Piei Makai - November 12, 2011

A couple weeks ago I was fortunate to have completed a portion of ridge that I thought was un-hikeable.  Thanks to an invitation by Pete Clines, who actually did it about ten years prior, my preconceptions were shot down, and what I thought was un-doable, turned out to be doable.  In fact, it was more enjoyable than I had expected.  Coupled with an awesome crew and great weather, it is now one of my favorite loop hikes.

Pu'u Piei is a peak situated on the northwestern wall of Kahana Valley located on the northeastern side of Oahu.  The main trail to Pu'u Piei climbs a steep spur ridge then takes a left to the actual summit of Piei.  Few, if any, turn right and take the little-used route heading makai (towards the ocean) along a craggy, tooth-like ridge.  From the bottom of Kahana Valley, looking up at the "teeth," the makai portion heading away from Pu'u Piei looks a bit menacing, and a tad crazy.  But with a little rope and meticulous hand and foot placement, the ridge offers up a good upper body workout, with insane views of Punalu'u Valley, Kahana Valley, Kahana Bay, and the coastline leading from Punalu'u to Kahuku.

On hand was a crew of seven, including myself: Pete Clines, Chenay Borja, Duc Ong, Rosie Ho, Dave Webb, Laredo Muredo, Chase Norton, and Ryan Chang.  We met at the Kahana Valley parking lot nearest to Kamehameha Highway around 8:30am, headed on foot a short ways into Kahana Valley, and took a right on the road that lead us to toward the Pu'u Piei trail.  The last time I did Pu'u Piei I miraculously found the main trail leading to the top.  I say "miraculous" because for those who have tried to find the main trail to Piei for the first time would definitely agree that it is difficult to locate.

The same thing happened to us this time around.  Following an obvious trail below the spur ridges, we sparked the notion that we were headed the wrong way toward the fishing lookout known as Kapa'ele'ele Ko'a.  Little did we know that if we hit the lookout, we would've hit the main Pu'u Piei trail.  Instead, we backtracked and crossed a dry stream, then resorted to following the stream uphill.  Once out in the open we could tell that we were on the left side of a broad ridge clad with uluhe.  Our errant decision didn't threaten our forward progress, for we knew that if we pushed uphill through the uluhe, we would eventually link up with the main trail leading up to Piei.  After a tiring ten minute bushwhack uphill, we finally hit the main trail.

Relieved, we sped our way up the spur ridge and topped out a little past 11am.  Duc and Chase decided to tag the peak of Piei, while the rest of us took a rest and waited for their return.  A quarter before noon we headed makai towards the teeth.  Dave decided to call it a day and turned around.

A small rock face with an old cable had to be negotiated, and past that the "trail" was pretty straightforward.  A small amount of hacking here and there was needed to create a swath but nothing was entirely overgrown.  We encountered a cool looking rock feature that resembled a ten-foot high tombstone.  From there some minor climbing was involved, but nothing overly strenuous.  Downclimbing was the norm, and the rocks were brittle in spots, but keeping a low center of gravity on the downclimbs and constantly determining our next step was key.

Along the way were a few old black cables that were either broken or just too old to rely on.  A couple of those black cables were also anchored and hanging off of ridiculous looking portions of the ridge that really had no merit.  So we pretty much made forward progress by ignoring the cables, keeping our pace slow.

The ridge narrowed considerably in spots.  Comparable to other dangerous ridge trails, the drops were modest but still had us on alert.  One wrong move and we would have got stabbed by the surrounding vegetation, cracked our heads open, broke our bones, or all of the above.

Our first major obstacle was a large notch in the ridge.  Debating on a contour, we decided that dropping to the left side of the ridge with the aid of Chase's rope was the best way to go.  Perfectly situated directly above what we intended to drop down from was a small hole in the ridge.  From there it was roughly a twenty-foot drop to a narrow strip of solid ground surrounded by vegetation.  The hole was our anchor point. We would loop the rope around the hole and make our way down slowly with whatever foot holds we could find.  Pete, of course, elected to go first.  Second was Chase, third Chenay, then Duc, then Rosie, then Laredo and Ryan.  When it was my turn I realized that getting down would require putting all faith into the rope.  Foot placement was tricky, but the rock was surprisingly sturdy.  About 3/4 of the way down, my arms began to cease, and I found myself struggling to get down the last eight feet or so to solid ground.  I took a quick rest to regain my strength, and finally made it down to where Ryan was.

