ankles and stalking us from behind, but once we were high enough on the ridge, the number of mosquitoes eventually waned to zero. I do suggest bringing mosquito repellent; we regretted not having any.

The first few gradual climbs on the uluhe-choked ridge were cleared very well by the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club. It also serves up a hell of a sweat. Slow and easy: that was our pace. The last few climbs to the peak of O Kila are nuts. Two-thirds of the way up to the peak, the ridge narrows to a little over a foot. Vegetation masks the true danger of the drops, but falling would be fatal. Drops on the mauka side of the ridge were huge at some spots. I found myself holding onto tree trunks and branches a log tighter than I normally do. The rains had also made the narrow and near vertical ridge very slick and even more dangerous. Ropes could be found everywhere along the last few climbs to the top, but we took the climbs very slowly.

Once at the peak, there were no views because of the high vegetation surrounding us. We ate lunch in a “standing room only” spot and found a plastic jar tied to a tree containing a log book, a panoramic camera, some band-aids, and other random items. In the log book were the names of those who had made it to the top just like we did. We jotted down our names and wrote a little note, took a group shot with the panoramic camera, and stuffed all the contents back into the jar. I must say, that jar idea is pretty cool, and whoever left that Durex condom inside the jar is my hero.

I inspected the top of O Kila a little more to see if a trail existed beyond O Kila, for the ridge we were on could obviously go on further. Sure enough, I spotted some very old ribbons tied to trees beyond the peak that indicated a further route upridge. But would it go all the way to Ohulehule: I’m not sure, and by my account, there was no sign of a discernable trail.

The route going down O Kila is just as sketchy as going up. I wonder who though up the idea of making the trail a loop because the initial portion of the ridge on the return route is extremely steep. There are small ropes everywhere, and I commend those who installed the ropes in the initial section. You guys are crazy! At a point along the ridge, with Daniel in front, Chase in second, and Kulani third, Kulani accidently freed a melon-sized rock and sent it rolling straight for Chase’s face. Kulani yelled “rock,” and like Manny Pacquiao, Chase dodged the rock at the very last second. With reflexes like that, Chase should start boxing. Make the Philippine country proud once again, Chase: you’ll be the up-and-coming Pacquiao, with enough Filipino blood to boot.

After the super steep decent, the trail softly descends back to the valley floor. We reached the Nakoa Loop Trail and found ourselves at a small dam that had to be crossed. We reached the hunter check-in station and headed back past the houses to our cars.

The views along the ridges coming up and down were picturesque. Looking mauka are views into the back of Kahana Valley. A very distinct ridge trail located deep within the valley looks to have a connection with the Ko’olau Summit Trail. I’ll have to research what trail that is. Looking makai were views of the ocean, with Pu’u Piei to the left and Pu’u Manamana to the right. Going down the Pu’u O Kila were unreal views of Pu’u Ohulehule. Over the saddle between Manamana and Ohulehule was the jagged looking ridge top of Kanehoalani, a trail that has yet to be paved and that has been done by only a handful of courageous hikers. Looking toward Punalu’u Valley was Pauao Ridge and Pu’u Pauao, an overgrown trail that Kulani and I tried to accomplish last year but to no avail.

Pu’u O Kila requires no mistakes. One wrong move on this trail and it may be the last hike will ever do. Take extreme caution at the final climb and initial descent; both ridges are wicked steep near the top. Be sure to follow ribbons while in the valley because there are junctions everywhere and getting lost is relatively common in Kahana Valley. The complete loop is about five miles from the first gate according to GPS systems that Kulani and Chase used. It took us about 5 hours to complete the loop, but I’m pretty sure that I can be done in four hours on a dry day.

Pu'u O Kila, taken from the left/return ridge. (photo: D. Napoleon)

The stream. (photo: K. Segawa)

Chase had a lot of fun with his 200mm lens at the stream. (photo: C. Maglangit)

Awesome shot of the stream through Napsters eyes. (photo: D. Napoleon)

Walking through lauhala. (photo: D. Napoleon)

photo: D. Napoleon

The first, steep, initial drop coming down O Kila.

Pu'u Ohulehule. (photo: D. Napoleon)

Rain in the distance over Pauao Ridge and Punalu'u Valley. (photo: D. Napoleon)

photo: C. Maglangit

The sun came out for a few moments, and Napster was able to capture shots like this. (photo: D. Napoleon)

Choke uluhe. (photo: D. Napoleon)

Big clearing.

Over the dam.

Lucky we live Hawaii!


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