Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Papali Ridge to Castle Trail

November 8, 2011

Rainy Day at Pauoa Flats
Pu'u Ohia in the Pouring Rain
My hopes were real high for a good trail on Tuesday.  I spent Monday wandering the Honolulu Mauka Trail System in the rain after getting off the midnight shift and later that night it was still rainy in Kailua so when I talked to my hiking partner we agreed not to bother getting up at 4:30am for the La'ie to Pauao adventure we've been struggling for so long to accomplish.

When I woke up at around 6:30 Tuesday I saw that he'd emailed at 4:30 anyway saying it was raining in the other side of the island.  He had decided to go back to bed.  After getting very little in the way of longer trails done over the last couple weeks I wasn't really excited about doing another short waterfall hike but by 9:00 it looked like that or nothing so I got my stuff together planning to do a short walk to Hamama Falls in Waihe'e Valley.  There was also the "Kahana Ditch Trail" that Nate Yuen had written about on Hawaiian Forest so I emailed myself a link to it in case that looked promising.

Surprisingly, as I left Kailua and made my way into Kaneohe the weather looked pretty nice.  Plan C was hastily forming in my head as another trail I've been wanting to do looked like it might be a possibility- The Papali Ridge Trail.  I'd heard of this one from Leslie Merril while on the Stairway a few weeks before.  I'd been looking for some alternate trails off the the KST from La'ie to Pauao in case we had to cut the trip short for some reason and he'd mentioned it as a possibility.  A Google search had revealed a little information about it but not much.  Driving past Kualoa Ranch I elected to continue to Hau'ula to at least scout the loop section that would get me to the Papali Ridge Trail.  Following Stuart Ball's instructions I parked at the beach park and walked up Homestead Road to a yellow gate.  Going around the gate I skipped the first trail which is the other loop trail and continued along a heavily gratified wall to the Ma'akua Trail sign and start of the Hau'ula-Papali Loop.

Hau'ula from the switchback section of the loop trail.

Immediately I crossed a dry stream bed and started on a Na Ala Hele maintained trail through introduced forest.  A short way in I passed some old formed concrete and some pipes I guess were part of an old water system.

The trail became a series of switchbacks until reaching a covered picnic table then a small bench at a scenic outlook where the loop section begins.  I'd already passed two separate groups of people by now and there was a couple sitting on the bench.  Pretty busy traffic for a Tuesday morning!  Looking at my map I elected to take the right turn which I figured would be the shortest route to the start of the Papali Trail.  I continued to gain elevation until reaching the crest of Papali Ridge where the loop trail then drops down into the next valley for the return section of the bench.  With no recent write-ups about the trail I'd been concerned that it may not be in very good shape but the junction looked pretty good so I crossed my fingers and headed up what I assumed was the start of the Papali Ridge Trail.

 Making my way up the still very defined and clear trail I continued to gain elevation at a decent rate.  The introduced forest vanished and was replaced by a rich native one filled with endemic plants.  Early on there was Lama with it's Christmas light bulb fruit, some ohia with very tightly packed leaves, and some beautiful akoko.

One of the akokos was about 5 feet tall and was being swallowed by a passion fruit vine.  I only delayed the inevitable but I stopped to trim some of the vines away and cutting myself in the process.

The big green leaves are the passion fruit vine and the smaller belong to the Akoko

Ant with white mealy bug on Bidens sp.
 Continuing up the trail I couldn't help but notice the white footed ants.  I have these horrible little black ants in my yard and have been struggling for three years to control them.  They farm aphids and mealy bugs for the "honey dew" that they secrete which is a food source for them.  I've developed a keen eye for spotting these things over the years and here they were up in the native forest.  I hoped that they wouldn't cause too much damage up here like they can at my house if I don't continually battle to keep their numbers down.  While taking pictures of the little black ants I noticed that this Ko'oko'olau flower looked a bit different than those I usually see.  Turns out that on O'ahu this species, Bidens campylotheca subsp. campylotheca, in only found on a few ridges from Pu`uwaiahilahila to the ridge between Ma`akua and Kawaipapa Gulches.  Lucky find!

