Pu'u Ohulehule - July 23, 2010

Kahana Valley: home to some of the best hiking trails on the island. It's hard to believe that a valley so vast, on an island so populated, is virtually untouched by human development. Other valleys on the island are dwarfed in comparison to Kahana's profound and awe-inspiring beauty. And then there's Pu'u Ohulehule, the massive pyramidal peak at the back of the valley. Ohulehule's ominous and intriguing profile stands above its sister peaks: Manamana Turnover, Pu'u Manamana, Pu'u O Kila, and Pu'u Piei. As with all ridge-to-peak hikes in the valley, Ohulehule is the longest and toughest. At eight miles round trip, the trek to Ohulehule involves four stream crossings and a relentless uphill climb to the top. But the viewpoint at the top is well worth the pain and sweat, for it is one of the best views on the island.

Two people, Lei and Albert, joined me to tackle the brutal ascent to Ohulehule. The morning drive to Kahana Valley was a beautiful one, and the weather conditions were akin to the conditions when I hiked Koloa to Kaipapa'u a week prior. Only this time the wind was a bit calmer.

The drive to Kahana is long by Oahu standards when coming from the other side of the island like we did. Thus, our start time was a bit later than usual -- 9:30am or so -- and Albert had to be at work by 6pm. I was sure we were going to make it to our cars by then; I just wasn't sure if he would make it to work by then. So with a particular "hike curfew" set in place, completing the trail in due time would involve setting a faster than normal pace. Not a good idea for a hike that I heard takes about eight hours to finish given the steep nature of the ascent.

We reached the hunter check-in box and turned left, descending gradually down a dirt road. Soon after we encountered a small dam which we had to walk across to get to the other side of the stream. The water there was deep, and falling off the dam on either side would have soaked our camera equipment. With the water spilling over the dam, it was inevitable our shoes would get wet. We inch our way slowly across the dam, making sure to take caution along the slippery parts. After a successful crossing we advanced on what is known as the Nakoa Trail, the main valley trail in Kahana.

About sixty yards from the dam we encountered a junction where the Nakoa Trail goes straight and a trail comes in on the left. We turned left and followed the trail to another obvious stream crossing, this time without a dam. I was the first to attempt the ford, and the water level was a couple inches above my knees at its deepest. Lei and Albert followed suit.

With the second crossing behind us, the trail led to yet another stream crossing, but this stream was very shallow. After the third crossing, the trail led into a forest abundant with lauhala.

The trail soon reached an exposed area. It was at this exposed area that we made a left turn and began a gradual descent along a luch, beautiful ridge to Kawa Stream. At Kawa Stream we would make our fourth crossing. The stream was narrower than previously, so crossing by hopping on rocks to our shoes dry was the call.

Immediately after crossing Kawa Stream the trail turned sharp right. From here the trail was all uphill with only several level sections to relax our lower limbs. Along the way we encountered many, many ropes. the last section to the top was no exception.

The thing about the Ohulehule trail is that once you reach a certain point along the trail -- in this case, the fourth stream crossing -- it gets steeper and more difficult until you reach the top. Some sections were just ridiculous, and without ropes there was no way to advance further going up or down. Luckily, there are ropes on every section along the steepest parts of the ridge, so it instills a sense of security and confidence during the taxing ascent.

We finally reached the top of Ohulehule a little after 1pm. The view was obscured by clouds at first, but in a couple of minutes the clouds cleared and we had an awesome view of Ka'a'awa Valley, Pu'u Kanehoalani, and Kualoa directly in front of us. It was such a grand view that it made us forget the trails we had to endure on the way up. The hike back down was a heck of a lot faster than the hike up. We made it back to our cars at 4:50pm, just enough time for Albert to make it to work.

