Friday, April 15, 2011

Pu'u Kalena

Another hastily selected trail on Tuesday because of cloudy and rainy conditions in the Ko'olau's led us to Pu'u Kalena.  The hype on the internet had me envisioning razor thin ridges but I figured we were up to the challenge.  First order of business was finding the trail head, located at Schofield Barracks in central O'ahu.  The last time I was at Schofield was somewhere around '87 back in ROTC spring camp.  Surprisingly, all you need to get onto an army base is insurance, a diver's license, and registration.  The guard asked me where I was going and I mumbled something about Kalena Trail and he shrugged his shoulders and handed me a pass.  Cool!  They'd never let you on Hickam or Pearl this way.

Parking Lot
Don't loose your head...
Translation:  Good times ahead!
Wrong Trail
I met with my partner, II, who'd already got his pass and we headed up to Kolekole.  Along the way we passed the various firing ranges where I'd got to shoot my first rifle, the M60, and my second, the M16 way back in the day.  Spring camp was awesome back then.  Okay, back to the trail before I get sidetracked.  Parking just prior to the gate that controls access to the Kolekole Pass road we immediately headed into the brush and onto the wrong trail.  We passed a sign begging us to turn back which we ignored and headed past a creepy rock which supposedly was used as an aid in decapitating people back in the old days.  When we arrived at a relay station I decided it was time to do a little research.  Yep, wrong trail.  We turned back to the cars, crossed the road, and headed up the dirt road that would take us to the trail we were supposed to be on.
THIS is the Kalena Trail Head

Initially the trail just follows an old dirt road until you reach a washed out section of colorful crumbly rock.  There's really no trail here, just make your way upwards to the apex and you'll find the trail that will take you through a forest of introduced formosan koa.  Right away it becomes clear that this will be a long, tough, and brutal climb to the summit of O'ahu's second highest peak.

I guess this is it...

The trail climbed steadily until we joined a ridge.  Making a left turn at the ridgeline the trail continued up towards the first peak of the trail.  Along the way there's a somewhat narrow section with a steep drop on the right and a painful drop into some christmas berry on the left.  I didn't think it was that bad at all.  My partner II has a healthy fear of heights and he remained upright here as well.  Just before the peak there is a small climb.   I relied upon the numerous hand and foot holds to get me up.  This has to be the section that all the fuss is about.  Honestly, I was expecting far, far, far, more.  This wasn't the nerve tingling ridge walk I'd been promised in the articles I'd read.  Don't get me wrong, there's some real potential for disaster if you slip but the dire warnings I'd read about crawling had me prepared to break out in a cold sweat as I traversed a sketchy, crumbly ridge with 1000' drops on either side of me.  I was actually little disappointed.  This part is actually worse going down than up in my humble opinion.

A Look Back
Pulu Kalio
Topping out we made a left following the ridge.  There's another ridge section with larger drops on both sides here but it's way wider than your body, I'd say sidewalk sized, so again it wasn't bad at all.  The drops here are bigger but the width made me comfortable.   I honestly had no idea which peak was Kalena when we started the trail.  Once we hit the first peak my maps app on my phone coupled with the geography gelled when I saw the view.  Basically we followed a series of ridges and peaks until we topped out to Kalena.  The views just kept improving as we continued.  Both the Waianae side and the central O'ahu views are awesome.  After the second section we made a small climb with a crappy old rope (I wouldn't use it) to a juniper tree.  After the tree there are no narrow sections left that aren't heavily vegetated.
Here's where the route becomes clear.
Naval Magazine Lualualei
Half way?
Looking across the saddle to Kalena
The trail widens out to a tame ridge trail for a while and after a while makes a hard right turn heading down hill.  My memory is a little fuzzy but I think this where someone build a nice little wooden bench.  I tested it out for a while to cool off.  I'm not using any kind of scientific method when I say this but I'd call the bench about the half way point.

Continuing down we had to negotiate a large fallen tree across the trail.  Near the bottom we passed though a very dry looking saddle.   I really enjoyed this dry saddle and it's ohia.   There were quite a few blooms to enjoy.  This is the very last chance you'll have to stroll leisurely along the ridge because the final brutal assault on Kalena resumes at the base.

Very symmetric ohia in the dry section

The trail resumed climbing steeply again into a mixed native and introduced forest.  I spotted a massive kāwaʻu tree.  My phone serves as a scale of the huge trunk on this monster.

There's a brief boggy ridge section filled with natives until the very last short but steep climb up to the summit of Kalena.  Another first for me in this area of the trail, a cloud forest with moss covered Lehua Ahihi, metrosideros tremuloides.  All the others I've seen are dominated by standard issue metrosideros polymorpha.
Lehua Ahihi cloud forest
 Finally the relentless climb ended and the summit of Kalena was reached!
Pu'u Kalena Summit
There's a military boundary maker here and some nice views of Waianae and Ka'ala.  I signed the guest book hanging from an ohia tree for both of us.   I haven't mentioned it yet but all day we'd heard continuous machine gun fire coming up from the ranges below.  Because we were closer it was pretty loud and echoed off the mountains.    I listened and thought I could hear the cows down in Waianae valley but can't say for sure.  After enjoying a snack it was time to head back down.

O'ahu's highest peak, Ka'ala viewed  from the second highest.

 The guest log and a huge ohia trunk coated in moss.

Waianae from the summit
Poor little rabbit.
The return leg was more of the same except all the climbs were now descents.  The  direction a trail is traveled often plays a big role in the difficulty and this one is no exception.  Retracing our steps we made our way back to the steepest section of the trail.  I passed upright but II elected to drop down on all fours.  The slight down hill grade of the ridge section did make it a little more interesting and we were both worn down from the trail.  He crawled a couple feet and then transitioned to a walking.  Heading down the ridge we missed the turn back into the formosan koa area so we had to back track.  We climbed back up the ridge and I hung a couple more pink ribbons at the junction because it seemed easy to miss.  A little way down the trail I heard some grunting coming for a few yards down the ridge and did my best hunting dog bark.  The pua'a scattered like mini bulldozers into the brush.  So far this technique is working but I worry some day an angry momma pig will come crashing towards me instead!

The rest of the trail was uneventful and we arrived safely at our cars with just a couple minor scrapes.

On the way down Kolekole road I spotted something unusual- a black rabbit on the side of the road.  I stopped and tried to coax it close enough to catch it but it wouldn't let me get close enough.  After five minutes I gave up.  Poor little guy, obviously it was a pet a some point.  A short time later I spotted a small group of pigs along the side of the road which bolted into the brush.  All and all a great day on a great trail!  That rabbit would have been a nice addition to the family though!

I shot lots of video but this week is crazy and I'm running out of patience with my computer.  I'll try and get something together later.

Aloha and thanks for reading, as always, more pictures of this trail and others I've done can be seen at Flickr.