Saturday, November 24, 2012

KST- Poamoho to Castle Overnight

November 12, 2012

I've been wanting do some more overnights in the Ko'olaus but with work and family it's tough to block enough time.  Finally with Veteran's Day approaching I'd obtained another permit for Poamoho Trail with a loose plan to check out some of the things I've never had time to really examine along the summit on rushed day hikes where covering ground is always a priority.  To make a long story short, we'd decided to simply hike up Poamoho and hang a left on the Ko'olau Summit Trail and go as far as we felt like going.  We had enough food and water for 3 days on the summit which we could easily stretch to 4 if we needed to.  My first challenge was that I work two shifts on Sundays- A 6am to 2pm then I return for a 10:15pm to 6:15am shift.  That meant I'd be running short on sleep from the very start but I figured I'd manage.

After getting off work I headed back to Kailua and started loading the Jeep.  II showed up at 8am and we added his gear and set off in a packed Grand Cherokee with my mom, wife, and two kids.  My mom insisted on driving the Jeep so we made ultra slow progress up the road into the forest reserve behind Helemano.

After passing the second gate we spotted a family of pigs wandering down the road.  There were several keiki and they seemed fairly unconcerned with our presence initially but eventually bounced through the barbed wire fence along the side of the road.

We crawled at mom speed up to the end of the road finally arriving at the Poamoho Trail shortly before 10am.

II and I unloaded our gear and said our good byes and watched the Jeep disappear around the corner.  Both of us were carrying two three liter Camelbak bladders and few extra bottles of water in reserve.

The bulk of the water plus my camera and lenses easily outweighed my other gear.

We set off on the Poamoho Trail enjoying it's smooth easy grade and open space.  It's easily the best investment as far as effort vs. reward on O'ahu.  We made decent time up the trail and passed all the usual sites along the way.

The first bench
The larger and heavier packs meant we had to get dirty
Just liked the zig-zag of the limb hanging over the trail
Blue-green Kanawao flowers along the trail
 So far the weather was looking good.  Leaving the maintained trail we continued towards the summit and enjoyed the hazy views of central O'ahu.

A short time later we entered the miniature valley where the trail crosses the stream and then heads towards the summit.  This is my favorite part of the Poamoho Trail.

My favorite part of the trail
As we made our way up the valley we noted that although there was water in the stream but it wasn't flowing.  As I mentioned earlier II and I were both carrying two three liter Camelbaks plus a few extra bottles of water in reserve.  We had both toyed with the idea of carrying only three liters or even just the reserve supplies up and filling up here but the stream isn't totally reliable and here our safe bet of dragging all that water up to the summit paid off looking at the stale bug filled water in the stream.  Regardless, we both filled a couple empty bottles with the water and I dumped some water treatment tablets to kill off any bacteria. We both figured we could use it to wash our hands later or pour it out if we didn't need it.

Coming out of the valley we made a turn and proceeded up on the straight shot to the KST Junction.

Immediately I spotted the pinkish flowers of a Koli'i, Trematolobelia macrostachys, in the vegetation off the trail.  This is prime blooming season for the Trematolobelia species and the various flower spikes where in the process of firing off individual blooms.  I sat in the brush taking pictures while II shook his head.

Satisfied with the dozen plus shots of the Koli'i I shouldered my pack and headed up towards the Cline Memorial and KST Junction.

I noticed there there were many more Koli'i in bloom at the summit and stopped to take even more photos of them.  There was a nice one right below the memorial mere inches off the side of the trail.

We headed up to the edge of the ridge to enjoy the fantastic views of Punalu'u and Kahana.  I've got tons of shots of this landscape but that didn't stop me from taking a few more.

Looking down into Punalu'u and Kahana
II scoping out the views above

Content with our shots we headed over to the memorial for a timed shot of the two of us before rounding up our gear and heading westward along the KST.

We'd spent the better part of an hour just at the junction so it was now about 1pm as we set off down the KST past the remains of the snail enclosure.