Bidens campylotheca subsp. campylotheca (Ko'oko'olau)

Leaving the ants behind the trail continued high about Ma'akua Valley on the right.  The drop off was steep but there was a ton of vegetation and exposure to a disastrous fall was pretty limited.  Eventually the trail's grade increased to the point where someone had installed a white cable to assist with the climb.  The trail itself was still easily identified and clear.  There were fairly fresh tracks in the mud and someone had dropped their sunflower seeds on the trail which I had picked up and put in my pocket only to drop at some point later as well.

The Saddle
Shortly after the cable I crossed a short saddle and then spotted three pink ribbons on a branch.  This was the point where the ridge between Papali and Waiahilahila met so maybe it was supposed to mark an intersection and someone just added an extra ribbon? 

Steadily making my way mauka towards the Ko'olau Summit, there was another white cable to climb, then later one a rope to descend.  Finally one last climb to what I called Pu'u Views because it was the highest point in the trail and afforded the best views of the scenery.  As an added bonus there was a beautiful Koli'i in bloom mere feet below the pu'u and a very interesting looking Kanawao in flower with blue and green flowers.  I took off my pack and sat down for a while to enjoy it all.

First look at the Castle Trail
After taking in the fabulous views I needed to decide how I wanted to proceed.  It was far too late in the day for me to continue up the trail towards the KST and leave myself any kind of safety margin for getting off the trail by dark.  I could reverse course now and come out the way I came, or my last option was continue forward a short distance and hopefully identify the Castle Trail's junction and follow it out to Punaluu Valley.  The first issue was the matter of my Jeep which was parked at Hau'ula-  I'd have to walk the three and a half miles back to my car after completing the trail.   Second, there was a little risk associated with that choice because I'd never done the Castle Trail and had no idea how long it was or how well cleared it was.  I knew it had been done a few times and cleared over the summer I figured even if darkness descended before I got done I could probably find my way out so I opted to take the Castle Trail.  Taking one last chance to enjoy the fantastic views and the Koli'i bloom, I shouldered my pack and headed down from Pu'u Views and mauka up the trail to look for the Castle Trail Junction.

Turns out I didn't have far to go.  Off to my left side I could see the Castle Trail contouring up to the ridge I was hiking atop.  Sure enough I descended right down to where the Castle Trail crested the ridge from the Punaluu side and then continued mauka on the Ma'akua side of the ridge.  I stepped off the Papali Ridge Trail and onto the forbidden Castle Trail I'd been secretly savoring doing for a long time.

The first thing that struck me about the Castle Trail was that while it looked so much like a CCC trail, it seemed a little narrower.  Could have been my imagination or just the effect of the passing years on the original grade.  Whatever the case, the initial sections were in great shape and it was a welcome change to be on a graded trail after the trials and tribulations of the Papali Ridge Trail.  A short way down I found a dead mongoose just laying in the middle of the trail.

Add caption
The plant life on the Castle Trail was just as rich and along the way I spotted some nice Ho'awa flowers, and some Kapana.  I stopped to smell the Ho'awa flowers and must have gotten some of the pollen on my nose because I could smell them for about 10 minutes afterwards.  Still can't put my finger on the fragrance... maybe the cosmetic counter at Macy's?  Winding my way down the next point of interest was the Kaluanui Stream.  Even through the vegetation my first impression was how beautiful it was.

First view of Kaluanui Stream as the trail descends

Stream crossing
Making my way down the trail I eventually crossed the stream near a large Koki'o ke'oke'o tree.  One of two scented hibiscus flowers, Hibiscus arnottianus, is found on O'ahu and Molokai with the Molokai subspecies, immaculatus, being pure white.  The O'ahu subspecies arnottianus is found in the Waianae and Eastern Ko'olaus and a punaluuensis subspecies is found in Punaluu Valley.  I'm not sure which one the one at the stream was but it was gorgeous nevertheless.

Beyond the stream crossing a short way I passed the remains of an old tent.  I'm not sure if it's the same one but various reports dating back at least to the 1990's mention an abandoned campsite near the stream.  Leaving the stream behind the trail's condition deteriorated a little with some areas but was passable with little difficulty.  The sun had moved mauka so when I arrived at "The Notch" where the trail breaks through the ridge into Punaluu Valley it was about 3:40pm.  I paused there to take a few pictures and take in the breathtaking views of Windward O'ahu. 

