Thursday, January 13, 2011

KSRT: Wiliwilinui Ridge to Kuliouou Ridge

January 11, 2011:  Ko'olau Summit Ridge Trail from Wiliwilinui Ridge to Kuliouou Ridge

Last week's climb of Konahuanui's twin summits left me itching for more summit trail so when I was planning our next hike I had the KSRT on my mind.  I figured we'd be able to most of our time edging along the spine of the Ko'olaus instead of climbing up a ridge to them. 

Our day began at 6:15am at the parking lot of the Hawaii Kai Costco.  We then dropped a car off at the Kuliouou Trail head and headed to Waialae Iki and checked in at the guard house for our pass for the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail.  The great thing about this trail is you're leaving your car in a gated community with designated parking.  How nice is that?  We set off up the road to the water tank just before 7:00 am and asphalt gave way to dirt and gravel as we began the ascent up the ridge via the road which dates back to WWII.  Back then Wiliwilinui was home to 8" naval guns and SCR-296A radar in an emplacement known as Battery Wilridge.

As we climbed the road we spotted the impact site of the plane crash just over a year ago and Nicholas Palumbo and his son Tim were killed enroute from Lanai back to Honolulu in some bad weather.  The vegetation was already covering up much of the scar making me spend a little time thinking about how soon we're all forgotten as the traces of our lives are covered up in an ever changing world.  Finally the road gave way to trail as we started up the steps that marked the real start of Wiliwilinui Trail.

For some reason Wiliwilinui Trail is like Kryptonite to me.  Every time I get on that trail it's like the energy is drained out of me and by the time I get to the top I'm dragging.  Today was no different.  I hadn't got a lot of sleep the night before or even the night before that and I was already running out of energy.  My hiking partner bounded up ahead of me and mentioned that he was loving the slow moving version of me because he got to take all kinds of breaks waiting for me to catch up.  Up we went into what was now becoming a native forest filled with ohia, koa, mountain naupaka, uluhe fern, ohia ha, and others.

We passed more steps which included ropes to assist with some eroded areas and the radio tower loomed just a short distance away.  One final push and we marched passed it to the summit.

Wiliwilinui Trail Terminus
A short break, a helicopter landing, and a katsu spam musubi later I was ready to rock and roll.  Even my hiking buddy was amazed at the change as soon as we headed down the KSRT.  What followed was an amazing journey across the Ko'olaus. 

Wiliwilinui - Hawaii Loa

The second leg of our journey began as the sun rose above Mokapu'u and Hawaii Kai.  The summit trail was in good condition and despite the heavy rains the winter and in the days preceding our hike the mud wasn't too bad.  Like most of the KST, we hiked along the edge of the cliffs following the ridge line with a steep drop off towards Waimanalo below.  There were a few gentle climbs and descents initially  as we wove our way through the vegetation.
This segment required sure footing.
The Ko'olau Summit

I love the Ko'olau Summit!
II on a narrow ridge
Trematolobelia Singularus?
As I enjoyed the view the sun just happened to illuminate what I believe is an endangered Tramatolobelia singularis.  It was like a spot light had been aimed at it a few hundred feet down a cliff.  I switched lenses to grab a quick shot of it.   Unfortunately, the flowers had already fallen but it was still a treat to see.  As we got closer to Hawaii Loa there were a couple steeper sections that required some care.  I don't remember any ropes or cables along this section.

Some of the drops are pretty severe and there are some sections without vegetation for security.
Hawaii Loa - Pu'u O Kona

Kanawao Blossom
 This was without a doubt the most overgrown section of the KST that day.  The trail itself was unmistakable but clidemia, uluhe, and ohia had to be brushed aside and we really had to keep an eye on where our feet we going to avoid a fall.  Despite the sun beating down on us and the increasing vog the views were still spectacular.  It's not often you're treated to a cloudless look at the spine of the Ko'olaus with Rabit Island all the way to Koko Head.  Just prior to reaching Hawaii Loa I spotted a Kuhi'aikamo'owahie (Lobelia hypoleuca) just prior to the top of the ridge.  The bottom of it's leaves are snowy white which is the only way an amateur like me could identify it.  I've yet to see one in bloom but they are supposed to have gorgeous dark blue to purple colored flowers.