There is another way to climb Ohulehule: it's from the infamous southeast ridge in which hiking guru Stuart Ball, author of "The Hiker's Guide to Oahu," claims it to be "the most dangerous hike on the island." The route we took ascend the peak from the northwest ridge. Another route that looks doable but really steep is the ridge that connects Kanehoalani to Ohulehule. It looks very doable from the saddle, except for extremely steep sections when nearing Ohulehule's apex. I'm not sure if anyone has gone up from that route, but if anyone does know if it's been done, please let me know. Also, the section between Pu'u O Kila and Ohulehule loks doable as well, except for a steep climb to eventually gain te crest of the northwest ridge about one-third of a mile below Ohulehule's summit. Again, if anyone has info on anyone that has hike Ohulehule from Pu'u O Kila, leave a comment or drop me an email.

Pu'u Ohulehule.

2nd stream crossing.

Lauhala leaves lie directly on the trail.

4th crossing at Kawa Stream.

The view of Manamana Turnover and Pu'u Manamana.

Pu'u Piei on the left.  Manamana Turnover on the right.

Looking over the Kahana/Ka'a'awa Valley saddle to Pu'u Kanehoalani.

An lush ohia tree with a view looking toward the entrance of Kahana Valley.

View along the summit ridge.

View from the top of Ohulehule, shot with my GoPro camera.

Pu'u Kanehoalani divides Ka'a'awa Valley and Kualoa.

Click on this picture to see a larger version of a panorama Albert shot from the top of Ohulehule.

Island Trails - Pu'u Ohulehule (GoPro POV) from Island Trails on Vimeo.


Likeke - July 22, 2010

Trails don't get any more crowded than Likeke. In a span of two hours and forty five minutes, Kevin and I passed at least eighty people along the trail, including two groups on a guided tour hike. With that said, if you want to experience one of the most popular and easily accessible waterfall trails, do Likeke.

The start of the Likeke trail is located at the Pali Lookout in Nu'uanu Valley. Follow the paved road (Old Pali Road) until you reach the Pali Highway on your left. Go under the highway. There is a wooden ladder to aid the small drop to get under the highway. Reconnect to a paved road. Walk a little ways until you reach a three-way junction in the road. At this point do not take any of the roads. Instead, find a trail to your left. A good landmark is a low concrete slab; the trail is to the right of it. the trail then climbs gradually on several switchbacks and reaches another junction on top of a ridge. Go straight across the ridge and descend gradually into a small gulch. From there follow the well-trodden trail until you reach another junction. Take the left junction. Soon you will end up at Likeke Falls. The trail continues on for quite a ways along the Ko'olau foothills. It's even possible to reach the Wilson tunnels of Likelike Highway. that trail is easy to follow but less used than the route to the waterfall.

Kevin and I went about two miles past the waterfall, meandering in and out of small gulches, with the the trail becoming more and more vegetated with each gulch passing, but the trail was still very easy to follow. All-in-all, Likeke is a great family hike, and it's a nice little workout. You'll definitely work up a sweat on the way back to the Pali Lookout.

Walking down Old Pali Road.

View along the road.

Hiking the trail well past the waterfall.

View along the trail past the waterfall.

Going back.

Likeke Falls.


Koloa to Kaipapa'u - July 17, 2010

The northeastern side of Oahu is my favorite area to hike. The valleys are vast, the gulches are filled with rainwater, and the ridges are towering and beautiful. It also serves as a pleasant change from the hustle-and-bustle of Honolulu where many of the popular ridge hikes on the island exist. Aside from a few popular trails on the northeast side -- Sacred Falls, Pu'u Manamana, Laie Falls, Hau'ula Loop Trail -- there are plenty of trail options that receive very little hiker traffic.

Feeling the exploratory bug, Lei, Mark, and I headed to Hau'ula to see if we could find a trail to Kaipapa'u Ridge. I had heard of connecting Kaipapa'u to Koloa Ridge to the northwest, so after very little research, we decided to start in the same place everyone starts to get to Koloa Gulch's waterfall.

