Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kahuku Ridge Trail

September 20, 2011

Today's trail was actually an accident because I had planned on doing Schofield-Waikane.  I'd driven all the way up to California Ave and started up the trail but the military was out in full force and I was without a permit.  Not wanting any trouble, I headed back to my car and to regroup.

California Ave
There was another trail up near Hale'iwa I'd been thinking about so I drove up there to scout the trail head.  It didn't just have a gate, it had video surveillance!   Defeated again, I drove towards La'ie and the Kahuku Trail popped into my mind.

The only clues I had for the location and route of the trail were a nine year old map from Waianae Steve and the dashed lines on the government's topographic maps of O'ahu which are so old they don't even have H-3 on them.  I parked my car at the La'ie ball field and headed up the same road that leads to both the La'ie and Malaekahana Trails just before 1030.  I suspected that the road I'd mistakenly taken when doing the Malekahana to La'ie Loop  a few weeks back would be a good way to get to the Kahuku Trail.

Continuing past the Malaekahana trail head I took the next left a few yards beyond.  The road curved and climbed gently until I reached a pasture gate.  After passing the gate, I saw some ribbons descend down to the right of the road so I followed them.  They led me down a small ravine and then to a junction where blue ribbons continued and some pink ribbons split to the left.  I opted for the pink ribbons which led mauka.

Shortly thereafter, I had to pass through an overgrown section filled with some kind of weed.  That only lasted for a few minutes and soon I found myself at the gate of the Sky Ranch.

Thankfully nobody seemed to be around to yell at me so I continued past their front gate along what looked like a horse trail.  The trail paralleled the fence of the Sky Ranch westbound and only a short time later I spotted some ribbons on the fence and a trail of them leading west. I opted to continue along the fence instead for a short time and ran into a horse pen.  About the same time as arrived near the horse I set off a chorus of barking by what had to be at least 10 dogs at the property I'd inadvertently stumbled onto.  Wanting to avoid any confrontation at all, I headed downhill as quickly as possible to get away from the chorus of barking.  After a short time I looped back up a dirt road and arrived back where I started at the gate of the sky ranch.  I head up the horse trail again and this time went under the fence and followed the ribbon trail.


It led through a grove of ironwood trees and eventually made a hard right then left depositing me on the same horse trail / road.  I guess someone has designed it to stay just far enough from the dogs to keep them from going crazy.  The road continued to a gate that I went through and then continued down hill to another junction with a dirt road.  I took a left and followed the road to where it split with a ranch style gate on the left and big yellow metal gate on the right announcing this was part of the Army's Kahuku Range.

The army gate was easily bypassed by a huge gaping hole in the vegetation on the right side so I simply walked around it and up the road.  Here I paused to check Back Country Navigator to see when I'd reach  the historic Kahuku Trail.  It looked like it should be off the left side of the road so I continued up.  After a while I realized that I had passed the trail junction so I reversed course.  I spotted a pink ribbon tied to a branch and crossed the dry stream bed to investigate.  I spotted an old yellow ribbon and after crashing around in the brush I found what appeared to be the remains of an old dirt road.  With no other leads, I decided to follow it.  Although partly overgrown in varying degrees, the road was easy to follow.

It steadily gained elevation and climbed along side the ridge towards the mountains.  It made a few twists and turns then eventually peaked along the ridge.  There it melted into a dried out landscape of rocks and red dirt which was eventually swallowed up by vegetation.

 I suspect in the past this road continued up the ridge to some Cook Pines which are about an equal way up the La'ie Ridge.  Today however, the trail became obscured in strawberry guava, ironwood, and other introduced vegetation.  Early on I spotted to nice endemic plants, akia and pukiawe right in the middle of the dried out old road.

The Old Road
Wikstroemia sp.
Reaching a rather flat area the trail became a little jumbled.  At one point there was a junction with pink ribbons leading east and the other with blue ribbons mauka.  I'd been following pink ribbons earlier on and it had paid off so far so I went with the east trail.  After a while I realized it was wrong and backtracked to the junction and followed the blue ribbons instead.  Just beyond the junction was a series of deep mud wallows in the middle of the trail.  I stepped around them and headed into the dimly lit strawberry guava forest.  Suddenly there was some grunting and thrashing on the left side of the trail.  I could see one big pua'a and another smaller one beyond it.  I yelled but they didn't run like they usually do.  I changed tactics and did my best dog bark imitation and they scattered into the brush.  Whew!

With no sign of the pigs I continued uphill.  The trail meandered a little and I was surprised to see some really low christmasberry trees hanging over the trail blocking it.  I wondered if I should turn around but I noticed that many of the limbs had been sawed off allowing enough room to crawl forward on my hands and knees.  It was only a couple feet of crawling but somehow I manged to bang my knee on a nice sharp rock which left a nasty painful bruise to enjoy for the next couple days.  Finally I reached the small grove of Cook Pines I mentioned earlier.  I passed more guava, another ironwood grove which was home to a fantastic lichen on a large rock, more strawberry guava, and then the uluhe showed up.  By now I was getting pretty run down.  I'd been fighting off a cold for a few days and the heat of the midday sun added to my misery.  I stopped to change the battery in my phone and took a long break.  Checking my progress I knew I should have been less than a mile and a half from the summit.  Onward I pressed encouraged by the more native forest I was entering.

I was not disappointed when I reached the Halapepe tree I'd read about researching the trail.  Also in the vicinity were a few Ho'awa trees, some nice larger sized ohia, maile, 'iliahi, and more mountain naukapa.


Ho'awa Fruit

The ridge continued to climb steeply through more uluhe but apparently the trail still gets enough use that there is a swath to follow and despite ranging from waist to shoulder in height it's still passable here.  Unfortunately I was falling apart with less than a half mile to go to the summit.  I gave up more than once but, as I usually do, I regrouped and continued.  After a few of those starts and stops I finally through in the towel for real.  The stuffy ears, my throat felt a little closed off, and I was just worn out.  I absolutely hate to turn around!  After reversing course, I kicked myself all the way back down the ridge.

A view of Kahuku
Waypoints and Track
The only hope I had now was to try and salvage the expedition and find the old route on Waianae Steve's map.  Reaching the junction with the pink and blue ribbons I took a right turn to follow the pink ribbons.  They were leading me east towards the Malaekahana stream and there were enough of them to follow that I was pretty confident that things were going well.  A short while later I was looking and a very steep drop to the stream bed which I had no doubt would be followed by a steep climb on the other side of the valley.  Determined to salvage the trip, I plunged down the trail following the ribbons.

Steep descent into Malaekanana Valley
After descending a good way down I lost the ribbons.  It started to get very steep and the vegetation became very dense.  Looking at the map, Back Country Navigator, and the terrain I could see I was a little mauka of a little spur that would lessen the steepness of the descent into the valley.  I back tracked to where I lost the ribbons to see if I could make my way over to it.  Back at the last ribbon I still couldn't find any the correct trail and with day light running out I abandoned yet another objective and had to climb all the way back up the steep trail to the ridge and hike back to the route I'd taken up.  What a disaster this entire day had been!  Thankfully I'd stored a track on my phone of the route back and my memory of the trail was pretty good too.  What had taken maybe 4 hours to pick my way through coming up was reduced to less than 2 hours coming down.

Lehua Flower
Ohia in Ironwoods
Other than running across a few cows the return trip was uneventful.  At just after 6pm I was in my Jeep at the La'ie Ball Field for the beautiful drive back to Kailua.  I really hate to give up on a trail but everything seemed to be going wrong.  Sometimes it's best to just try again another day.

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

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