Red Hill Ridge/Godek-Jaskulski Loop - May 2, 2009

If taking a “death march” to the top of the Ko’olau Mountains is your cup of tea, then the west ridge of Moanalua Valley will suit you well. I could ramble on and on about how extremely taxing this trail was, but I’ll just sum it up in one word: painful. Painful reason number one: the endless amounts of uluhe ferns scrape at your legs for almost the entire hike. Daniel and I frothed at the idea of having shin guards. Long pants would work as a shield from getting tattooed by uluhe, but if the trail is hot (like it was yesterday), long pants would be the source of uncomfortable perspiration below the waist. (We wore shorts by way.) Painful reason number two: like I previously mentioned, it was miserably hot. Even though the trail offers shade throughout a large portion of the hike, the air was like an oven with the absence of winds. Painful reason number three: the trail has more ups and downs than any other trail I’ve been on. The climbs aren’t long, it’s just that when one hill is climbed, the trail drops back down, contradicting the previous climb. However, the view at the summit is surprisingly worth it.

The west ridge of Moanalua Valley is known as Red Hill Ridge. Two members of the Hawaiian Trail Mountain Club, the late Chuck Godek and the late Erwin Jaskulski, pioneered a route that started from Moanalua Valley Park behind the basketball courts. After gaining the ridge crest, the trail would head mauka past a pine grove, cross a saddle with a narrow dike section, and reach a signed junction that turns right and descends steeply to the Old Damon Estate Road, forming a loop the Hawaiian Trail Mountain Club named the Godek-Jaskulski Ridge Loop.

The trail behind the basketball court is not the route we took to gain the ridge crest. Instead, Daniel and I headed for a route known as The Bamboo Trail. From what I’ve read, The Bamboo Trail is not recommended because it is very steep. The start of The Bamboo Trail is very obscure. Initially, there are no ribbons indicating the trail exists, so keeping your eyes peeled for the junction is very important or you will find yourself crossing the fifth bridge in a matter of minutes. From the parking lot, we headed past the gate onto the Old Damon Estate Road. Cross three bridges. Approach the fourth bridge. A massive grove of bamboo comes into view on the left. Cross the fourth bridge. The Bamboo Trail is hidden on the left about 30 yards after the bridge. Daniel and I actually left one guava stick and one bamboo stick erected out of the ground to mark the beginning of the route. Push through some bamboo leaves. From here the trail is well defined with ribbons marking the very steep route uphill.

After an hour of steep climbing, we finally reached a ridge crest. The ridge we were on wasn’t Red Hill Ridge. The ridge we were trekking paralleled Red Hill Ridge to the right and was extremely choked with uluhe ferns. At times, the ridge trail that we were trying to follow would disappear in the thick brush of uluhe. Sporadic pushes through pig trails were an occasional option. Up ahead, we noticed that the ridges would soon connect at a grove of Cook pines.

Once at the pines, we were relieved at the sight of many ribbons indicating the trail along Red Hill Ridge. In addition, the trail was clear and well defined because of the work of the Hawaiian Trail Mountain Club trail clearing this past Sunday. After climbing a hill post-Cook pines, we reached the saddle. The ridge narrowed to a mere foot! The drops on both sides weren’t huge, but some parts were vertical, and falling would prove a serious injury or even death; however, the vegetation on both sides of the narrow ridge hid the actual danger of the narrow section.

Soon after, we reached a shaded area and a signed junction that headed east and back to the Old Damon Estate Road. Instead of heading back down to the valley road, Daniel and I headed for the Ko’olau summit. Hill after hill, climb after climb, false peak after false peak: the route to the summit was brutal, and the uluhe ferns lined the trail all the way to the summit, making progress slow and painful. The trail to the summit was so brutal, in fact, that before the last false peak, Daniel was feeling the symptoms of heat exhaustion. His stomach was turning and his head was pulsing with aches. Plus, our hydration packs were emptying to alarming proportions. My three liter hydration pack was less than half full, and I had no water to refill it; Daniel’s hydration pack was empty, forcing him to use his last liter-and-a-half bottle of water. After the last false peak, the trail dipped considerably. This was not an inviting sight, for we had been seeing this descent-to-ascent scenario so many times that we actually thought it to be the last, but it wasn’t. I pushed ahead, the summit ever so close, with Daniel welling up the will to draft me slowly, but surely.

