If you're a trail aficianado like myself, then I'm sure you've heard of the Pu'u Manamana trail on the northeastern side of Oahu. If not, do a quick Google search. That is NOT the trail we did this past Sunday. The trail we did goes beyond the end point of the Pu'u Manamana main trail known as Turnover (elev. 2,027 ft.). Beyond turnover a trail makes its way to an awesome lookout. From the lookout is the menacing and intimidating trail below. You can litterally draw the route along the narrow ridge with your eyeballs. And although the actual peak of Manamana looks only about a mile away from the lookout, it was only successfully summited by eleven people before us.
Over a decade ago, Manamana was attempted by some of the most seasoned hikers in the HTMC. The most notable pioneers were Chuck Godek, Al Miller, and Charlotte Yamane, all of whom were unsuccessful at reaching the summit. Al and Charlotte tried to reach the summit three times: once from Turnover and twice from a side ridge in Ka'a'awa Valley. To this day, Charlotte and Al's weathered white cables are meticulously placed along prominent sections along the ridge, all within less than one-third of a mile to the summit.
It wasn't until July 2010 that Pete Clines and Laredo Murray were the first to fully document a successful climb to the peak. A previous attempt by Pete in 2005 proved ill-fated because of time constraint. However, at the end of June 2010, Pete, along with August Smith, Chris Cheng, and Tricia Higa, cleared the heavily overgrown portion from Turnover to the lookout. This once overgrown stretch is now hikeable to the lookout in under half an hour, a big obstacle Pete had to endure without any clearing in 2005. With news of Pete and Laredo's successful climb, a handful of others followed and reached the summit as well.
The fourth group that reached the summit consisted of Nate Rubio, Kale Tulang, and Albert Carcueva. It took them a little over nine hours, and Nate even installed a very useful rope on the initial descent after the lookout that other hikers after him used to their advantage. As if cheating death once wasn't enough, Nate Rubio called me to join him on his second attempt to reach the summit.
Our trek to Pu'u Manamana took place on a weekend with beautiful forecasted weather: partly cloudy skies, brisk tradewinds, and little chance of rain. Tagging along for the hike was Ryan Chang and Lei Yamasaki. We started off in the dark on the Graveyard Trail on Trout Farm Road in Kahana Valley at exactly 6am. Graveyard is a steep trail that climbs straight up to Turnover. The climb was tiring, at times narrow, and very muddy near the top. After an hour and a half of ascending uphill we finally reached Turnover.
A short break followed: we ate some snacks, rehydrated, I changed into long pants. Then we headed further beyond Turnover to the lookout. Twenty minutes lapsed and we were at the lookout. The view at the lookout is awesome. Straight ahead and below was Pu'u Manamana. Behind Manamana was Ohulehule. Behind Ohulehule was the towering mountain range of the Ko'olau. To the left was Ka'a'awa Valley and the jagged summit ridge of Kanehoalani. To the right was the large expanse of Kahana Valley. Views don't get much better than that vantage point at the lookout.
Another break ensued: hydrated again and got a bite to eat. We also left some items at the lookout to lighten our packs. The inherent danger of the trail was obvious as we made our descent past the lookout. Steep and narrow: two deadly combinations. Butt-scooting was the only option, and the drops on both sides were massive. At this point the views were long forgotten. Precise foot, hand, and butt placement was all that mattered.
Near the bottom of the initial descent the ridge notches off. A fifteen foot rock face had to be negotiated with ropes installed by both Pete and Nate. During his first trek, Nate secured 100 feet of blue rope to a tree well above Pete's on top of the ridge. Pete tied his rope around a portion of rock at the top of the rock outcrop. Nate, Ryan, and I decided on descending the right side of the rock face with barely any prominent foot and hand holds. Much of our weight had to be stressed upon the ropes. Sketchy to say the least, but the ropes were brand new and in very good shape. Near the bottom are a couple of trees, one stronger than the other, that aided in the harrowing descent. Lei was last and opted to climb down the left side of the rock face. The left side has lesser hand and foot holds than the right side. When Lei successfully climbed down the rock face, we then were faced with a problem. With the ropes hanging on the left side, we noticed that the ropes were in an awkward position to climb back up on the way back. Plus, climbing up the left side would be more difficult than climbing up the right side. We agreed to continue the trek and solve the problem on the way back.
