Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pauao Ridge Trail

August 15, 2011
Left to right- Pete Clines, August Smith, and Duc Ong
With permission from Exteme Hiking Hawaii
A change in my schedule meant I worked the midnight shift this week.  Although I got about 3 hours of sleep before going into work last night when my shift ended at 6:15am the day just seemed to good to waste sleeping.  I'd planned ahead for this by bringing my boots and my pack so before leaving the facility I filled my 3 liter bladder with water, changed into my trail clothes, and headed out to enjoy the beginning of my weekend.  Driving off Hickam I tried to figure out which trail to do.  I'd sort of settled on Laie Ridge but as I drove up the Kahekili Highway decided to switch to a trail that local hiking legends Pete Clines, August Smith,  and Duc Ong had just reopened, Pauao Ridge.  I really had no idea where it would connect to the Ko'olau Summit Trail that I'm now zeroing in on after the last couple weeks of productive hiking but I figured it would be valuable experience now that I'm venturing out of my Kailua comfort zone.

Kalaeo Lancaster of Island Trails posted these directions which are pretty clear:

"The trail starts in Kahana Valley.  Walk on the paved road.  You'll see a hunter check in box.  Keep to the road on the right and go around a gate.  Walk until you reach a water tank.  A trail will veer off to the right and uphill.  Follow the ribbons.  The trail will immediately start climbing to reach the crest of Pauao.  Once at the ridge crest, turn left and follow the ridge all the way to the Ko'olau summit."

Parking prior to residential area
Huge water tank
Hunter check-in station

 Sounds  simple enough right?  I had a boss who'd issue instructions like that years ago when I did some landscaping work.  We'd pull up to a job and he'd say, "Okay guys, just dig those out, clean up all that brush, cut those down, then pop these plants in here, there, there, and these there, here, there and there."  He'd just described about 10 hours of labor in one run-on sentence.  Then he'd mysteriously disappear to do "estimates".  These trail instructions gave me flashbacks!  

Stroll down the road...

Be forewarned, the danger starts the second you enter Kahana Valley.  Driving slowly past the first house I was immediately accosted by a very big and very angry guy asking me if I could read.  I assured him that I could.  He asked if I'd seen the sign.  Well, there were a couple so I had to ask which one.  After a game of question and answer I finally figured out he was angry because he thought I was driving too fast.  He "advised" me to tell my construction worker friends to slow down on his road and to show some respect.  Sigh...   I carefully diffused the situation by explaining that I had the same problem on my street with people speeding and that I completely understood where he was coming from.  The angry guy eventually got friendlier as we talked and we parted on good terms with a round of apologies on both sides.  My advice?  Don't pass that first house going very fast because he's a big guy!

After his transformation from angry guy to nice guy, he'd told me where the best place to park for the trail was.  You follow the road up the valley until the residential area starts.  Do not enter the residential area with your car.  There's a handicap stall on the left side which I parked next to.  From here you walk up through the residential neighborhood until you reach a hunter check-in station where you follow the road to the right.  It wanders uphill and then downhill through a mostly introduced forest to a water tank.  On the left is the Nakoa Trail and on the right is the trail that would take me to Pauao Ridge.

 Until you gain the crest of the ridge this trail is uphill except for one small meadow so enjoy that when you get to it.  I was struck by the bizarre combination of hala trees and hapu'u ferns that the trail climbs through.  They just seemed like such an odd combination.  Continuing to gain elevation, I reached a rope section that topped out to the Pauao Ridge and took my first break to check out the view of the valley below.
Atop Pauao Ridge looking into Kahana Valley
Upper section of the trail up to the ridge
Freshly mowed trail

The ridge starts out nice and easy and then starts to undulate up and down.  There are a few steep areas and I remember at least one thin strap aid and one old rope aid early on.  The views of the valley on the left and right are great but then I had to spend a lot of time watching where my feet were going because the trail is untamed in a lot of areas.   Typically, as the elevation increased so did the concentration and variety of native and endemic plants.  All the usual suspects can be found along the trail like kanawao, akia, kopiko, koa, ohia, maile, ohe mauka, and of course uluhe!  At one point I looked up and saw the biggest ohia tree I've seen on O'ahu.  It had to be like 4 stories tall!

