Moanalua Valley (Kulana'ahane Trail) - July 16, 2009

I read an article in the Honolulu Advertiser about a new state trail that opened up last month. The article rambled on about a hike that started after walking two-and-a-half miles on the Old Damon Estate Road in Moanalua Valley. From there the trail would cross Moanalua Stream twenty-five times and climb up a short, steep ridge to the saddle between Red Hill Ridge and Pu’u Keahi a Kahoe. The trail sounded very familiar. So familiar in fact that it sounded identical to the Moanalua Valley hike in Stuart Ball’s “Hiker’s Guide to Oahu.” And after walking an hour on the Damon Estate Road, I found out that it was the exact same trail. The only thing different about it was that the state decided to give it a name: Kulana’ahane. Their reason is beyond me.

For some reason, I can’t escape dirt roads. The past three hikes all began on dirt roads, and quite frankly, I’m sick of it. I hope Halawa Ridge doesn’t welcome me with dirt-road-hike number five on Sunday. I just might quit hiking altogether. Well, maybe not quit, but I will be pissed.

I shunted off from Moanalua Valley Park at around 9:20am. I reached the Kulana’ahana trailhead in just under an hour. From there I crossed the stream, passed a stream gauging station on the left, and reached a junction. The left junction was the down trail for the physically demanding Godek-Juskulski loop that Daniel and I did in the beginning of May 2009. I took the right junction.

The trail is very well-trodden and easy to follow. A couple of confusing stream crossings could lead a novice hiker astray, but as long as there are ribbons around, follow it. The well-trodden trail is also very muddy in multiple areas. When crossing the stream, one has to be careful because of the slippery boulders that aid the hiker across without getting their feet wet. I fell around three times, so use caution.

After the twenty-fifth crossing, a sign comes into view stating that the trail beyond is no longer maintained. From this point on is where the hardest part of the hike begins. The trail then climbs up a short, steep ridge to the Moanalua Valley saddle. Along the uluhe clad ridge were some nice ohi’a trees and views back into Moanalua Valley. Although steep, the ridge was not narrow or perilous. To the right, a high waterfall can be seen. The enticing waterfall would be my destination on the return from the summit.

As I neared the top around 11:30am, two signs came into view: one stating that it was the end of the trail and that I shouldn’t go beyond the sign (oookay?), and another stating that a ledge existed, and if I were to stand on that ledge, it might break off and I would fall and die: fair claim. I headed past the signs. Ahead were views of Haiku Valley, Kaneohe Bay, Mokapu Point, and the snaky H-3 freeway. To the right along the summit were the top outs of the Haiku Stairs (Stairway to Heaven) and Pu’u Keahi a Kahoe. To the left was an extremely steep trail leading to the terminus of Red Hill/Godek-Jaskulski Ridge; beyond that terminus was the apex of Halawa Ridge. I sat to eat my lunch, made a few calls on my cell phone, snapped some photos and took some video, and then headed down the ridge I came up to go in search of the waterfall.

At the bottom of the ridge, I turned left, upstream. I followed a faint trail with old ribbons tied to trees and branches, guiding me further upstream. Remnants of an old airplane that crashed long ago lay scattered in bushes and in the stream. Soon the trail disappeared, so I had to submit to walking directly in the stream, boulder hopping and climbing.

After about fifteen minutes, I reached the waterfall. It was merely a trickle on this day, but from the looks of it, the waterfall would be beautiful after a long, stiff rain. Height-wise, the waterfall is huge; I’d say well over 100 feet. A shallow, uninviting pool at the bottom harbored some baby o’opu, a fresh water fish that is edible, but one I’ve never tried before. I again snapped some photos and took some video and headed back.

The total mileage of this hike was about eleven miles because of the short side route I took to the waterfall. The side route to the waterfall is not very far at all, and it is easy to get to. Completing the stream hike to summit to the waterfall and back took me a little over five hours. The view at the saddle is one that should be prized, for no other state trail can overlook Haiku Valley and the H-3. The only other ways to get the view would be hiking Red Hill Ridge and Halawa Ridge, both of which are very long and taxing. The Kulana’ahane Trail is a more rational choice, but one thing is for sure: the trail is not “brand new.” It’s been hiked for decades.