Just a short walk later we passed the old weather station which I'm assuming is no longer in service with the newer one east of the junction now in place.

Beyond the weather station the trail contoured gently upwards along the windswept summit before crossing over to the leeward side of the crest.

 Our fantastic views of windward O'ahu were replaced with those of central O'ahu.

With the trail now on the protected leeward side the mud and overgrowth on the trail made progress a bit slower and my pants got dirty!

After a short stint on the leeward side the trail rejoined the crest and climbed upwards.

The grade is well preserved  here as the trail hooks leeward to contour a small peak.

As afternoon rolled on the clouds began to lower.  Central O'ahu began to fade.

The summit fence appeared and we walked westward along it watching for support wires and stakes.  While the fence does totally kill the mood its function in keeping people, pigs, and any other creatures that find there way up here out of the protected area helps ensure it's future.

Later the fence and the trail turn away from the crest and headed leeward.  A few yards later the KST turns back to parallel the crest while the fence continues to pull away.  The KST becomes very overgrown in this area.

Eventually the fence returns to the trail which has stayed just to the leeward side of the crest and they continue on together to a point where the the trail actually crosses the fence at a signed junction with an old boot on a stake.

By now the clouds had rolled in and there were no views as visibility dropped.  The mist of passing clouds swirled around us and we continued westward.

We passed though the helicopter landing zone and noted the rolls of fence and stakes piled up.  II was starting to think about finding a place to set up camp but the LZ is just too windy so I suggested we press on.

The trail took a hard turn leeward to contour a small peak and then rejoined the crest for a  short steep climb along the fence.  The trail continues right along the crest with the fence and bobs up and down a bit.

With the wind howling and the visibility reduced the fading sunlight took on a little more urgency.  We needed to find a good place to spend the night.  We continued along the trail to a small valley to a windswept area where water collects for a intermittent stream to central O'ahu and to a waterfall down into Punalu'u Valley.  It looked pretty windy and boggy so I suggested we continue a way to see if another option appeared.  We pressed past it a bit but after 20 minutes or so turned back.  It was simply too late to be picky and this was going to have to be the spot if we want to set up in the dwindling light.  Luckily as we scouted the open area we discovered it wrapped behind the ridge and there was a small area out of the wind. 

With darkness descending rapidly the race was on to get our tents set up.  I said a silent prayer of thanks that it wasn't raining and also to request that all the parts of my tent be in the bag.  I hadn't touched it since my overnight on Lanihuli and if something was missing this would be a really bad time to find out!

We had no trouble setting up our tents and were done with light to spare.  Now it was time to see about eating dinner.  I pulled out my stove to heat some water for a freeze dried  pouch of Beef Stroganoff while II was relying on MRE's.  The clouds swirled in the clearing as I waited for my water to come to a boil and he for this chemical packet to heat his main course.

I was surprised at how hungry I was.  I practically inhaled the warm dinner from the packet and added some instant coffee from a packet to the extra boiling water to have with dinner.  The overcast skies had meant my water consumption for the day was almost zero.  I'd only drank one bottle of Gatoraid back at the Poamoho Junction.  We sat quietly wishing for better weather as we finished our dinners.

As we finished eating the first round of rain began suddenly.  I scurried back to my bag sitting outside my tent and covered it with a small kitchen size trash bag to keep it dry.  Almost everything in it was packed in dry bags but I didn't want it to get waterlogged if I could help it.

There were no trees near our kitchen area so I put the LED latern in this small Ohia tree while we cleaned up.  The little lantern is a luxury item with limited space but it's nice to have so I've always found room for it.

The rains started again and we hurriedly packed up our gear and headed for our tents.  I'm not sure how II handled his equipment but I basically unpacked my bag and dumped most of my gear in my tent so I'd have room for it inside.  I changed into some clean clothes and put my boots and wet pants up under the rain fly of the tent before zipping myself in.