Huge Ohia trunk and the best shot I could get of it from the ridge.

Break time.
 The ridge continues to tease with it's ups and downs but adds a new twist- gaps.  There are a couple sections where the ridge has collapsed leaving five foot voids to cross by scampering up and down them.  On more than one occasion the ridge is completely overgrown with a tree that you must climb through or around to pass.  I found a nice spot to take another break on a koa that arches across the trail.

The views continued to impress when I wasn't watching my feet and while the rolling ridges were starting to wear down my enthusiasm, the closer I got to the Ko'olaus the better the view of the windward sections of the Ko'olau Summit Trail, KST, were.  That's all the motivation I needed to pound out the last of the roller coaster ridge and get to the real business of the day, the climb up to the KST junction.
Looking back from the ridge
Crumbly climb section
The final segment
The trail starts to get a little wilder as it becomes more of a climb up a fairly steep ridge coupled with a gauntlet of trees that have to be passed by climbing through, over, and around.  In the earlier stages there's a fairly crumbly rocky climb with an old white rope and a newer looking blue rope to help you pass.  On this section I ran across the biggest naukapa kuahiwi, Scaevola gaudichaudiana, I've ever seen too.  Lot's of good plants on this trail!  At the last part the trail becomes more free-for-allish and you just beat and claw your way up to the junction with the KST.

Giant naupaka kuahiwi
Naupaka kauhiwi's trunk

It's a bit unceremonious when you finally finish the long climb up to just land on the KST but there's a really neat old sign that someone attached a little figure to to make up for that.  I took out my permanent marker and filled in the letters to freshen it up a little.  From this junction the KST stretches east to Schofield-Waikane and west to Poamoho.

I agonized over just heading towards Poamoho and enjoying a fairly clear day at the summit but there was just no way I could conjure up a ride in town and get back to my car in Kahana Valley at a reasonable time.  Another consideration was that I didn't have a permit for Poamoho either.   I figured I deserved a few minutes to rest and just take in the fantastic view of windward O'ahu.

Looking down Pauao Ridge with Kahana Valley on the right and Punalu'u Valley on the left.
Looking east towards Waikane
I checked my water and was shocked to see that I'd drank 2 liters already so that ruled out doing anything but going down the way I came anyway.  I checked out a few yards either direction on the KST before heading back down the ridge.

Neat Ohia with huge air roots.
One of the rope sections
Creepy "Man in the Mountain" trailside.
I'd kind of been dreading coming down with all those ups and downs awaiting me.  My lack of sleep did have one advantage, I could just put my head down and focus on finishing.  I really hate hiking like that because for me it's the experience and the quality of the time on the trail not the distance and time.  Oh well, sometimes it's about getting done!  Near the end of the ridge trail I stumbled across a pig that nearly gave me a heart attack.  It was on the other side of a strawberry guava tree as I rounded a corner and it uttered what almost sounded like a dog's growl and shot off into the bushes.  I'm glad we don't have those viscous pigs like you hear about in Texas.

Koa throne.  Good place to take a break!
I managed to ration out my water perfectly so I arrived at the water tank road with just a sip left to get me back to my car. 

Pauao Ridge is a great trail that shows a lot of promise.  The upper reaches are pretty wild still but if enough people put their feet on it that will tame it down a lot.  I was tired as hell when I started and beat to death when I finished- the ups and downs were killers for me and the final climb is a long one.  It's hot back there too!  A lot of the time your boxed in by vegetation or on the backside of a ridge with no air flow.  I wish I'd had extra water and more sleep!

As advertised, this opens up a few possibilities for some new and different day hikes and maybe even some overnight stuff.  I'd probably not want to do this with a big pack because of all the trees that you have to work through but it wouldn't be impossible, just irritating.  A huge mahalo to Pete Clines, August Smith, and Duc Ong for spending days of hard work to break this one back open. 

Ohe mauka fruit
Uki fruit

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

Doggy and XJ tracks!


  1. Beautiful photos and write up Dave! thanks for sharing. we just dont have even a fraction of the trails on Maui that you do on Oahu so its nice to be able to live vicariously through you!