Punaluu Valley
The Notch

Leaving the notch I still didn't really have a clear understanding of how the trail was laid out.  I headed makai on the path that had been cut into the side of the valley so many years ago.  At times the vegetation closed in obscuring the views but for the most part Punaluu Valley was laid out below to enjoy.    After contouring for about a half mile makai the trail switchbacked to mauka.

Castle Trail above Punaluu Valley
At two points, as I recall, the trail had slipped away and cables had been placed in the wall of the valley to help you pass the now narrow remnants.  I didn't think to snap a couple shots for those areas... doh!  Additionally, there are two red wooden signs further down that warn to use a clearly marked bypass route for a section that has been badly damaged by an avalanche years ago.

Detour signs

Last of the native forest

The trail continued to hug the valley wall but eventually I found myself on a long straight spur that was like and expressway to the valley below.  After passing a couple Koa trees which marked the end of the native forest, the trail entered a strawberry guava zone.  The downhill grade wasn't knee poundingly bad so I actually ran to make up some time and believe me running is practically an annual event for me   There was little in the way of views along this segment aside from the blur of strawberry guava whizzing by.

As I neared the end of the trail there was some poured concrete on the left side of the trail much like that on the Hau'uala loop then I broke out near two "No Trespassing" signs.  Too late for that, perhaps they should post those up at the top of the trail too. 

Castle Trail Head Punaluu Valley
Although I'd finished the off road portion of the day I still had to walk out of Punaluu Valley to Kamehameha Highway and then back to Hau'ula.  I'd heard the valley residents can be a little protective and at times confrontational so I moved as quickly and inconspicuously as possible seeing only a bunch of guys in a lifted Toyota truck blasting through the muddy fields.  They were having so much fun they could have cared less about me and paid no attention as I passed.  I got a quick shower from the passing rains that were now sweeping though the valley while walking along the dirt road.


 Approaching the paved road I passed a nursery and was stopped by a white Jeep.  Inside were two tourists looking for Sacred Falls.  After talking with them I passed three viscous dogs before finally arriving at the highway at a few minutes before 5:45pm.

The moon had risen and as the darkness began to descend I figured it would be much more fun to walk back the Hau'ula along the beach instead of the busy highway.  I fired up Google Navigation just for fun to track my progress back to Hau'ula.

I was really enjoying the deserted beach under the light of the moon up until the point I ran out of beach.  I scrambled across some very slippery rocks and sliced my hand open on something.  It's a small wound but what it lacked in size it made up for in pain.  Across the rocks I continued along the beach with the roar of the surf breaking on the reef.  About three quarters of the way I retreated to walk along the highway to cross bridges over various streams emptying into the ocean.  Fooling around with pictures and stopping to check out the sites meant I finally arrived at the Jeep at  about 6:50pm.  I was both shocked and pleased to find that, despite the drug deals going on in the restrooms nearby, nobody had decided to smash a window.

Somewhere between Punaluu and Hau'ula
I really don't know what the mileage was on this one, it felt like about 15 but was really somewhere between 11 and 12 with the walk from Punaluu to Hau'ula which turned out to be a pretty unique experience in itself.  Having the entire beach to myself in the moonlight was pretty nice although Mrs. XJ would have been a nice addition!  I didn't feel too terribly alone on the trail as I had cell service most of the time and although demanding it was pretty safe with very few areas of exposure to steep drops.  However, I'd certainly recommend bringing someone along to enjoy this one with for safety reasons.

Auriculella diaphana (Kalawahine Trail)

More pictures from this trail, the rainy day on the Honolulu Mauka Trail System, and others I've done can be viewed on Flickr.  Aloha and thanks for reading!



  1. Hey how many miles was it to the kaluanui stream crossing, and how advanced of a hike was it? I've done bowman is it any sketchier than that? THANKS!

  2. Thanks for sharing the journey. Why is Castle considered forbidden?

  3. Castle is on private property and the owners to not allow access to anyone.