With the first large notch behind us, we moved on.  I spotted another one of those old black cables, this time hanging off the right side of the ridge.  It looked as though it lead to a contour trail that would bypass what we would encounter next.

A bit of uphill climbing led us to the top of another large notch.  This time, the drop wasn't so forgiving.  One slip to the left and you'd get some airtime before hitting something.  At the top of the notch was an old white rope and a very useful O-ring.  However, the rope and O-ring were attached to a weak shrub that would definitely not bear the full brunt of someone's weight.  Using rope on the downclimb would require gentle pulling and extreme caution to not rip out the shrub from its roots.  Pete took out some webbing and looped it around the O-ring.  Again, in the same order, we descended one by one.  The downclimb we had to negotiate was similar in size to the previous notch we successfully passed, but there were more footholds and ledges to boost our confidence on the way down.  But like the last notch, the remaining eight feet or so was devoid of footholds.  Pete helped us down the last several feet, his hands acting as ledges.  He put both hands on the rock face, had us step on his hands, and he'd instruct us to slowly move downward all while cradling our feet in his hands.  That's one technique I've never used while downclimbing, and it was a useful one at that.

With the second notch behind us, we headed further.  A smaller notch in the ridge had to be negotiated, but no rope was needed.  A short uphill climb led to the top of broad crag with a view to die for.  We rested a bit and ate lunch, then headed steeply downhill to the remainder of what we could see was the saner portion of the ridge.  We followed an obvious swath to the last spur ridge that would make its steep descent to Kamehameha Highway.  We were back at our cars at 3:30pm.

My friend Scott Fisher successfully completed the same route solo one week after we did it.  He confirmed that the old black cable that was dangling off the right side of the ridge after the first notch did actually lead to a contour trail, avoiding the second notch altogether.  That's good to know.  I'll be sure to use that contour the next time I do the hike.  Piei Makai is definitely worthy of a rehike.

To see more info on Pu'u Piei, check out the following link:
Pu'u Piei - May 10th, 2008

Laredo on the ridge.

Pete on one of the narrow sections along the ridge.

Looking down the coast from Punalu'u to Kahuku.

Looking back at the 1st notch.  (photo: C. Borja)

Laredo, negotiating the downclimb from 2nd notch.

Looking back at the 2nd notch.  (photo: C. Norton)

Clinging.  (photo: C. Borja)

The hardest part behind us.  (photo: C. Borja)

Ryan on the ridge.  Chase in the distance on the broad crag.  (photo: C. Borja)

Heading to the last crag.  (photo: C. Borja)

Ryan, downclimbing one of the smaller notches.

Piei teeth.  (photo: C. Norton)

Heading down the makai-most spur ridge to Kamehameha Highway.


Kahana to Wahiawa - October 8, 2011

Hike long enough on Oahu and you begin to notice that the island is small.  It also becomes obvious that you can hike trails -- or blaze your own -- and find yourself in another town on the other side of either the Ko'olau mountain range or the Waianae mountain range.  And if you plan accordingly, a lot of those "over the mountain" treks can actually be done in a day.

In my pre-hiking days, if someone told me, "Yeah, you can walk over that mountain range to your house in a day," I wouldn't believe it.  Take Kahana Valley to Wahiawa for example?  I'd think, "Yeah, right!"  "How is that possible?"  "Who in their right mind would do that?"  Well, a bunch of my friends and I did it for my birthday, and it was long, wet, muddy, and cold as fuck.