And then the less than half a mile per hour pace began on probably the narrowest and crumbliest ridge I've ever seen. I don't know how this "trail" will survive if it gets additional hiker traffic on a regular basis. There are certain sections along the ridge that will eventually erode and crumble, hampering further progress for future expeditions. In fact, portions of the ridge have trees growing directly on top of it, and the only way to progress further is to swing on the trees like a monkey on either side. Although strong now, the trees will eventually weaken if the ridge is trampled and pulled on numerously, allowing less than secure trees to depend on.
Safe sections actually do exist along the ridge; however, it is few and far between. Some other rope sections prove to be very helpful, especially at a section where Charlotte Yamane and Al Miller left behind cables that contour around a section of ridge that has a hole in it and another section that contours to the left around a rock overhang.
The last two climbs to the summit are no joke. Nate compared it to the likes of Piliwale but shorter. The trail steepens and follows the ridge over lose dirt and unstable vegetation. Rocks are dislodged, every step and pull is recalculated, and the ridge, of course, narrows to mind boggling proportions. Nate and I were the first to reach the summit, followed by Ryan and then Lei. It was 12pm, and Nate said we were making good time. A twenty to thirty minute lunch break would suffice until it was time to do everything in reverse.
Going back was a lot quicker for some reason. I volunteered to go up the initial rock outcrop to switch the ropes to the right side. That feat was especially adrenaline inducing because I climbed up with no rope. I don't know how my shoes held its grip on the smooth rock, but it did. And by 3pm we reached Turnover. Heading down Graveyard, the sun began to wane, and our legs began to feel fatigued. At 5:30pm we finally reached the car: eleven-and-half hours of hiking.
The hike to True Manamana is definitely one to prepare for. There are many things to consider as well. Here's a list:
1) Water. I ran out of my three liters on the way back coming down Graveyard.
2) Start very early. The trail takes all day. Once past the lookout, you don't sweat much because you are moving so slow. Bring a headlamp or flashlight. If you're hiking in the dark in the morning, you're making good time.
3) Physical and mental ability. The trail going up Graveyard is one hell of a workout. You ascend Graveyard, and when you reach Turnover, you're tired and ready to go back. If you're scared of heights and/or get vertigo, forget about it. This trail is not for you. If you don't like extremely narrow and exposed ridge sections, again, THIS TRAIL IS NOT FOR YOU.
4) Pack light. A very small lunch and snacks will suffice. This isn't an overnight backpacking excursion. A small pack that can store ample hydration will do fine and is highly recommended. One tip is to tolerate a heavy pack stored with water to the lookout. That way you can stash water at the lookout like we did. A bulky pack will use up more of your energy past the lookout because much of the trail involves flexibility and body contortion. Just remember, a big pack is a big mistake.
5) Bring long pants and a long sleeve shirt. This is pretty self-explanatory. If you like cuts on your legs, wear shorts. If you like cuts on your arms, wear a T-shirt.
6) Have a solid crew. It may sound a bit macho, but come with people that can "handle." Lots of upper body strength is required for this trail. You also don't want to bring twenty people on this hike. Like I said earlier, the ridge is very brittle. More people means more chances of the ridge falling apart. And with more people, the pace will be slower. I can't imagine what it would be like having more than four people.
7) Weather. Check the weather forecast. Even if you're not a meteorologist, watch the news. Listen to Guy Hagi (or not). But with all joking aside, take the weather forecast seriously. Doing this trail in the rain and/or during extremely high winds is suicide.
8) Bring rope. Obviously.
The list above is just a list. It's what we considered, and it's what made the hike RELATIVELY pleasant. It doesn't mean I'm encouraging you to do it. I actually discourage you from doing it. This definitely is one of Oahu's most dangerous trails. So with that said, take my warning seriously: True Manamana is no fucking joke.
Going up Graveyard. (photo: L. Yamasaki)
First glimpse of Manamana and Ohulehule from Graveyard. (photo: L. Yamasaki)
At the lookout. (photo: L. Yamasaki)
photo: L. Yamasaki
Nate leading the way.
photo: L. Yamasaki
Ryan and Lei carefully making their way along the ridge.
Narrow. (photo: N. Rubio)
photo: L. Yamasaki
Coming up to the hole in the ridge (top left of picture). (photo: L. Yamasaki)
Lei contouring around a rock overhang.
Nate throwing da shaka.
Last rope section. (photo: N. Rubio)
Penguins on the summit, on Ryan's underwear. (photo: L. Yamasaki)
Climbing back on our way to the lookout. (photo: L. Yamasaki)
Know your knots! Nate's clove hitch with the ultimate stopper for 100 feet of rope.
Nate Rubio's video below: