Wednesday, August 24, 2011

KST- Waikane to Pauao Ridge

August 17, 2011

Monday's sleep deprived grueling round-trip on Pauao Ridge left me tired and a little sore but the main side effect was an uncontrollable urge to put my boots on the Ko'olau Summit Trail.  I'd been eying the windward sections which are literally blasted into the side of the ridge ever since first I'd first seen them at Poamoho a year and a half ago.  Getting up close and personal with them at Pauao Ridge meant my burning desire had become a full blown obsession.  I hate to wait and entire day before I could get back into the mountains but this gave me time to plot my journey.

I decided on a windward loop from Waikane to Pauao.  Schofield-Waikane is a trail I've had my sights set on for quite a while.  Everyone seems to just do the Schofield portion to the KST and skips the descent into Waikane.  I figured I'd involve the Schofield section in another loop I've got in mind and going up Waikane and out the untamed Pauao Ridge would provide a short but fantastic experience on KST.

First order of business was some quick research about the Schofield-Waikane Trail route.  I relied most heavily on Dayle Turner's, probably vintage late 1990's, description and supplemented it with Joshua Serrano's 808 Goonies Blog description to fill in a few of the blanks.  Not mentioned in either one of these is the fact that Waikane Valley still harbors unexploded ordinance from years ago when it was used for aerial bombing and live fire practice.  The military has hired contractors to locate, excavate, and explode that ordinance and work continues to present.  A recent Star-Advertiser article.  More on that later...

We started early Wednesday morning parking my Jeep in Kahana Valley and dropping II's car off along Kamehameha Highway right near Waikane Valley Road.  It was still early enough that a few of the children who live in the valley were walking out to the highway for school.  Following the route description, we passed the plantation era looking old Ka Mauna 'o 'Oliveta Church and hung a right turn at an open metal gate.  As we started up the road a new looking Jeep drove up behind us and we stepped to the side to allow it to pass.  I noted the rental bar code stickers on the windshield which left me to wonder how some tourists figured this one out.  Minutes later, the roar and whine of a turbo diesel engine sounded behind us.  A United Rentals F250 passed us, then another rental Jeep, and another!  A short while later we could see where they had pulled off on an area on the left side of the road and were unloading stuff.  Weird.  We continued up the dirt road for a while and heard the sound of another Jeep approaching.  This time it stopped and a pretty big military looking guy asked us where we were going.  I'll end this story here because I don't want to chance on getting anyone in any kind of trouble.  Though a series of events, we discovered that they'd be doing ordinance disposal in the valley that day, and everyday, for a while.  We made it a point not be inside Waikane Valley at the time they started disposal.

 Okay, back to the hike.  We took a right at the fork with the explosives warning sign and passed the fenced area still owned by the USMC.  Further up there's a chain across the road that announces you've arrived at the Waiahole Water System.  The road continues for a a good ways up the valley until you reach an outflow tunnel that forms a stream that crosses the road.  We stopped to poke around before continuing along to the start of the Waikane Trail around the next corner.

Looking to the left you can see where the trail contours on the left side of the ravine but as stated in Josh's writeup, it's easier to just walk up the ravine following the pink ribbons where the contour trail is bisected by the dry stream bed.  It had been about an hour since we'd left Kam Highway and to be honest, I'd had enough of walking on what my Jeep or truck could have made effortless.

The beginning section was filled with introduced forest.  Early on there are a ton of fig trees with their fruit growing out of their trunk.  These early parts of the trail also have been "paved" with lava rock.

"Kahili" Ginger- pretty but doesn't belong here!
The Junction of Waikane Trail and the KST
Winding our way up we arrived at the saddle between Kahana and Waikane Valley.  This is the junction of the Waikane and Waihole Ditch Trails.  Left is Waikane and right Waihole which I'll have to check out some time.  As we hung a left the plant life along the trail side steadily improved.  I was really surprised at the number of Lehua Ahihi, Metrosideros tremuloides, present.  In addition to their numbers some were fairly good sized and were sporting air roots.  One thing I was not happy to see was the so called kalihi ginger.  This stuff can get out of control pretty quickly.  It's a huge pest at Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.  I feel a little guilty about not stopping to hack the crap out of it.

