Ahiki Backside (Mount Olomana) - October 24, 2010

I made a promise to myself that if I ever did Olomana again, I'd have to descend the backside of the third peak. While the Mount Olomana trail is usually done as an "in-and-out" hike, very few people attempt to descend the entire backside of Mount Olomana's third peak, Ahiki. Mount Olomana consists of three peaks that offer up quite a workout and one hell of an adrenaline rush. The first and tallest peak, known simply as Olomana, stands at an elevation of 1,640 feet. The second peak, Paku'i, is the second tallest peak. Its backside has ropes to aid the descent into a saddle before ascending peak three, Ahiki. The climb up Ahiki can be a bit unnerving for those afraid of heights because of the exposure and precipitous drops on both sides of the narrow ridge. An array of ropes are sprawled out along the narrow ridge to the top. Once at the top of Ahiki, some people call it a day and head back the way they hiked in. On this day, I had a crew of six people -- Keith Mahon, Kris Pierce, Roli Delgado, Albert Carcueva, Brian Bautista, and Jonah Keohukapu -- to descend the backside of Ahiki with me, a feat not many people even think of doing when hiking Mount Olomana.

The morning weather was very nice. The tradewinds were blowing, the clouds blocked out the sun, and the condition of the trail was dry. As noon approached, the clouds cleared and the sun beamed. For Kris, Roli, and Jonah, this was their first ridge hike, and what an introduction it was.

The climb to the first and second peaks went without incident. As did the climb to the third peak. There were many other hikers along the ridge, even two barefoot madmen with only a canteen of water.

After a short rest atop Ahiki, we proceeded to inspect the route down the backside. We reached the first tricky section where the ridge ledges out in concave form, inverting below. At only six feet high, the drop seems scarier than it really should be. It is also one of those sections where once you make it past the ledge, you don't want to try the difficult climb back up because of the inverted shape of the ridge. Getting down this section was especially difficult for Kris. His shoulder was in bad shape from torn ligaments in a jujitsu accident earlier in the year. Jonah and I had to cradle both of his feet with our hands to help him get down from the ledge. It was a hairy situation along the narrow ridge, for the drops at both my back and Jonah's went straight down the mountain.

Another rope section immediately after the ledge had to be negotiated. Relatively minor to what was in store, this section still was more dangerous than anything we traversed along the first, second, and frontside of the third peak. The rope was old, but still in good shape.

Behind us, a group of three guys were also making the descent. I chatted a bit with a guy named Jim, and I was amazed that he recently completed the trek from Mount Ka'ala to Pu'u Kalena, an extremely dangerous route that is rarely used. Another route he told me he attempted that blew my mind was the hike from the Kalihi Valley saddle to Lanihuli. Of course he didn't finish it, but he did tell me that the route is suicidal and stupid. From a particular vantage point along the backside of Ahiki, Jim pointed out the route he and his other hiking buddies were going to take. I told him I had planned to hike out on the golf course below, but he said he'd give us a ride back to our cars if we followed him out. It was an offer I knew we couldn't pass up, so we stayed close for the remainder of the hike.

Back on the trail, we reached the top of a rather high, near-vertical rock face. At around twenty feet high the rock face had very little foot and hand holds. A rope was in place, anchored securely with a piton. It was an ironic predicament because early on along the backside of the second peak, I instructed everyone to not put all their weight on the ropes; this time, we had to put all our weight on the rope. Again, I was especially concerned for Kris. Every steep rope section made his shoulder hurt more and more, and it was obvious by his groans as he winced in pain, slowly making his way down each rope section.

As if things couldn't get any worse, we reached another near-vertical section. At this point, Kris was a bit fed up, and he was complaining that his shoulder was on fire. We all got past this section until we encountered a very long and steep rope section along loose dirt. Although the grade of steepness wasn't as vertical as the previous rock faces, it was still difficult to negotiate without the proper foot and hand holds. Those who made it to the bottom first coached those behind for correct hand and foot placement. It was the last gnarly section until the trail leveled out into the forest. It was a daunting task for us all, and somehow, Kris made it as well after a slow, fifteen minute descent.

