Monday, October 17, 2011

KSRT- Pu'u Keahi a Kahoe Loop

October 17, 2011

Stolen from
I'm sure you've heard the expression, "A penny for your thoughts?"  A few weeks ago I paid exactly one penny for the original Hiker's Guide to O'ahu by Hawaii hiking expert and authority Stuart Ball. Very few people can write up a trail with his concise detail that's allowed thousands and thousands to successfully navigate the trails of O'ahu year after year.  I was hoping that my tiny investment would provide some insights on trails which are no longer accessible to the public.  Those forbidden fruits are always the most tempting aren't they?  Being a cheapskate, I didn't want to pay for express shipping from so it took about a month for my old copy of the original hiker's guide to arrive.  Luckily it showed up on a Saturday so I had it in time to review before my after midnight shift Monday hike.  Sure enough there were several trails in it that I'd heard about that had been closed years ago.  While flipping though the pages I found one that immediately jumped out at me as a perfect trail for a Monday solo- the Pu'u Keahi a Kahoe Loop.

Reflections in Moanalua Stream
I'd brought my gear with me to work so after my shift ended I changed into my trail apparel and donned my old Wellco jungle boots I'd brought back from retirement after my new pair had eaten a hole in my heel back on the La'ie Trail.  I set out for Moanalua Valley and  the park at the end of Ala Aolani Street.  Since I'd already done the Kulana'ahane Trail back in July I was familiar with the old carriage road up through the valley where the Damon family had once lived.

Heading through the metal gate at the back for the park I enjoyed the cool morning air passing over the picturesque bridges that cross the stream.  On our last adventure up here we totally missed the petroglyphs at the seventh bridge so I made a mental note to count the stream crossings.  However, I lost count as my mind drifted to other things.  I got lucky when I noticed small side trail to the right of one of the bridges I figured had to be close to the seventh.  Sure enough, carved into the rock were a few images of what I interpret as a man and a woman.  There is another rock with more but I didn't notice it and I'll figure out where that one is another time.

Continuing up the road I passed a group of older ladies accompanied by a lucky lone guy heading in the opposite direction.  Winding up the valley I reviewed the directions in the Hiker's Guide.  Passing the Kulana'ahane Trail I continued up the road unaware that I'd just past the return leg's junction along the Moanalua Middle Ridge a few yards beyond that junction.  The valley began to narrow and I reached a junction with a road to the right.  I elected to stay to the left and soon the road narrowed into a trail with a few ribbons here and there to follow.  Along the side I noticed the army's rat bait stations hanging in trees from time to time as the trail wound it's way through the forest.

Lehua Ahihi
Eventually the trail reached the bottom of Tripler Ridge and began climbing though a series of switchbacks up from the valley floor.  A short way up there was an old green colored rope for assistance and for the most part the trail was easy to follow.  About midway up the side of the ridge some power line poles came into view.  I stopped to take a break and enjoy the view and the small grove of Ahihi I'd entered that was in bloom.  This type of ohia, Metrosideros tremuloides,  is found only on O'ahu.   With its smaller ovate leaves and red stems, it can often be found in large stands and this was no exception as I gazed around me at the large area the small trees covered.  I took more than a few pictures of it's pompom blossoms which are a less densely packed than it's other lehua cousins.
I paused to enjoy the view down the valley and also noticed some Ohia Ha, Syzygium sandwicensis, which is in the myrtle family like ohia but is more closely related to the polynesian introduced mountain apple.  If fact, its small berries are edible and, at least I think, taste similar to the mountain apple.  (Never eat anything you're not absolutely sure about!)

After the short break I resumed climbing to the poles where I noted some apparently abandoned equipment.  I took a few more pictures before continuing up what was now obviously a trail constructed to service the power lines.

As I passed another set of poles in a badly eroded section I heard the buzz of a helicopter and paused to watch as it climbed up the valley below getting both bigger and noisier as it approached.  The little red Hughs 500 chopper flew by me and hovered along the Ko'olau Summit dropping off equipment for some workers near one of the power lines that stretch down to the windward side.   The chopper then buzzed back down the valley and  I returned to the task at hand, climbing up to Tripler Ridge.  As I worked my way up the trail, I could see the workers in there florescent orange and green shirts moving around and could hear them pounding on something.