Setting my the space in my tent took a while.  I'd unrolled my Snugpak Jungle Bag and my small half mattress earlier but getting my bag and the stuff in it situated in way that would allow me to sleep in the small one man tent comfortably and without breaking anything was a little challenging.  When I had everything arranged I realized I couldn't find my Droid 2 which I use for Back Country Navigator and as a backup for my Droid Razr.  I spent 20 minutes thrashing around in the tent and then another 10 scouring the brush outside in the dark but couldn't find it.  I gave up and settled back in to write a quick journal entry about the day as the tent buffeted from time to time in the wind.

I'd blame fatigue but the truth is, I simply suck at spelling.  campsite, campsite, campsite, campsite, campsite, campsite...
Done writing an entry that would make an English teacher cry, I made one final sweep of my gear and discovered I had an intruder that had hitched a ride on my stove's plastic case.  This little snail is probably a Leptachatina species but I don't know much about these little guys.  I put the case and the snail outside so it would have all night to find a more suitable place to live.

Finally settled in I took one final shot of the environment around the tent before zipping up for the night at 7:56pm.

Considering my lack of sleep the previous night and the increased pack weight you'd think I'd have slept like a log.  Honestly I have no idea how much sleep I did or did not get.   I'd agonized about whether or not to bring my Snugpak self inflating sleeping mat.  The weight wasn't the issue, size was even though it's only about half the length of a full size.  On my Lanihuli overnight I'd awakened at three in the morning half crippled on the uneven, hard ground.  I figured it would be worth the padding and the mat did a great job of keeping me comfortable but it provided a slippery surface on my downward sloping tent site that meant I'd awaken to find myself bunched up at the bottom of the tent periodically.  That wasn't the worst of it though, the driving passing rains pounding on the tent woke me up.  It seemed like it rained for 10 minutes then stopped for 10 minutes alternating all night!

At about 6am I peeked out of my tent to see what the day might bring.  To my disappointment it looked a lot like it had when I'd zipped up the night before.

After staggering out into the morning mist I decided to take a quick look around the campsite.

Boggy area near our tents

Summit vegetation
With no views I returned to camp to make breakfast.  II emerged from his tent and did the same.

After a quick warm meal we started repacking our gear and taking down the tents.  I took anything wet over to the windy valley and let the strong gusts blast as much moisture off before stowing them.

Cleaning up the kitchen area I found this little Kahuli snail on a bottle wrapper that had come loose in the dampness.  Philonesia snails are still fairly common in both the Wai'anae and Ko'olau mountains. 

It was almost 9am before we had everything put away and were ready to hit the trail.  The loose plan today was to head to La'ie and off the summit.  Despite the rains during the previous night it seemed like we'd be dry as the departed but the clouds refused to clear so we'd have no sweeping views of the amazing Ko'olau summit.

Pushing off onto the KST at 0855
We continued westward down the KST along the fence.  It's amazing how much time and effort has been put into keeping this area protected.  Every post and section of fence has been airlifted in and carried into position by the contractors.  Various sections have been upgraded along the way too with different materials like these heavy, stiff, panels which have been added to the lighter duty wire.

Along this section were numbered wooden boxes containing rodent traps to help control rats and mice which eat endemic snails, seeds, and plants.

Almost exactly a half hour after departing our campsite we were still working our way along the fence.  I was about 20 yards ahead when I felt the fence move and heard a yell.  II had lost his footing and grabbed the fence to steady himself.  Unfortunately he wasn't wearing gloves and the force of the fall opened up his finger on the dull wire of the fence mesh and blood began to pour out at an alarming rate.  He made his way up to me and we tried to inspect the damage but the amount of blood coming out of the wound made it tough to tell what was going on.

The picture doesn't do it justice!

Drops of blood were flying off his fingers in the breeze spattering his shirt, my pack, and the fence.  First order of business was to simply stop the bleeding.  I found a couple old paper towels in my lens case and used the roll of painter's tape I had in my bag to wrap the towels tightly around his finger.  It appeared to stem the flow of blood and we took  stock of our situation.  Neither of us had any idea how severe that wound was but the amount of bleeding had me pretty concerned.  There was no other way off the summit other than by foot so we elected to take the first available trail down which was the Castle Trail.  We cleaned up some of the blood and shouldered our packs again.

