Island Trails' 2010 Video Summary

It's been an interesting and memorable year. I totaled thirty-one hikes, eleven shy of the amount I did in 2009. Still, I covered a lot of ground, literally. I hiked a bunch of trails I never did before, and a bunch I will probably never do again. I met a lot of new people that are highly esteemed and recognized in the hiking community, and I also made some brand new friendships that I'm sure will be long-lasting.

The whole hiking community has been really active this year, and I've noticed that more and more people have been getting into hiking. In addition, a lot of dangerous and unused trails have been resurrected and completed. Notorious hiking trails such as True Manamana, Bear Claw, and Lanihuli East (just to name a few) have been completed, forcing some to attempt other trails that are downright suicidal. But what sticks out and is most surprising is how Piliwale Ridge, a very dangerous trail that was used rarely, is now used more than it ever was since it was pioneered. It is an amazing feat, how in the several decades since its inception, more people have done Piliwale Ridge in one year than in three decades. The proof is obvious: hiking is growing on Oahu.

Personally, my blog has been getting record-setting views compared to last year. With the addition of the amazing GoPro camera I purchased, I was able to capture some unreal video footage to share with everyone here on the blog. GoPro even approved my blog for advertising, which is why there are a few GoPro banners on the blog now. If you want to capture footage on the trail, I highly recommend purchasing it. It's worth every penny.

Finally, if you haven't noticed, I'm posting the video summary a month before the year ends. What about December you ask? Well, I'm taking a break from hiking until 2011. In the meantime, I'll be catching up with my first love: surfing. It's been long overdue. Still, I will be squeezing some hikes in between every now and then to keep my stamina in check. I now live in Wahiawa, and my backyard is the forest, so I'm gonna see what kind of trails I can find. I might even trailblaze one to the Ko'olau summit. Who knows. For now, enjoy this video I made. It's a collaboration of some of the best moments from 2010. Aloha.

Island Trails' 2010 Video Summary from Island Trails on Vimeo.

Waianae-Ka'ala - November 21, 2010

There are two ways to climb Mount Ka'ala, Oahu's tallest peak. One way is from the Dupont Trail that starts near Waialua High School on the North Shore; the other way is to ascend the Waianae-Kal'ala trail that starts in Waianae Valley on the west side. Dupont is longer; Waianae-Ka'ala is shorter. Both, however, involve steep climbs to reach the summit.

Joining me on Sunday's hike was Ali Hayami, Brian Bautista, Dean Seto, and Albert Carcueva. We met at the end of Waianae Valley Road. Proceeded past the locked gate onto the paved road. Reached the forest after about a mile. Not a lot wind initially, but it did pick up as the day went on.

At around 11am we reached the poles and turned right toward the Ka'ala summit. The views were outstanding all along the ridge. Looking up we could see that the summit was shrouded in clouds. Our view would be obscured as we climbed higher so I took advantage of as much photo opportunities as I could.

Half-way up the ridge are two steep boulder sections. Nothing impossible. Cables and ropes are there for assistance. After the boulders the remainder of the trail is steep with ropes laid out the whole way until the bog.

At the summit there's a boardwalk that passes through the Ka'ala bog. Because Ka'ala is broad and flat, the rainwater doesn't have much places to spill off, so a large bog exists that harbors many native plants and endangered Hawaiian snails. You can even catch a glimpse of a happy face spider.

Just beyond the bog is a large tracking station operated by the FAA. At the top, we bordered the fence, found a lunch spot, and tried to admire the view until thick clouds rolled in with rain. We headed back down the way we came and made it back to our cars at 2:30pm.