Pacific Helicopters 500 series.

Looking down the spur ridge from Moanalua Valley
Coutour Trail
I've never done Tripler but I've heard it's a beast.  When I finally topped out to the ridge trail I could see why.  It's a typical Ko'olau ridge trail with a bumpy beginning that ends is a dramatic climb.  This dramatic climb is extra dramatic!  The trail I'd come up from the valley on didn't spare much of that last big climb either.
A look up the final section of Triper Ridge
 The views were impressive and under the overcast skies I was staying nice and cool.  I wasn't worried even a tiny bit about the clouds rolling in either because I'd already been treated to perfect weather view along the Ko'olua Summit Ridge Trail back in March when I'd done Bowman to the Stairway.  I paused a few times to take pictures along the way up to the summit and upon reaching it I took a whole bunch more.  I never get tired of the Ko'olau Summit.  No matter what the weather, or which trail it's always just an amazing place to spend time.  The Tripler Ridge Terminus affords a huge variety of views.  Here's a small sample:
Southwest view Tripler Ridge
Honolulu International Airport AKA Work.  It's much better looking the farther I get from it.
Honolulu Harbor
Even Diamond Head can be seen from here.
Olomana, Konahuanui, Lanihuli, and Bowman.  It's like being a kid in a candy store!
Pearl City
Ford Island & Pearl Harbor
Windward O'ahu
Northwest View
A look to the west confirmed that I'd guessed correctly on which trail to do today as the clouds shrouded the Ko'olaus beyond Halawa.  After lingering for some time to enjoy the fantastic view from Tripler I headed down the KSRT towards the Middle Ridge Junction.

Misty Ko'olaus to the west.
Initially the trail is pretty tame aside from the steep drop off to the windward side.  The first power line tower loomed just ahead.  Unbelievably, the weather was improving and the clouds seemed to be breaking up over Kaneohe and Kailua.  It looked like I'd been treated to perfect conditions, a cool overcast climb clearing to a sunny day.  How lucky is that?  The only thing keeping the conditions from being totally perfect was the vog hanging in the air.  Minor!  I noted the medieval looking spikes on the tower to dissuade people from attempting to climb it. 

Windward trails...
Leaving the first tower the trail narrows up a bit and because the trail receives a good amount of traffic it's sunken about knee deep into the ridge which is nice for security but rain wipes out any foot holds and forces people to slide down the trail.  The result is more of a flume than a trail but on a dry day like today it was just a little muddy and no big deal.

As I continued westward I passed the windward trails I'd wondered about last time.  I don't know why I didn't figure it out the first time but they're for the anchor points on cables attached to the powerlines that stretch down to Kaneohe.  They stabilize the wires so they don't swing wildly from left to right or up and down in the strong winds that pound the summit.  I bet those are fun to descend!

The trails lead to stabilization wires
Approaching the next power line I could see a team of three guys standing on the small landing zone along the ridge.  They were a little surprised to see me and a little suspicious too.  They'd been clearing vegetation and cutting new steps into the trail around the tower for an upcoming HECO project.  We talked for a little while and they questioned me.  They listened skeptically to my story about how I'd just got off work and was just out of a hike in the mountains and taking some pictures.  Apparently they're going to install a single metal pole like the one near the Tom-Tom Trail above Waimanalo.  Looking around at the completely denuded area I couldn't help but wonder what happened to the Trematolobelia singularis and macrostachys that once lived near here.  I couldn't remember where exactly they were in relation to the tower but hoped they'd been unaffected.  The power line crew kept an eye on me as I departed their work site still suspicious I was some kind of inspector or spy sent by their boss to see if they were working or just goofing off.

Not just cleared, wiped clean.

My next stop was the microwave relay station then the climb up a steep hill to the Moanulua Middle Ridge Junction.

Of course I climbed the relay...