Finally at the bottom with all the steep sections behind us, we followed the trail until we hit a junction. Jim turned left, so we followed. The trail was in very good shape, and there were some trail junctions coming in on the left and right, but we took the trail that stayed in the direction of the ocean. We eventually hit a dirt road with junctions coming in from every direction. At one point we hit a five-way junction. Still knowing which way the ocean was, we followed the road that headed into the direction of it. Soon we found ourselves walking through an ironwood grove trail that eventually led us downhill to Old Kalanianaole Road by high priced homes. It was here that we waited for Jim, caught a ride back in his truck to the entrance of Luana Hills Country Club, and headed home.

In summary, Ahiki is actually really fun. It's dangerous, but it's short compared to other dangerous hikes around the island. In all honesty, if I do Mount Olomana again, it wouldn't be complete without ascending the backside of Ahiki. I really want to give props to Jonah, Roli, and Kris for champing it out along the backside of Ahiki. Kris did an awesome job during the descent. Not many people can say they did one of Oahu's most dangerous trails with a bum shoulder. Well, he did it, and he deserves a night of drinking on me when he comes back to visit. And me: I deserve a swift kick in the nuts for making them do a hike that truly is one of the most dangerous on the island.

Looking at the frontside of Ahiki (3rd peak) from Paku'i (2nd peak) along the Mount Olomana trail.  (photo: B. Bautista)

The profile of the backside of Ahiki.  (photo: J. McKown)

View of Ahiki's backside from the bottom.

View from "the keyhole" of the frontside of Ahiki.  (photo: B. Bautista)

Coming down the first rope section along the backside of Ahiki.  (photo: B. Bautista)

Kris, negotiating the 2nd rope section.

2nd rope section.  (photo: J. McKown)

Albert and I checking what lies ahead.  (photo: B. Bautista)

3rd rope section.

Jonah, negotiating the 4th and last steep rope section.  (photo: B. Bautista)

Last rope section.

photo: B. Bautista


Troy Keala Takara said...

cool man,
is where you end up near the high priced homes easy to find?

kaleo said...

pretty easy to find. coming from the pali or H-3, take a right at the castle hospital intersection. go a little ways, and take a right onto old kalanianaole road. from there it's hard to explain where to park, but just stage your car somewhere and when you get out from the trail you'll know where to find your car from there...

christy said...

awesome. i want to do this hike. last time i did the three peaks, laarni and i agreed the next time we'd conquer the backside

Unknown said...

Ok, seriously some of your hikes make me want to poop my pants hahahahahaha, wow crazy scary! Coming from Wisconsin the land of total flatness, my husband and I love the hiking and excitement of conquering new trails, but some of these make my skin crawl with your pictures and descriptions, so scary!! :)

I do have a question, we live on schofield and have been hiking the trails on kolekole road, what is the trail/mountain called on the right hand side of the road from the parking lot at the top by the gate going into Waianae?

kaleo said...

the trail to the right is pu'u kalena; the trail to the left is hapapa.

Unknown said...

Ok I was right then :) thanks for the info :) I will go ahead and say this again, we LOVE your blog, you frequently make my friend late for work because she is reading about trails :)

Unknown said...

My husband and I only made it to the first rock climb well the first pretty steep climb, for us atleast it was only about 30 minutes up the trail, i can imagine we have a lot more climbing to do from there, we turned back he was worried about our footing on the way back down

Kahele said...

Just did Ahiki backside this past weekend. My hands slipped on the final long rope section and I fell head-first down the ridge about 25 feet (according to my partners). Fortunately, I fell straight down and landed on the ridge instead of going over the sides. Ended up with a broken rib, a bruised rib and a gash on my right arm. Better than the alternative, I guess.

Anyway, just wanted to share that you can also take a trail on the right that takes you off the ridge and connects with a wide, well-maintained contour trail that connects with the 1st peak trail just past the abandoned water pump shack. The trail is relatively easy and flat. It took about an hour at a leisurely pace. This junction is not too far past the junction you guys took.

kaleo said...

glad you're okay kahele. that last rope section is a steep one...

Anonymous said...

Just completed the backside yesterday and i don't recommend it to anyone. It seems that the backside is eroding creating loose boulders and even more and longer decents. Too dangerous and not worth the risk!

Anonymous said...

I'll have to disagree with Anonymous above me, while it is eroding and not highly travelled I descended the backside today without any issue.

I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but there are solid ropes in place and it is very doable.

Ian said...

Completely agree. Ropes were in great condition. Ended up circling around to the golf course and walking out to the guard shack via the mail entrance. Enjoyed the hike. Took about 5 hours round trip.

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