Hiking with me was Kelven Del Rosario, Johhny Martin, Daniel Napoleon, Lei Yamasaki, and Ryan Chang.  We started around 8am in Kahana Valley, a massive valley situated on the northeastern side of Oahu.  From Kahana, we ascended the recently cleared Pauao Ridge trail to the Ko'olau summit.  From there we hiked southeast along a short, beautiful stretch along the KST to the Schofield-Waikane trail.  Upon reaching the Schofield-Waikane trail, we descended it all the way to California Avenue to Wahiawa Heights.  A half-mile walk down California Avenue, and we ended at my house.

The day started off perfect for hiking: clouds were high, the tradewinds were blowing, and an intermittent drizzle would cool us down.  It was whole different story along the KST and down Schofield-Waikane.  The KST jaunt had its fair share of no-rain moments, but the majority of it was spent in clouds and being pelted by heavy downpours, especially coming down the Schofield-Waikane trail.  Almost the entire time coming down Schofield-Waikane, we were getting pummeled by endless amounts of rain to the point where we just took off our shirts -- not Lei -- and jetted down the trail to keep our body heat in check.  A little after 7:00pm, we were at the water towers at the top of California Avenue.  From there we walked to my house and finished around 7:30pm.  Drove Kelven's car all the way back to Kahana to drop Lei, Ryan, and Johhny off at their cars; arrived in Kahana a tad before 9pm.  Long day, but well worth it.

To see previous write-ups, pictures, and videos of the trails mentioned in this blog post, check out the following links:
Pauao Ridge - October 18th, 2008
Schofield-Waikane Trail - July 5th, 2009
Pauao Ridge (Trail Clearing) - July 10th, 2011
Poamoho to Wahiawa - July 24th, 2011

photo: D. Napoleon

photo: L. Yamasaki

Looking toward Punalu'u Valley.  The prominent peak near the middle of the photo is Pu'u Piei.

photo: D. Napoleon

photo: L. Yamasaki

photo: D. Napoleon

View of Kahana Valley and its bay through the bushes.  (photo: D. Napoleon)

photo: D. Napoleon

Heading toward the Schofield-Waikane trail along the KST.  (photo: D. Napoleon)

photo: D. Napoleon

photo: L. Yamasaki

photo: L. Yamasaki

photo: D. Napoleon

Finally at the road and Schofield-Waikane trailhead.  (photo: L. Yamasaki)

Walking down California Avenue.  (photo: L. Yamasaki)


Missile Flats (Kaukonahua) - September 18, 2011

Big mahalos to Jason Nakasato and Shannon Shimata for giving me directions to this jump spot.  And also thanks to Melissa Hernandez and Tony Mercado for identifying it.  I've lived in Wahiawa for the majority of my life, and I had no idea this existed.

Located in upper Wahiawa, there's a 35-foot jump spot into Kaukonahua Stream known as Missle Flats.  The trail is easy, short (about two miles round trip), and offers a great workout, but it can get you lost fast.  The trails above Wahiawa are endless, with numerous junctions and side trails.  If you don't know where you're going, you can get really disoriented.  Tall trees and a vast undeveloped landscape will make a dummy out of someone who is not familiar with the area.  Directions to this spot are even more confusing to put on paper, or on the internet for that matter.  So, if you're looking for directions here, I can't help you.  My directions will make no sense, and it probably won't be correct.  I know how to get there if I'm actually hiking there.  Sorry.

On this outing, we were greeted to a raging stream, all due to the constant rains a couple days prior.  The water was brown as brown could get, but we jumped in anyway.  (Can you say "lepto?")  Kinda gross, but we had a blast.  Definitely gonna come back when the water level drops a bit and the stream color gets back to normal.  A portion of this hike uses the Wahiawa Hills trail.

For more info on the Wahiawa Hills trail, check out the following links:
Wahiawa Hills - April 25, 2009
Wahiawa Hills - August 20, 2010

photo: D. Napoleon

photo: D. Napoleon

Kaukonahua Stream.  As brown as it gets.  (photo: D. Napoleon)

photo: D. Napoleon

Ryan Chang, taking the leap.  (photo: D. Napoleon)

View of Ryan jumping from the water.