About midway up there's some hi'lawe, crytradra hawaiiensis, right along the mauka side of the trail.  The trail continues to wind it's way up to the summit in and out of small valleys.  Finally we reached the rusty pole that marks the junction where you can continue via the KST westward or take a left turn and head uphill to Pu'u Ka'aumakua.  We continued to the right stepped onto a trail I've been waiting over a year to experience.
Looking back at the Waikane / KST Junction

Section of the windward KST near Waikane

This section of the KST is literally cut into the side of the Ko'olaus.  You walk high above the valley below with amazing views.  The wind blasted over us cooling us from the climb up.  There is at least one area I recall where the trail crosses over to the leeward side for a short time but other than that the trail stays on the windward side.

Here at the top of the Ko'olaus the Loulu palms take on unique character.  There are more than a few species of pritchardia palms but the majority have been dumped into the species group martii.  I don't know much about that but the palms here take on unique characteristics dependent on their exposure to wind, water, and other environmental factors.  The result is some cool looking loulus!

Continuing along the summit trail we were treated to some green flowered Kanawao and a crytandra.

I was still kicking myself for forgetting the battery for my Nikon as we crossed the summit- the views were amazing.  Not that I'm an amazing photographer, but my point and shoot just can't do what the DSLR can.  Here's my best attempts to take a few shots of the KST and Kaneohe Bay.

I couldn't help but wonder how wide the trail was initially when it was constructed back in the 1930's.  Now, it's mostly a comfortable width for one person with the occasional avalanche that has to be traversed.  I believe there were three of them along this section but all were passed fairly easily.  Every so often the trail would narrow where sections had washed out but overall it it is good shape considering it's age and neglect.  Don't get me wrong though, if you don't like heights you won't like this trail one bit because you're constantly looking at least a thousand feet down into Kahana Valley.

Our first stop along the KST was the Schofield-Waikane Trail junction.  We had no problem finding Waianae Steve's geocache.  I unscrewed the lid but it was pretty packed so I just screwed it back on and put it back.  We also got a good view of central O'ahu in the same area.

We departed the junction and continued our journey along the summit.  The views remained spectacular as the clouds continued to stay above us as mostly a high overcast layer.  Shortly before our arrival at the Pauao Trail I found a driver's license sitting in the trail.  I picked it up to mail back to it's owner.  I didn't really count but I think there are a total of three washouts along this section.  All can be negotiated fairly easily.  The rock is loose and the sections may be unstable, use caution.  The summit trail is fairly clear but long pants or gators would be a good idea if you don't like wading through uluhe.

Approaching the Pauao Junction
Since I had done the Pauao Trail just 2 days before, I had a better idea of what was in store for my partner than he did.  Having the advantage of knowing what to expect, I moved fairly quickly down the trail waiting for him to negotiate the various trees, ropes, and gaps.

By the time we'd reached the water tank he'd had enough!  After making our way down the road from the tank to the beginning of the residential area, we arrived at my waiting Jeep in Kahana Valley. 

Sorry I didn't get too many good pictures on this one... Lugging my D90 and lenses around with no battery was my punishment.  I'd like to add again that the beginning of the Waikane Trail has some potential for danger considering the live ordinance disposal operations being conducted.  I'd suggest a call to Army Corps of Engineers prior to entering the valley or just staying clear of the valley until they finish their work.

So far the western Ko'olaus have been spectacular.  I have a feeling I'm cherry picking the best part of the KST but, that's okay, I like this section enough I think I'll do it more than a couple times!

Oh, one more thing... I just don't have the time to edit video between work, family, life, blogger, and Flickr.  I'm going to post a few clips here and there from time to time but they'll be mostly raw, undedited, and of course, not so great.

More pictures from this trail and others I've done can be seen on Flickr.  Aloha and mahalo for reading.
Choke Koli'i!

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