After about a half hour of searching for a discernible trail to Kaipapa'u, we turned around and decided to go up Koloa Ridge and see what we could find from there instead. I had explored Koloa Ridge before on a solo outing that included horrible weather. During that hike I had intended to find the connector to Kaipapa'u but failed due to the bad weather and missing a junction that contoured along the left side of the ridge; I followed the ridge crest instead and hit a dead end. Our recent outing along Koloa was beautiful compared to the last time I did it, and this time we found the correct trail that headed into Kokololio Gulch, climbed steeply to Kokololio Ridge, and followed an overgrown connector trail to Kaipapa'u.

After crossing the stream in Kokololio Gulch, we headed up a steep trail to gain the crest of Kokololio Ridge. The ascent was very tiring, but we eventually made it to the top of the ridge crest and turned right. To the left was a makai (seaward) route that descended Kokololio Ridge and headed back to where we started at the beginning of Koloa.

Heading mauka (mountain-ward), the trail became more an more vegetated but still noticeable. Fifteen minutes had lapsed and the trail suddenly seemed to disappear at a point where the ridge saddled and connected to Kaipapa'u Ridge. We negotiated a short, steep section to get to the saddle. It was here that could see deep into the back of Kaipapa'u gulch. A short climb out of the saddle and the trail became more distinct. Finally, we had made it to Kaipapa'u ridge.

The view along the ridge was superb, and the tradewind breeze was very cool. A little ways down the ridge we rain into two hiking dogs, a white pitbull, and a poi dog, both females, donned with tracking collars around their necks. The dogs were headed upridge, but as soon as they saw us, they followed. We gave them some water and proceeded downridge.

The trail along the ridge would disappear and reappear without warning, making for a slow and difficult progress, at times through heavy vegetation. I also thought that as we advanced further downridge that the trail would open up, but it didn't, so we were forced to decide our track by scouting out an imaginary route below.

Below on the right, at the entrance of Kaipapa'u Gulch, we could hear the yells of a hunter trying to locate his dogs. Sure enough, the dogs that were with us were his, and they blazed a trail down a steep spur ridge to meet back up with their owner. It was at this point where we had to descend into a ravine and climb back out of it to continue along the ridge. After doing so, we encountered a well-defined path that eventually led to one bunker and then another. The bunkers were plastered with random messages, some profane, and some just plain hilarious. The first bunker even had a sleeping bag inside.

At the second bunker was a great view of Laie town to the left and Hau'ula town to the right, and the Pacific Ocean straight ahead. After a brief rest, we continued down a trail on the Laie side of the bunker that led to a horse ranch. The trail then turned into a dirt road, and we found ourselves jumping over a gate onto Kamehameha Highway. The walk back to our car was only about a half mile.

So another trail conquered, and one that I have been wanting to do for quite some time. There were many junctions that we passed that have to be explored on other outings, but I'm glad I finally completed this particular loop. Total time on the trail was about five hours, and I estimate it to be a little over five miles. It's a great workout, and a beautiful trail. Give it a try if you get the chance. Just don't get lost.

Island Trails - Koloa to Kaipapa'u (GoPro POV) from Island Trails on Vimeo.


Pali Notches - July 16, 2010

Just like Pali Puka, the trail to Nu'uanu's Pali Notches has to be another one of the shortest and most dangerous hikes on the island. It's actually more dangerous than Pali Puka. The prominent notches on the right hand side of the Pali Lookout bear significant Hawaiian history. [Click here for an interesting read on the area.] It also bears significant danger.

The Pali Notches trail is located at the Pali Lookout in Nu'uanu Valley. It is located in the same area of the Pali Puka trail. From the parking lot, walk towards the lookout. Just before reaching the lookout, there are a few obvious trails on the right that lead upslope into the forest. Follow any one of these trails. Bear left towards the edge of the ridge and follow the steep trail upward.

After a good amount of sweating, you'll reach the first notch. Descending can be a bit tricky, but it is definitely doable. Directly across is the second notch. Climb up to the second notch following the trail relative to the right side. The trail becomes exceedingly narrow atop the notch. Reach a point where the second notch drops vertically. This is where we turned around.