Piliwale to Lulumahu - September 10, 2011

Last time I did Piliwale, I fell off.  The trail leading to the notch was overgrown then, and beyond the notch there were very little ropes affixed for assistance.  There were also a ton of bees that set up camp along the southeastern side of the ridge which weren't very happy of us being there.  To make a long story short, the bees attacked and won, forcing me to fall head first off the ridge, with a scar left on my head as a reminder to never do it again.  Yeah, well, actions speak louder than words.

Fast forward to 2011 and I found myself back on the ridge that almost took my life.  Only this time the trail and ridge was way different from how I remembered it.  The trail leading to the notch was pretty well paved, there's a contour section around a rock face just before the notch that I had no idea existed the last time I did it, and the ridge is littered with rope, some of which is not even needed, but that's besides the point.  The point is I finally got to complete it.  Joining me was Lei Yamasaki, Ryan Chang, and Daniel Napoleon.  Daniel was with me on the last attempt, and he, too, fell off, tweaking some back muscles and getting some awesome muscle relaxers as a plus.  But now, since completing Piliwale, I've come to realize that it really isn't that bad.  It just climbs, climbs, and climbs constantly to get the top of the highest peak in the Ko'olau mountain range, Konahuanui (K1).  Don't get me wrong, though.  Piliwale is not for beginners.  The ridge is narrow, crumbly, and very steep, with large drops on either side of the ridge.  One for the books, I must say.  Because we didn't only do Piliwale: we descended Lulumahu Ridge on the other side, too.  No bees this time either.  Hallelujah.

Lulumahu Ridge is a little-used ridge jutting south from Konahuanui (K1) to Nu'uanu Valley.  Near the summit of K1, the trail is very obvious, then disappears as the elevation decreases.  And when I mean "disappears", I mean that there is no trail at all until a large saddle in the ridge is reached.  The upper portions of Lulumahu Ridge are loaded with native Hawaiian plants that are only found on Oahu and nowhere else in the world.  Had we had known this before the hike, we wouldn't have descended it.

After the saddle, the trail was still partially overgrown but in way better shape.  We reached an old rope at a steep section (Dayle Turner?) that aided our descent to a spot on the ridge that indicated we were almost finished.  Following the ridge further, our hopes that it's direct route would eventually bottom out somewhere in Nu'uanau Valley was botched.  We encountered an insanely overgrown section where the ridge dropped off into oblivion.  Ryan was the guinea pig, tying a rope to a tree, and then jumped down into the "oblivion," only to disappear in the thick uluhe brush.  After a short scare, Ryan called out that he was okay, so we then backtracked, brainstorming other options as to how we were going to get down into Nu'uanu without another mishap.

Two ridge spurs to the west were obvious escape routes.  One was higher up, which meant we had to go back upridge to the steep rope section.  That option seemed pointless considering that we were at the apex of another side ridge that was broad but looked to be choked with vegetation.  We opted to descend it, with Daniel leading the way.  Lower and lower we went, eventually hitting a wide swath marked with pink ribbons.  It was the recent work of Josh Serrano, who has been clearing Lulumahu Ridge from the bottom-up.  Relieved, we pushed on, following Josh's ribbons all the way to Lulumanu Stream.  Exhausted and hot, we headed toward Lulumahu Falls to cool off.  After a quick rinse, we headed out the stream trail towards the Nu'uanu Reservoir and out onto the Pali Highway.  Waiting for us was Keahi Ka'a'awa with drinks and food.  It was an awesome day hike: all nine-and-a-half hours of it.

To see my previous hikes up Piliwale Ridge, check out the following links:
Piliwale Ridge (Trail Scout) - May 8, 2009
Piliwale Ridge - October 10, 2009

 photo: D. Napoleon


 photo: D. Napoleon

 Looking toward the Konahuanui Windward route.  (photo: L. Yamasaki)

 Descending Lulumahu Ridge looking toward K2.  (photo: L. Yamasaki)

 photo: L. Yamasaki

 Cyanea koolauensis.  (photo: L. Yamasaki)

 Looking back toward Konahuanui.

 (photo: L. Yamasaki)