Kulepeamoa Ridge - November 1, 2008

The Hawaiian Trail Mountain Club website is very helpful. The club's website has a list of scheduled trail clearings at various trails around the island that are in need of maintenance. Around the middle of October 2008, the club scheduled a trail clearing on Kulepeamoa Ridge in Niu Valley. From what I've read on the internet, Kulepeamoa is a difficult and dangerous trail that consists of steep climbs, narrow sections, and vertical drop-offs: my kind of hike.

The coincidence of Halloween landing on a Friday weeded out the people who hike with me regularly. I, too, had my fair share of drinks the night before, and I woke up with a slight hangover in the morning, but after a few cups of water, I felt better and picked up my friend John to accompany me on what the Hawaiian Trail Mountain Club calls a "lung-busting" hike.

The trail begins with a an easy walk through Niu Valley, paralleling a dry stream bed. After about a half-mile, the trail turns right and uphill until the Kulepeamoa ridgeline is gained. The rocky climb uphill was brutal. John and I topped out in a shady and breezy ironwood grove. We rested a bit and pushed on.

The ungraded trail was really nice. We passed groves of Sydney Blue Gum trees and ferns of all types. The uluhe fern sections were cleared out extremely well, too. A few hours into the hike we reached some dangerous spots. The ridge narrowed and became rocky. There was also a massive, vertical rope section with a huge drop on the right side of the ridge. Without the rope, the vertical section would have been a bitch to climb.

A couple more climbs and we finally reached the Ko'olau Summit. To the left we could see other hikers resting at the top of the Hawaii Loa Ridge trail. To the right was Pu'u O Kona. In front was Mount Olomana and the towns of Kailua, Lanikai, Waimanalo, and Kaneohe. After eating lunch, we headed back down. The trail took us a little over six hours, but it could be done faster; we took a lot of breaks along the way.

Here's how John felt after the first steep climb to gain the ridgeline.

The ridge had a lot of nice, level sections after the first steep climb.

The scheduled trail clearing by the HTMC was a successful one.  Here the trail is wide and well-groomed.  Uluhe fern sections like this one usually choke the trail and make the ridge difficult to hike.

First narrow and rocky section.

Here's a picture of John peeking over the edge of a huge drop on the right side of the ridge.

Steep climbing resumed as we neared the Ko'olau Summit.

Massive rope section.  Notice the drop on the right side.

Looking back at the length of ridge we just hiked.

Grassy lookout at the summit.

Here's the view to the right.  The peak in middle-right portion of the picture is Pu'u O Kona: a fun, yet dangerous loop hike that I did in June of 2008.

And here's an awesome view to the left.  I had originally planned to hike up Kulepeamoa and turn left to climb down Hawaii Loa Ridge, but we didn't have another car.

And here's looking back towards Aina Haina and Hawaii Kai.


Pauao Ridge - October 18, 2008

Pauao Ridge is one hell of hike. Finding the trail was a hell of a task as well. In fact, Kulani and I got lost within the first half-hour. We ended up taking a sheltered trail that led to Kahana Valley's Nakoa Trail. After retracing our steps we finally found a faint trail leading up the side of Pauao Ridge.

From the beginning we were waist high in vegetation, most of the vegetation being uluhe ferns. The trail to gain the ridge was super steep, and its overgrown nature did not help at all. After a little over half an hour of climbing we finally reached the ridgeline. We rested at an open, empty spot with remnants of an old tarp that was probably used for camping. After a handful of beef jerky and trail mix, we headed onward.

I had thought that once we reached the top of Pauao Ridge the trail would be more defined. I was wrong. It was obvious that Pauao Ridge is rarely ever hiked. The trail was ridiculously overgrown, and I don't even know why we went as far as we did. The Ko'olau Summit didn't look far at all, but at the rate we were going there was no way we would have made it out before dark. At a certain point in the trail we just turned around. The trail seemed to disappear all together at our turnaround point, and further advancement seemed impossible.

Although we didn't make the full trip to the summit, we still had great views of Kahana Valley and Punalu'u Valley. I may do this trail again, only if I have a large crew armed with machetes. Pauao Ridge is in dire need of clearing.

Head high in vegetation, and this was just the beginning of the hike.

Finally at the top of the ridgeline. This bare spot was used as a camp ground by other past hikers.

Virtually no trail to follow.

And this is where we decided to turn around. Beyond this point the trail just disappeared.