Descending the second notch is a mind-fuck. Without ropes, it would take a lot of guts and mental will to proceed further without making a single error. One wrong move and the Pali Notches trail could be your last. However, it is doable. Upon our inspection and failed attempt, the right side of the second notch would be the best option for trekking beyond. Although steep, there are foot and hand holds, but not much. Placement of your hands and feet are critical. While attempting the drop, my hands and feet were inches away from slipping, with my body contorted at maximum flexibility to reach my limbs to another foot or hand hold. Words cannot express how crucial your mental state must be along this section. You have to see it to believe it. Twenty minutes of trying, and we turned around.

Three people before our attempt succeeded in descending the second notch without any ropes. Check out Martyna and Allegra's Hiking Blog. Two fearless women. With that said, it is definitely possible, but the confidence and security of an anchored rope will prove the difference between life and death. And for now, I choose life. We'll be back with ropes next time.

Here's Kevin climbing back up the 1st notch.


Pali Puka - July 9, 2010

Pali Puka has to be one of the shortest and most dangerous hikes on the island. In fact, it's so short that you don't need to bring anything except for a pocket first-aid kit and a small bottle of water. It is both exhilirating and instantly rewarding. A bit of history exists along the trail as well. It was along this ridge and others where the Battle of Nu'uanu was fought, a key point in Hawaiian history that helped unify the Hawaiian Islands.

The Pali Puka trail is located on the bus side parking lot of the Pali Lookout in Nu'uanu Valley. Getting there is simple: take the Pali Highway and drive to the Pali Lookout by following signs along the highway. The Pali Lookout is a very popular tourist attraction. Although the spot is popular and often loaded with tourists, not many people know that trails do exist to the left and right of the parking lot.

The Pali Puka trail starts off in a small bamboo grove. It then climbs steeply and within less than a minute you'll find yourself at the edge of a vertical cliff. From here the trail climbs northeast towards Lanihuli on a often windy ridge, at times right along the edge. Near the end of the trail the path gets notably narrow with drops on both sides. Further progress is hindered by a massive vertical rock face, although I have heard of a trail that exists all the way to the summit of Lanihuli. I'll have to scope it out one day. Just before this rock face is a puka (hole) in the ridge. This puka is said to be used by Kanikapule during the Battle of Nu'uanu. He placed a cannon in this hole to thwart off incoming enemies.

After a short rest, my friend Kevin and I headed back down. It had only been an hour excursion, but a very worthy one, for I had tried it before and failed. My hiking partner and I at the time were scared off by the presence of thousands of bees, the culprits that almost sealed my fate along Piliwale Ridge in October of 2009. This time along Pali Puka, Kevin and I were fortunate to encounter no bees at all. Next week Kevin and I are going to the other side of the Pali Lookout to hike to the Pali Notches and hopefully climb it.


Maka'opuhi Crater (Big Island, Hawaii) - June 23, 2010

It was just past 6am in the morning in the town of Volcano on the Big Island. The air was crisp and very cool, mist shrouded the outside setting, and the wind was howling. It was a far cry from the weather back home on Oahu, and I sure as hell wasn't used to it. Proof was obvious in my morning attire: long sleeve T-shirt over a short sleeve T-shirt, all covered with a down jacket, plus a beanie, sweat pants, and thick socks.

Mark woke up a few minutes after me. Our bodies were still recovering from Ka'aha the day before. It was this day, though, that we had planned to hike to the summit of Mauna Loa, but because we were using Mark's dad's car, he didn't want us driving on Saddle Road, a dangerous winding road that climbs Mauna Loa, so we had to pick another trail. I suggested Maka'opuhi Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Mark agreed, but he reminded me that the weather would decide the course of our day. We grabbed our hiking gear in our winter attire and headed for the trailhead. To our surprise the trailhead was a lot nicer than it had been back at Mark's dad's house. It was windy, cloudy, and still a bit misty, but we set out to hike the trail anyway.

The Maka'opuhi Crater trail starts at an elevation of a little over 3,000 feet. A jacket is recommended because it does get a bit nippy initially, especially during the morning hours. The trail is also very hard to follow for a novice hiker. Ahu (cairns) mark the route, but it is still very easy to go astray because the ahu sometimes blends in with the dark, lava landscape.

It takes about four miles to reach Maka'opuhi Crater. Along the four miles is an eerie walk through barren lava fields. Vegetation does thrive along the route, but it is mostly desolate and lonely. You seriously feel like you're in the middle of nowhere.

The first mile in we climbed Pu'u Huluhulu, a small, heavily forested peak that offers a great vantage point of the surrounding landscape. A couple miles in and we passed Mauna Ulu, a shield volcano that is responsible for filling Maka'opuhi Crater in its heyday. Past Mauna Ulu are several steam vents, a pit crater, and nothing but square miles of barren lava. It truly is a breathtaking sight. The crater is also awesome. Maka'opuhi Crater is the largest pit crater on Kilauea. It is about 360 feet deep and 1.6 kilometers by 1 kilometer. At the highest point of the crater lies a lush rainforest. It is possible to hike to the rainforest via the crater rim trail, but it will add a fair amount of mileage and time to the hike.

Throughout our hike, the wind was constantly cool. Resting for just five minutes can make the body feel colder as it did for us, even with the clearing weather. On the way back, the sun was out the whole time, but the temperature was still very cool. However, keeping a steady pace will keep the body warm. There are no ups or downs, except for a small, gradual ascent alongside Mauna Ulu. Other than that, it's a very easy hike. It's just always important to keep the ahu's in sight.

Looking towards Mauna Ulu from the the lookout atop Pu'u Huluhulu.

 Maka'opuhi Crater.

Walking back.  Sulfur dioxide bellowing from Hale'ma'uma'u Crater in the distance with Mauna Loa behind.

Ka'aha (Big Island, Hawaii) - June 22, 2010

My first hike on the Big Island of Hawaii turned out to be one of the hottest trails I ever did. If it wasn't for the constant presence of tradewinds, Mark and I probably would've passed out along the 8-mile round trip route. Aside from several ohia trees and lava tubes, the trail offers no shade at all except for the Ka'aha shelter along the coast. Although the route is hot, it still left me in awe of the desolate landscape. For as far as the eye could see, there was nothing: no houses, no buildings, and not one person in sight. To some people on the Big Island, a vast area of undeveloped land, as exemplified on the Ka'aha trail, is nothing new, but for me, being born and raised on populous Oahu, the sights were new, and the feeling was surreal.

Upon arriving on the Big Island, Mark and I had an ideal place to stay during our visit. Mark's father resides in quaint home in the town of Volcano, just a three minute drive from the entrance of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, an area where we planned to do all of our hikes. The park attracts visitors from around the world. With a fee of $10, one can view volcanic sites, museums, and hike the many trails that exist around the massive park. Lucky for us, Mark's dad let us use his car that had a sticker on the front windshield that allowed us free access into the park. The sticker is primarily used to pick up Mark's father's mail in his P.O. Box on the park grounds, but roaming elsewhere is prohibited. But that didn't stop us from accessing the trailheads. What more could we have asked for? No rental car fee, no hotel fee, no park fee, and free home-cooked meals: it couldn't have been any better.

To get to the Ka'aha trailhead enter into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Take Chain of Craters Road and head south. Turn right on Hilina Pali Road and follow the road to its end and park in the parking lot. Walk towards the covered picnic shelter. Look towards the ocean's horizon and follow the trail leading to the edge of the pali (cliff).

The trail begins to make a long descent on a number of switchbacks. The view along the switchbacks is incredible. It is advisable to watch your footing along the switchbacks because much of the descent is along sharp and loose lava rock. A few ohia trees provide shade along the way.

Once at the bottom of the pali, the trail reaches a signed junction. Take the right junction signed the Ka'aha trail. From this point on the trail is level, passing several small lava tubes that come into view sporadically. These lava tubes are the only natural shade along the dry and barren landscape.

The view of the ocean gets closer with every step. Eventually the Ka'aha shelter is reached. It is the only man-made shade along the coast. The shelter is three-sided with a water catchment system in back. The water in the catchment system should be treated before drinking. There are also two pit toilets near the shelter. Inside the shelter is a log book of other hikers that have made the trek as well, some that have taken our route and and some that have taken the backpack route from the Ka'au Desert trail. The earliest logs date back to 2003, and the most recent log before us was a month prior.

From the shelter we made our way to our destination: Ka'aha Cove, a large, shallow cove protected by the rough, windswept waves breaking just outside of the reef shelf. The cove harbors an abundant variety of reef fish and eels. We actually spotted a couple of eels basking in the extremely shallow waters, only to be startled by our presence, swimming swiftly to deeper water and out of sight. Because of the eels, Mark and I decided not to swim in the cove. Instead we headed half-a-mile southwest along the coast to explore the reef and its surroundings. The contrast of green vegetation growing on top of lava rock was an awesome sight. We could hear the sound of waves crashing against the reef shelf, and the salt water mist gently coated our skin making for a cooling effect in the blazing sun. We stopped at a certain point and returned to the shelter to have lunch and begin our debate on when to leave.

It was 11am. Mark wanted to head back to our car in the scorching midday sun. I tried to sway him into leaving around 2pm, when the sun was less intense, but he insisted we leave earlier so we wouldn't waste our day and have enough time to do something else when we got home. Keep in mind that it was the second longest day of the year, the sun would be over our heads longer than any other time of the year, there was no cloud cover, there was virtually no shade on the way back, and we had to ascend the pali along the switchbacks in the blazing sun: suicide! But Mark thought of it to be an addition to our already scalding adventure, something we could tell our children in the future, that we had opted opted to hike in the midday summer sun along a lava desert on the Big Island.

The hike back was brutal. What I thought had been level coming down was actually a gradual ascent. My head started pounding, my hydration pack was emptying at an alarming rate, and the sun showed no mercy. We stopped at the several lava tubes to cool off and dry our skin. Also, the lava tubes actually had a cool breeze: kind of like natural air-conditioning.

We reached the base of the pali about an hour-an-a-half from the shelter. By now the sun was at its peak, directly above our heads. A lone ohia tree off the trail provided another rest spot with some shade, and the rest was needed for the ascent up Hilina Pali's switchbacks. As we ascended sweat poured out of every inch of my body. I could hear and feel the beat of my heart in my head, and my water was getting warmer. What took 45 minutes to go down at the beginning of the hike took us an hour-and-a-half to go back up. Once at the top of the pali, the picnic shelter at the trailhead was a sight for sore eyes and body.

A typical 8-mile hike usually takes about five or six hours to complete; Ka'aha took us seven hours. Although it's not entirely difficult, the heat is a major factor in lengthening the total hike time. It is definitely not a trail to take lightly, and I highly recommend doing the trail in winter. The summer heat in this area is ridiculous. Water is another factor. I had three liters in my hydration pack, an extra 1.5 liters in a bottle, and two small water bottles. At the end of the hike I only had about half a liter left. With that said, bring lots of water. Another important thing to know about hiking on trails similar to Ka'aha is to follow ahu (cairns). Ahu is a pyramidal rock pile used to mark the trail because there is no vegetation to tie ribbons to and the trail is sometimes hard to distinguish, so keeping an eye out for ahu is essential. If there is ever a time I'll do the trail again, it'll be from the Ka'u Desert backpack route, and it'll be in the winter. Other than that, June 22nd, 2010 will be the last time I ever set foot on the Ka'aha dayhike trail. It's unbelievably torrid.

Checking out the view from atop Hilina Pali.  (photo: M. Seto)

Looking back at Hilina Pali.

On our way to the coast.

Almost there.

The view along the coast near the Ka'aha shelter looking towards Apua Point.

Cooling off at the Ka'aha shelter, the only real shade along the entire trail.

Exploring further down the coast.