Finally after five-and-a-half hours of hiking, we reached the summit at 1:30pm, exhausted. From the signed junction, it took us two hours to summit. We plopped our asses down on the broad, flat summit and took an amazing view that I have not seen out of all the “town hikes” I've done. The H-3 freeway was stretched out below us with the Pearl City bound commuters going into the tunnel and the Kaneohe bound commuters coming out of the tunnel. Straight ahead were Haiku Valley and a view of the whole of Kailua. Mokapu Point could be seen as well. The route up to the radio dish from the Haiku Stairs (Stairway to Heaven) looked very intimidating (haven’t done it yet). To the right, the peak of Keahi a Kahoe, a hike that I did in the summer of 2008, was shrouded in mist, yet the clouds occasionally lifted for us to see the 2,860 foot peak. To the left, a not-so-far higher peak was the actual terminus of the Red Hill Ridge hike (I think), but the view from our vantage point seemed to be not much different from the view at the close pu’u (hill). Beyond the aforementioned pu’u was another higher peak that was completely covered in clouds; I’m pretty sure that that massive peak is the apex of the Halawa Trail. At 2pm, we headed back down to experience the rollercoaster-ridge in reverse.

At some point along the trail to the signed junction, I started to feel uneasy just like Daniel felt on the way to the summit. My water level was waning, and I kept taking small sips in hopes to keep my occasional dizziness at bay. Also, my head ached like a mother****er, and my stomach felt queasy. Daniel and I took lots of breaks on our way to the junction as well. At about 3:30pm, we finally reached the signed junction that indicated the route directly to the valley floor: a sight for sore eyes and a sight for our sore lower extremities.

The route down to the valley floor was steep, hard on the knees and feet, but very beautiful. There is one short, narrow section along the descent, and to me, it was the scariest part of the hike; the drop to the left was pretty damn mental. The trail then follows Moanalua Stream intermittently, and then crosses it and reaches the Old Damon Estate Road. Although it was flat, the valley road was a painful one hour walk (>2 miles?). We reached our car at exactly 5:30pm: nine-and-a-half hours of hiking.

I probably will never do this trail again, especially to the summit. I might (big MIGHT) do the Godek-Jaskulski Loop again, but it would have to be during the winter or on a cloudy, overcast day. If any of you plan to take The Bamboo Trail, I would highly suggest finding a sturdy bamboo stick or two to use as trekking poles. That is, of course, if you already have a trekking pole. I found a perfect pair of bamboo sticks and Daniel found a solid guava stick; those helped us a lot along the steep Bamboo Trail and the steep hills on the way to the summit. As for pictures, I snapped a bunch a little past the valley road junction on the way to the summit, but I realized I had misplaced my lens cap while taking pictures before a steep rope section, so I don’t have much pictures on the way to the summit because I put my camera in my backpack. Plus, it was so uncomfortably hot, I was happy to have the freedom of not having a camera to lug around. Fortunately, on the way back down, Daniel found my lens cap lying directly in the middle of the trail: so lucky. Daniel snapped some pictures on the way to the summit, so I have those posted below, too.

Daniel claimed this hike as one of the hardest things he’s ever done in his life; I’d have to agree. Out of all the trails I’ve done, Red Hill Ridge is up there with Kamaileunu and Dupont. This eleven mile hike will definitely go down as one of those one-time ridges. Do it again? Godek-Jaskulski Loop? Maybe. Summit? Hell no to the death march.

On the Old Damon Estate Road. (photo: D. Napoleon)

The Bamboo Trail.

Breaking out of the bamboo grove into a steep, open, exposed section.

Where's the trail?

More overgrown uluhe. (photo: D. Napoleon)

The grove of Cook pines can be seen in upper left hand portion of the photo.

And more uluhe.

Finally at the Cook pines.

The saddle with the narrow dike.

Yup. Pretty damn narrow.

Pictured here is the signed junction that indicates that route back to the Old Damon Estate Road, completing the Godek-Jaskulski Loop. We headed past this junction for the summit. From here, the summit is about two hours away. This junction would be our return route.

View of the H-3.

This is the last push to the summit. Pictured here is Daniel pushing through scratchy uluhe. I'm snapping this photo with his disposable camera at the top of the last false peak.

What a view!

Taken with Daniel's digital camera, the only picture we have of the descent trail to the valley floor. Notice how good the condition of the trail is because of the recent trail clearing.

Daniel's pictures:

Looking toward the Ko'olau summit. (photo: D. Napoleon)

Beautiful view looking south. (photo: D. Napoleon)


Anonymous said...

wow - u guys have some serious stamina and mental strength! We did the Olomana hike yesterday to the first peak and I thought that was hot and that was only a half an hour hike - you guys hike for some 9 hours through thick uluhe and unmarked paths! Pretty nuts but very commendable achievement given the humidity of the day or any day for that matter. That picture of the H-3 - "What a view' pic is awesome. One hike u guys might be interested in is the konahuanui from Piliwale

great posts - you guys are amazing!

Lemon said...

Very comprehensive blog with beautiful pictures. You and are friends are hardcore doing the hikes you do.

What kind of camera do you use?

kaleo said...

i'm using a nikon d40...

lg said...

you're crazy.
you're my hiking idol.