The pointed peak (Pu'u Pauao, elevation: ~2,800 feet) in the distance was our destination, but the trail was extremely overgrown.

Heading back.

Down the steep, overgrown hill.

Ferns galore.

Thru the uluhe meadow.


Kahana Valley.

Deep view into Kahana Valley, with the pointed peak of Pu'u Ohulehule looming in the distance.

Punalu'u Valley.


Pu'u Hapapa - October 10, 2008

Yesterday was my 25th birthday, and the hike Baron, Neal, Chase, and I did made it a birthday I will never forget. We headed to Schofield Barracks to climb to the 2,883 foot peak of Pu'u Hapapa, a hiking trail that is rarely used and unmaintained.

The morning started off gray and rainy, and it didn't seem like a good idea to do a ridge hike in the clouds, but we headed to Kolekole Pass anyway. While driving we could see that the whole mountain was covered in clouds. We parked, got our bags ready, and headed uphill. Miraculously, the clouds immediately began to thin, the mountain became visible, and blue skies began to show.

The first part of the trail contours right in front of the mountain on what is called the Honouliuli Contour Trail, and there are many ridges that can be climbed to gain the ridgeline. We headed up an extremely steep slope that had us huffing and puffing for a good ten minutes. From here the ridge route became obvious, and steep climbing resumed.

The first part of the ridge has little shade, and the second half is heavily vegetated. As the top neared we were greeted by a fence that the Nature Conservancy built to protect native animals and plants. The fence totally downgraded the hiking experience, and it also prevented us from advancing to Pu'u Kanehoa in the distance. If the fence was not there, the ridgeline past Pu'u Hapapa looked to be one of the nicest ridge walks I have ever seen; the whole mountain range could probably be hiked all the way to Pu'u Kaua and even to Makakilo, but that damn fence was built right on the narrow trail, making it dangerous to attempt. We sat at a flat clearing, ate our lunch, and headed back down.

I noticed a side ridge jutting out on the right on the way up, so we all decided to make that our return route. Little did we know that this return route was an extremely dangerous descent. The ridge became narrow at times, but the narrowness was the least of our worries. The ridge had two massive drops that we had to descend with no ropes, and it became obvious that this ridge trail was rarely used. The first drop was a hair-raiser, and foot placement on the near vertical rock face was doubly important. One slip would be fatal. The second drop was even bigger, but it didn't seem as dangerous as the first one. Fellow hikers actually watched us in anticipation of us falling. They snapped photos and were watching in horror and awe as we descended the second drop without any ropes. When we made it to the bottom of the second drop, we looked back, and it was only then that we saw the seriousness of the drop. We had not noticed that below the section we were descending there was a vertical drop 1,000 feet or so to the bottom of Lualualei Valley. Out of all the dangerous hikes I've done, this ridge was the most extreme. There are probably many crazy ridges somewhere else on the island, but the ridge route we chose is by far the most dangerous ridge on the island, in my opinion.

We exchanged high fives when we reached our car, happy be alive. Just outside Schofield was the local watering hole where we chatted about our brush with death over some beers, shots, and pupus. Buzzed and satisfied we headed back home. What a birthday.

If you look closely, you can see Baron climbing on the ridge.

What a view. This is a shot looking toward Pu'u Kalena and Mount Ka'ala, with Waianae on the left and the North Shore on the right.

Damn fence.

The view looking to the northwest atop Pu'u Hapapa.

The view looking southwest. If you look closely, you can see the fence on the ridge. The Nature Conservancy means well, but they seriously ruined a great hike to Pu'u Kanehoa and Pu'u Kaua.

Heading back.

Neal and Chase edging around a rock face.

Hi Baron.

The junction of our return route. From this vantage point the ridge does not look dangerous at all; it just looks steep.

But the trail IS dangerous. Here's Baron negotiating his way down the first drop, with Neal watching from the other side. Notice the giant drop on both sides.

And here's the 2nd drop. You can't see it, and neither did we, but right below on the left is a vertical drop to the bottom of Lualualei Valley.

The yellow indicates the relatively safe route Baron took to negotiate the 2nd drop; the red indicates the route Neal, Chase, and I took. To the right is the vertical drop. As you can see, half way down the red route would be fatal if we slipped.

Here's our return route looking from the bottom. When we started the hike and looked up at this we thought it was impossible to hike on that ridge. Ironically, the ridge we chose to come back on was the one we joked about. The red indicates our route. I still can't believe we did it.