The climb up to Middle Ridge
Along the way though I stopped to check out some 'ohe naupaka.  This mountain relative of the beach naupaka is endemic to O'ahu and Kauai only.  It's yellow flowers are much longer than either of it's other two mountain cousins. 

Arriving at the Middle Ridge Junction, the Stairway to Heaven's CCL Building atop Pu'u Pu'u Keahi a Kahoe just looked too inviting not to add to the day's activities.  After all, it had been almost a full week since my last visit!

After crossing the ridge to the top of The Stairway, I paused to take a few more pictures before dropping my pack for a quick descent down to the first landing.  On the way back up I stopped to visit the Lehua Papa that lives just off the Kailua side of the stairs.

Kaneohe from the CCL Building
Once back at the CCL building I shouldered my pack and headed back to the junction of Middle Ridge. 

I've seen videos, read accounts, and heard people discussing the Middle Ridge that splits Moanalua Valley but I'd never done it.  Almost immediately I regretted not having done this trail before.  The upper windswept slopes were beautiful.  Along the way I passed a Loulu palm that was flowering and noted the half eaten seeds hidden under one of the fronds.  Also, a lone manono tree, Hedyotis fosbergii, coated in moss appeared a ways down the ridge.  It reminded me a lot of the tree the Keebler Elves live in.

Looking down the ridge on either side of the trail I spotted what may be some Ko'olau Ohe, tetraplasandra gymnocarpa, trees.  I'm certainly not an expert but they're an endangered cousin of the Ohe Mauka, tetraplasandra oahuensis.  Their leaves supposedly have a greyish color but I've noted that it looks like more of a blue-green.  Even if I'd gone down the ridge to check them out there's no way I could be sure anyway.
While we're on the subject of plants, I also found a very different looking Ohia.  It grows close to the ground like a Ohia Papa, metrosideros rugosa, but lacks the thick, deeply veined leaves, and the bronze colored under leaf hairs. The lehua blossoms on it were interesting too.  Later I'd learn that local plant expert Joe Lau has labeled this one Metrosideros C.  It's definitely different.

There was plenty of Lehua Papa around to photograph as well.  It's showy red blooms, dark green veined leaves, and feathery white buds are quite a display.  The undersides of the leaves also feature bronze hairs.

The views Moanalua Middle Ridge afford of the valley below are breathtaking.

Proceeding down along its spine, I was shielded from the afternoon by the endemic forest that now swallowed up the trail.  The Ohia and Koa covered the ridge continued relentlessly downhill.

Walking through the native forest.

Large Koa across the trail
Two types of strawberry guava
 I was really wishing I'd brought a hiking stick to help keep some of the pounding off my knees.  Near the lower sections of the ridge the vegetation included some yellow strawberry guava trees that provided a nice snack but the real treat was the large 'Iliahi tree that blanketed the trail.  Back in the 1800's most of these endemic sandalwood trees were cut down for export to Asia.  The unsustainable harvesting lead to a huge decline in their numbers and were just one of several massive blows to the native forests which still have not recovered.
No good angle to catch this 'Iliahi from but it's HUGE.
Kulana'ahane Trail junction
The old carriage road
Eventually I popped out along the valley road, just a few yards from the junction with the Kulana'ahane Trail.

On the way out of the valley I didn't pass a single person on the way out of the valley and arrived at back at the park at about 4pm.  This loop trail was fantastic!  I really can't think of a single thing to complain about.  The walk on the road is pleasant, the ridges are filled with views and some uncommon plant life, and the bonus trip to the Stairway to Heaven all combine to make this one a winner all the way around.  I guess you could say this trip straight out of Ball's first edition Hiker's Guide to O'ahu was well worth the penny I paid for it!  By the way, this trail is also in the revised edition so give it a try!

Manene (above) / Alani (below)

Lehua papa (above) / Kupaoa (below)

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


  1. Wow, those are some photo's. Once i post this comment, i'll switch over to flicker to check the rest. Quite a hoof getting all the way up there and some view. Thanks for the post, awesome!

  2. I really enjoy this area of the Ko'olaus. Probably because it's close to home! Mahalo Frank