In surprisingly good spirits as we continue along the muddy summit.
Despite the injury I couldn't help but stop and take a few pictures of this Clermontia persicifolia with fruit and a few flower buds on the trail.

We continued to slog along the summit towards Castle Junction mirroring the fence.  As we approached the western end of the fence and the Ohia Makanoe Bog the clouds lifted for a very short view of central O'ahu.

At the corner of the bog I lost my 77mm lens cap.  I paced back and forth along the trail but to no avail.  Sigh.

There was still plenty to see as we pushed through our final section of KST.  I turned over this galled Alani leaf to check out the damage to the leaf disturbing this sleepy Succinea snail.

We paused briefly at the ribbon coated PVC and rusty metal stakes marking the Castle Trail's upper reaches for a quick picture.

With little to see on the way down except the plant life along the trail we made decent time on the upper section of the Castle Trail.  At one point I did have to redo the bandaging on II's finger as the paper towels completely soaked though.  Unless constant pressure was kept on the wound it bled like crazy!

We could have taken Papali Trail under normal conditions but with II's finger I figured it was easier to stay on the mostly graded Castle Trail.  I have to point out that the Castle Trail is on private property and requires permission but I figured anyone who saw the blood soaked bandages would give us a free pass.  I'd rather have taken Papali anyway!

La'ie barely visible under the clouds

There were few views to be had on the upper reaches of the trail aside from a few Clermotia which weren't blooming.  When we reached the Kaluanui Stream I had to pause for a quick shot of the Hibiscus growing there. 

Near the old abandoned tent across the stream there's a Hibiscus arnottianus subsp. punaluuensis.  The leaves of this plant are huge!

We began the slow climb up from the stream and wound our way towards the notch.

Arrival at The Notch.

Passing through the gateway sweeping views of the valley and coast below greeted us.

We hiked the long switchbacks along the wall of Punalu'u Valley to the detour where the original path has become unusable.  I'd worried a little that II's finger might make this area problematic but he manged it with just one hand.

As we descended into the valley the noise of heavy equipment filled the air.  Walking along the valley road we discovered it's source, a huge tree eating machine was clearing  the hillsides.  No losses here, just introduced weedy trees.

The work was obviously extensive as evidenced by the mountains of mulch!

Nobody questioned our presence in the valley as we made our way down the road.  Perhaps the blood on II's shirt and face and our general appearance suggested we were better left alone.

Emerging from the off limits section of the road on to the asphault and continued towards Kamehameha Highway.

There's plenty of small scale farming in the valley and it even appears that farming here is on the increase.  These huge fields of kalo near the highway are beautiful to watch as they leaves ruffle in the breeze..

Finally we reached the highway and sat down near the bus stop to wait for Mrs. XJ to pick us up.  It turned out to be a long one because of traffic in Kaneohe so in the mean time got some icecream bars and poke from Ching's Punalu'u Store to eat while we waited.

After returning to Kailua we headed up to Castle and had II's hand looked at.  Luckily it wasn't too bad and he'll be back on the trail again shortly.

While our trip was cut short and the length of trail we covered was shorter than most day hikes I've done on the KST it was still fun.  More pictures from this trail and others I've done can be viewed on Flickr.
Aloha and mahalo for reading.


  1. Great write up and some absolutely stunning views!! I know you mentioned the Snugpak Jungle Bag, Overall, how do you rate it? I have been looking at one as it looks so lightweight and compact but do you think it would be ok in climates that aren't as warm or humid?

    1. I've been very happy with it but I think its temperature rating of 45°F to 36°F is the limit of its capabilities. If I expected a temperature of less than 50°F I'd probably bring a different sleeping bag. It's very space efficient and I've had no problems with it. Performs as advertised by Snugpak. They have a wide selection of sleep systems available so you may want to check out some other options if you think you need something warmer.

      I've been considering their even lighter Special Forces Bivvi bag too.