One hour in, two-and-a-half miles from Moanalua Valley Park is the Kulana'ahana trailhead.

View of the waterfall from the steep ridge.

The steep ridge to the summit saddle.

Looking back into Moanalua Valley from the saddle, proving once again that I was very, very far away from my car.

The waterfall.



Anonymous said...

This hike was cool. Nick and I did it on the 2nd. It was a lot easier than I thought since we came down the ridge from stairway 2 weeks prior. The waterfall is worth the trip even thoug Nick sprained his ankle and I tweaked my knee coming back.

ardvarck said...

Can you get to the top of the stairs from the Moanalua trail?

kaleo said...

from what i saw, there is a extremely steep and dangerous looking trail leading up to pu'u keahi a kahoe/the apex of the stairway to heaven. haven't seen or heard of anyone ever trying it though...

ardvarck said...

Yea, I was up there today, and that's pretty much what I found. Where are people parking for the stairs now?

kaleo said...

not sure. i'm gonna do some research later this week. my friends and i are looking to climb the stairs and drop back down to moanalua valley via the middle ridge...

Anonymous said...

Very cool site! Thanks for the info on the trail. I love the photos and video.

aimz said...

i have a question about this hike.. is there a shorter version (3-4 miles) of it? i was interested in doing this hike, but 11 miles seems really long. many people have said it was easy, i can't see 11 miles being easy. and how much times do you have to cross streams?? i've recently done maunawili.. is it more than that hike??

kaleo said...

are you talking about maunawili falls or the maunawili demo trail? i haven't done either of them, but i can tell you that the 11 miles along the kulana'ahane trail is not difficult at all. the only difficult part is the last, short climb to the saddle which offers the only huffing and puffing along the trail. the 1st part of the hike is simple: just follow the dirt road for about 2 miles. that will cover 4 miles of the hike already. after the dirt road, you have to cross the stream well over 20 times until you reach the final climb to the saddle. the stream crossings and the short climb to the saddle is about 3 1/2 miles. it is definitely one of the best state trails on the island. don't let the mileage scare you. relative to 11 mile ridge hikes, the kulana'ahane trail is extremely easy in comparison...

Anonymous said...

Just went up to the top of the summit trail off of the Aiea loop. Do you know of anyone crossing over to the top of the stairway from that summit? It looks like it can be done along ridges, there is only one valley that I was unable to see completely. I didnt see any trails, but I am just looking for any advice if you have it before I try it. Thanks

kaleo said...

i'm pretty sure it's possible to hike from aiea ridge to the kulana'ahane trail. i've never done it, but i've done red hill ridge; red hill ridge is in between halawa ridge and kulana'ahane. red hill ridge to kulana'ahane has been done before. red hill to halawa has been done before. and aiea ridge to halawa has been done.


so my answer would be yes, it is possible. i just wouldn't know the condition of the summit trail in between aiea and kulana'ahane. my guess is it's overgrown, narrow, muddy, and rough...

Kiapolo said...

Looks like some tried the Haiku Stairs to Kulana'ahane Trail and failed.


2 hikers airlifted from Koolaus above Kaneohe

POSTED: 02:31 p.m. HST, May 16, 2010

Two stranded hikers were airlifted this morning from a ridge in the Koolau Mountain range above Kaneohe.

One of the hikers used his cell phone to call the Fire Department just before 10 a.m., saying they were unable to go any further. The pair had started the climb around 5:30 a.m. from Kaneohe District Park.

Fire Capt. Earle Kealoha said HFD's Air-1 helicopter spotted the men above Kahekili Highway.

Air-1 and rescue specialists rappelled down to the two men and, one at a time, utilizing a rescue harness, strapped the individuals in and "sling-loaded" them down to the landing zone at the park.

Kealoha said the two hikers started their hike up the off-limits "Stairway to Heaven" or Haiku Stairs, took off on a trail and were headed northwest towards the H-3 freeway when they reached a point where they could no longer advance.

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