After getting familiar with the Malaekahana and La'ie trails last week I figured it was time to tie up the southern end of the Ko'olau Summit Trail. The everything I'd read and heard said this would be the toughest segment of the KST not because of the terrain, but because it's always overgrown and muddy. We weren't disappointed!
We dropped II's car off at the La'ie field and headed over to Pupukea Road. At the very end of the road is the Boy Scout Camp and metal gate. We parked on the side of the road well out of the way of both the camp and the ranch on the other side. It was exactly 7:30am when we headed up the gravel road and hoped the first gate.
Today I was relying almost completely on Stuart Ball's "Hiking O'ahu" book to get up to the summit trail and then on my memory of what I'd read about the segment from various sources online. Nothing I'd seen was very current but all looked well as we started off up the gravel road just past the Boy Scout Camp at the end of Pupukea Rd. We never saw the cattle loading ramp Stuart Ball mentions and when the gavel road turned into a paved road with a second gate on the right we were pretty shocked. Left along the road seemed like the right choice based on our directions but the asphalt was really throwing us so out came the Droid. Back Country Navigator seemed to indicate that we should bear left onto what was now a paved road. The gated road was the Paalaa Uka Pupukea Road which continues to snake it's way across the lower forest regions to Kamehameha Highway near Whittmore Village.
|Shelter along the road|
I stopped periodically to see what kind of plants were growing roadside and in the erosion matting they had been placed along slopes. At one point we happened upon a couple cow pies in the road. This one provided a great example shot of how alien species spread through cow poo.
|Finally we get off the asphalt!|
Starting up the trail I immediately recognized the scenery from a few of the pictures I'd seen online. The trail was in great condition but just slightly overgrown. It took us less that twenty minutes to reach the junction with the Ko'olau Summit Trail, the legendary Black Junction, and the so called "Summit Lookout". We opted to check out the "Summit Lookout" before setting out for La'ie. After less than five minutes we'd topped out to a large clearing with metal landing mat.
|The Landing Zone|
|View from the landing zone|
Once back at the junction, we headed up the KST which was in still fairly decent condition. A little way down the trail we found a tipi... didn't see that one coming.
|Tipi, not expecting this.|
|CH-47 delivering payload|
Moving along we arrived at a pu'u named "Hina" according to the geodetic markers. This is considered the Pupukea Summit but it's also the junction with the seemingly abandoned and lost Kahuku Trail that was built between 1924 and 1926. The Army's Pupukea to Kahuku Trail was Territorial Superintendent of Forestry Charles S. Judd's, inspiration for the entire Ko'olau Summit Trail. Back when it was built the Pupukea / Kahuku Trail was five feet wide, graded, and six miles in length. The views here were great!
|Wailua and central O'ahu|
|Turtle Bay Resort|
|Kahuku Army Training Area / HECO Experimental Wind Farm|
|Looking up the Ko'olau Volcano's Flank|
I don't think this section ever dries out and some of the bogs were deep enough that they reached the tops of my jungle boots. Speaking of jungle boots, looks like someone attempted this in a pair of Nikes. Looks like someone else forgot their jacket and sleeping bag too.
Most of the trip past the Pupukea Summit to Malaekahana was overgrown to the point it was what some would call miserable, others unpleasant, and I, uncomfortable. The mud doesn't really bother you if you're wearing the right footware, it's the constant scratching of the uluhe and strawberry guava that kill the mood. Long pants are highly recommended and even a long sleeve shirt to help protect your arms might be a good idea. I even found myself wishing for a pair of safety goggles after being poked in the eye a few times. Backpacking though here with any kind of stuff hanging outside your pack would be a bad idea because everything that can get snagged does. Despite the challenges, the views, when we weren't tunneled in, were great.
|II Pushing through.|
|Fun, fun, FUN!|
The KST continued to wander from leeward to windward side steadily gaining altitude. It's hard to which sections follow the original grade and which are more modern. The windward sides are more scenic because the wind keeps the vegetation lower and they're far more pleasant as the breeze keeps you cool. The leeward sides are hot, stuffy, and overgrown.
|This velvet green moose was grazing along the trail.|
Again we heard the thumping of a heavy helicopter in the distance and caught another glimpse of a CH-47 hauling a shipping container away from the Ko'olau Summit. I was hoping we'd figure out what they were up to at some point.
|This really galls me... get it? Galls me?|
"Adult female Psyllids lay their eggs halfway inside the leaves of their host plant, and the hatched young then enter the leaves to feed on them. As they feed, the nymphs secrete substances that stimulate abnormal plant growth, forming galls over the feeding nymphs.
The nymphs remain in their protective galls until they are ready to emerge and molt into mature, winged adults. Although the strange-looking galls are quite conspicuous, the small, adult Psyllids are inconspicuous and not often observed." (1)
|Loulu palms above Kahuku|
Despite my 10mm lens' wide angle, it's still very difficult to capture the vast area that makes up the northern flank of the Ko'olau volcano. This is the most remote area of O'ahu.
|Ahhhhhhhhhh... If you're as antisocial as I am this is about as good as it gets!|
|Something is missing here....|
Now that the trail was well defined I pulled out ahead of my hiking partner a little to try and see what I could find out. I passed the La'ie Junction and continued up the KST hoping I would learn what the choppers were up to. The trail condition improved even more and I was able to cover a lot of ground fairly quickly. I called II on his cell phone to let him know I'd continued past the junction and to wait for me there. In about 15 minutes I arrived at a vantage point where the mystery was solved.
|A Section of the KST beyond La'ie Junction|
About 20 minutes down the trail I managed to catch up with II. He was also impressed with the condition and construction of La'ie after spending the day battling the overgrown portions of the KST.
About half way down with head the call of the bird I've been jokingly referring to as the Pyterodactyl of La'ie. It's calls continued as we made our way down to the stand of cooke pines where the trail meets the dirt road. We saw a large white bird making its way across the valley that looked about the size of a cattle egret. Still no luck in identifying the bird responsible for the evening serenade.
Other than an encounter with a guy riding a dirt bike the rest of the trail was uneventful. I took a couple shots of the sun sinking behind a wall of ironwood trees and a final shot of a blurring II speedwalking to his waiting car.
On the drive back to retrieve the Jeep at Pupukea Road, we enjoyed the cool evening and twighlight and reflected on what a great day we'd had on the historic Ko'olau Summit Trail. Lucky to live Hawai'i nei!
More pictures from this trail and others I've done can be viewed at Flickr. Aloha and thanks for reading!
(1)The Firefly Forest Discovering and enjoying nature