By the time we topped Pu'u O Kona my hiking partner was starting to get a little worn out.  We took a break and I suggested he grab something to eat to refuel for the remaining leg to Kuliouou.  Atop Pu'u O Kona towards the leeward side of the island there was a fantastic Kanawao, a endemic plant related to the Hydrangea,  in the process of blooming.  While my partner enjoyed the view I snapped pictures of the emerging blooms and the spectacular views. 

View of East O'ahu from Pu'u O Kona
Pu'u O Kona - Kuliouou

The clear skies turned voggy and the sun began to beat down on as as we made our way across the summit towards Kuliouou.  The trail's condition improved as I suspect this section receives a little more traffic.  About midway there was a long double rope section but the condition of the rope and the steel anchor made for an easy and relatively worry free descent.  After that valley we proceeded up towards the edge of the Kuliouou Forest Reserve. 

Lehua Papa Flower
The climate changed from wet to dry and I was surprised to see a beautiful Lehua Papa tree in bloom in a drier area.  I don't know if the it's habitat made a difference but instead of the usually fiery red bloom this one was much more muted... almost creamy. 
Landslide Section
Further down the trail was the "land slide section where a fairly large chunk of the mountain had eaten away and undercut the trail.  Comforting to us was that we didn't have a good view of just how much of the trial was missing.  Keeping to the leeward side we crossed uneventfully.  A short while later we arrived at the terminus of the Kuliouou Trail and the end of our KSRT crossing but the beginning of the final leg of the day.

Kuliouou Trail Terminus
 Kuliouou Trail 

I'll admit it, I'd snubbed this trail and had never been on it.   I prefer the rain and cloud forests so this had never been high on my list of hikes to do.  My hiking partner had so the fact that we weren't going to get down before dark didn't bother me.  Thankfully the clouds had moved in and they blanketed the worst of the sun.  As we headed down the ridge we passed a guy trail running who blew past us like we were standing still.  We continued down into the Norfolk pine and then the Ironwood forest as the sun began to set.  I took my last picture of the sun setting behind the pines.  With the light fading into darkness we continued down into the switchback section of the trail.  I had a flash light but the half moon was good enough for me to see as my hiking partner donned his headlamp.  I recognized the plants around me simply by their smell.  I spent many Friday nights in high school climbing up Ka'iwa Ridge in Lanikai in the dark so the haole koa, guinea and molasses grasses were familiar scents.  Eventually I tripped and fell with a not so graceful recovery but pride dictated that my flashlight would stay in my pack!  Soon the trail faded to asphalt as we passed the hunter check-in station and we arrived back at the car.  A short drive back to retrieve the other car at Wiliwilinui and our day was over.

Last shot of the day
Mountain Naupaka
As our first time on the KSRT I could not imagine doing it the clouds.  There are no signs at any of the ridges so without either a GPS enabled phone or a lot of experience with the various ridges you'd have no idea where you were most of the time.

By the time the hike was over we had been treated to some of the most spectacular and amazing views O'ahu has to offer.  I could have knocked this trail out in 6 or 8 hours but this was my hiking partners 7th hike in his entire life.  When it gets steep or there's any kind of drop off he is slow and careful because he just doesn't have the experience yet.  Perfect for me because I can take all the pictures I want and do some exploring. He deserves a ton of credit for his can-do attitude and his determination!

I would NOT recommend this trail to anyone who's unfamiliar with the ridges along the route and doesn't have some fairly advanced hiking experience.  There is a whole lot of potential for some really bad things to happen and getting stuck on any section of this trail at night would be extremely dangerous.   More pictures of this trail and others I've done are can be viewed  Flickr.  Aloha and thanks for reading.

Hanging out...


  1. Thanks for posting this - extremely useful and GREAT photos here and on your flickr page.