On the road.  (photo: kaleo)

 Getting ready to climb to the summit.  (photo: kaleo)

 Brian, climbing the boulder section.  (photo: kaleo)

 photo: kaleo

Boardwalk through the bog.  (photo: kaleo)

Almost there. (photo: A. Carcueva)

Dean and Ali checking out the view from the top of Ka'ala.  (photo: A. Carcueva)

Heading back down.  (photo: B. Bautista)

photo: B. Bautista

photo: B. Bautista


Bear Claw (Left Fork) - October 31, 2010

I'm not going to sugar-coat anything about the hike we did this past Sunday. I'll just get straight to the point: Bear Claw is one fucked up trail. It is by far the scariest hike I've completed, and the most challenging. Aside from the physical demand this hike entails, it's the mental aspect that makes this hike different from any other trail I've done on Oahu. It encompasses everything that makes an Oahu ridge trail scary, multiplied by ten. Self-agility and the self-ability to make good decisions to progress further are put to the test, solidifying Bear Claw as one of the most dangerous trails on the island.

Bear Claw tops out at about 2,100 feet on the Ko'olau summit between the terminus of Kuli'ou'ou and Pu'u O Kona. The route climbs over 2,000 feet in a little under a mile! There are two ways to climb Bear Claw: one is from the left ridge, the other is from the right ridge. I, along with Keith Mahon, Brian Bautista, and Nate Rubio, decided to ascend the left ridge. Before the hike, Nate had emailed Andrew Bayang for directions to the start of the trail. Andrew, along with Jeremy Kreis and Jason Antolin, completed the hike this past September. (You can read about Andrew's account of the hike by clicking here. You can also read up on Nathan Yuen's account of the right ridge by clicking this link.

The route began walking on a road, passing croplands and eventually crossing over a large ranch. According to our directions, we were to locate a watertank. From there we'd follow a trail, passing two powerline towers along the way. We had no idea where the watertank was, but thanks to Nate's satellite GPS we were able to locate it. On the left side of the watertank was an obvious trail that headed uphill. Eventually we hit two powerline clearings, indicating we were on the right track.

Beyond the powerlines the trail's steepness increased, and we were confronted with our first rock face. The climb was minor, but looking skyward we could see that the climb ahead was no joke.

We then hit a second near-vertical rock face. The section was tricky. Hand and foot had to be meticulously placed for proper grip. Evidence that someone had climbed the rock face before was obvious when we spotted two old metal poles sticking out of cracks in the rock. These metal poles were especially handy for the climb up the rock face, for it was perfect to grasp with our hands and push up with our feet. At the top of the rock face was another metal pole. Nate and I decided to fix a rope so Keith and Brian could have an easier time climbing up than we did.

As we pushed further the trail disappeared and we soon found ourselves pushing through heavy vegetation. The majority of trees were very strong; other trees were weak and would break with the slightest pull. The strength of the trees were doubly important when we encountered the third rock face. I inspected the steepness and spotted a relatively safe route that would climb up on the right and then contour left and upward. Easier said than done. Lots of the trees gave way, and much of the rock was rotten and crumbly. Somehow we all managed to get to the top of the rock face, and beyond was an all out battle between man and vegetation.

The steepness of the ridge did not let up. Trees slowed our progress tremendously, and at times we found ourselves crawling on our knees and hands to get under branches. Our eyes were set on the level ironwood grove above.

To my amazement we encountered our first ribbon. It was a fresh pink ribbon affixed to a branch that I assume was tied by Nate Yuen and his gang when they hiked up the right ridge a couple weeks prior. The ribbon was an apt location to be tied to because it indicated where the right and left ridge join.

We finally reached the ironwood grove. Beyond, the summit beckoned within a half mile. However, the real test lay ahead. The ridge narrowed to mind boggling proportions. Not only that, but we could see that climbing rock faces was not over.

Dike after dike, crumbly rock face after crumbly rock face, we inched our way slowly past the most perilous sections. The drops on either side would prove deadly if we fell. There was no room for error. Especially gut wrenching was the final 30-foot climb to attain the summit. Nate, Keith, Brian, and I agreed: it was the longest 30-foot climb of our lives. To put the climb in perspective: imagine climbing up a steep 30-foot hill with nothing to hold on to but loose grass and dirt. The dirt feels soft with every touch of the hand and push of the foot. You're sliding. You're digging your fingers into the dirt. You feel the gust of winds at your back that are flowing up and over the mountain. All of this is happening on a five-foot wide ridge with a massive drop on the right, and a relatively safer drop on the left. Although, the trail hugs the very right edge of the ridge, so if you fall, you will fall to the right. A nightmare, to say the least.

I made it to the top first and let out a relieved shout of accomplishment while I watched Nate climb up next. Keith followed suit and made it to the top as well and plopped himself face first, lying down in the dirt, relieved that it was over, his adrenaline flowing like mad. And finally, Brian brought up the rear and reached the summit without incident. We high fived, found a lunch spot, ate, and then headed down the Kuli'ou'ou Ridge state trail.

I'd like to thank Nate Yuen and Andrew Bayang for the information we gathered from them to tackle this monster hike. Without them, this post would not have been possible. If you are planning to attempt this hike, there are few things I'd like to point out. First off, park a car at the Kuli'ou'ou Ridge trailhead. Then drive to Waimanalo and park another car there. You can of course go up Bear Claw and come back down, but coming down would be a bitch. I recommend going up and over. Secondly, getting to the watertank involves a bit of trespassing. There is a large ranch to hike through, and we were lucky to not have run into anyone along the way. Thirdly, there is not a single rope installed along the entire trail. With that said, rope is essential. Nate brought along some rope, and we used it on the second rock face. It is no longer there because we untied it. Fourth, the rock along this ridge is some of the most brittle I've ever seen. Each step and each grab must be tested in the worst spots. One slip, and it's over. There is no room for error. And fifth, a small shovel would be of great use for the last forty feet to the summit. With a shovel, hand and foot holds can be dug out into the dirt for added traction and security. A rope would definitely help, too, but there is nothing to anchor it from the top (e.g. tree). Pounding a metal stake or piton to secure the rope to would work. If you have the stamina and guts, try it. We ribboned a good portion to the ironwood grove. After that it's just a narrow trek to the Ko'olau summit. Good luck.

Island Trails - Bear Claw (Left Fork) [GoPro POV] from Island Trails on Vimeo.

Nate Rubio's video edit:


Hamama Falls and Waihe'e Falls - October 26, 2010

*The following trail is my 100th hike since April 2008!

Hamama Falls has been on my to-do-list for quite some time. I've heard a lot of good things about it, and by some, it's even considered a "secret" waterfall hike. Truth is: Hamama Falls is far from secret. For the sensitive folk, I'll be nice and keep the location hush-hush. However, with a little internet research, those of you who want to know where it is can find it easily.

The trail to Hamama Falls follows a dirt road the entire time. I loathe dirt roads, but this road is not that bad. Although much of the views along the road are obscured by tall vegetation, the sound of the stream is always audible. At some points along the road, it's possible to visit the stream when you wish. There is even a crystal clear swimming hole on the left about ten minutes from the start of the road.

The trail is not at all strenuous, and it is a perfect family hike. There are a few hills along the road that gain elevation gradually, offering a bit of a workout until you reach the destination. About half-an-hour from the start of the trail and you'll find yourself at Hamama Falls, a 40-foot cascade spilling from the Ko'olau's in the back of Waihe'e Valley. The swimming hole at the bottom of the waterfall is shallow but swim-worthy.

As a bonus, my hiking partner, Keith, and I set out to find a second waterfall: Waihe'e Falls. The trail to Waihe'e Falls starts at a huge banyan tree. From Hamama Falls, retrace your steps back on the road and keep an eye out for a large banyan tree on the left. Cross the stream, then follow the stream makai (seaward), hugging a low ridge to the left. As the ridge tapers off, veer left away from the stream and look for a faint trail heading mauka (mountainward). Follow a grove of lauhala with the stream audible on the right. Climb gradually until the sound of rushing water becomes louder. Push through some vegetation and you'll see a 10-foot waterfall cascading from above. A trail along the right side of the waterfall climbs to the top of the waterfall, with a shallow swimming hole and a view of a higher falls. These falls are not as magnificent as Hamama, but Waihe'e Falls is a waterfall that very little people know about. Give it a try. Keith and I marked the route with orange ribbons.

Hamama Falls.  (photo: kaleo)

Keith, the only person I know that hikes in a rashguard.

Waihe'e Falls.

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