Friday, August 26, 2011

KST- Malaekahana To La'ie

August 23, 2011

Sticking with my plan to familiarize myself with some of the trails along the Ko'olau Summit Trail, La'ie Summit made perfect sense.  I got a really late start after sleeping in and having to drive the just under 30 miles out to La'ie didn't help but it did afford me the chance to get a permit and legally access the trail.  Hawaii Reserves Inc. manages over 7000 acres of land in La'ie that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints purchased in 1865.  I stopped at their offices in the La'ie shopping center and filled out a really basic form  that grants me one year of access as long as I agree not to sue them and follow their rules.  You can do this in advance too and it only seems right considering they're nice enough to allow people to come on their property, right?

E Komo Mai!
The pump house
I parked at the La'ie Ball Field on Poohaili St. and headed mauka down the road through an open gate on the right where the road forks.  Walking past another field, apparently for cricket which I didn't know anyone actually plays here, the road veered to left and past the pump house mentioned in Stuart Ball's instructions.  There's a driveway on the right with much signage suggesting no one trespass there.  I complied.  After some more road walking I reached a gate on the left side of the road with a La'ie Falls sign which is the same trail as the La'ie Ridge.  It's a guinea grass lined road that would eventually shrink into a trail later.  A short while in I came across another sign at a fork with the falls/ridge to the left and a hill scramble to the right.  That sounded fun so I took off in that direction to see where it led.  After a few minutes I arrived at an eroded area littered with shot gun shells and clay pigeons  that had been used as a skeet range.  This is one of my pet peeves because I like shooting, four wheeling, and hiking and it's morons that leave their crap behind that close off areas to all three!  This little side adventure got me thinking.  I knew that the Malaekana Ridge Trail started nearby and if I took it up to the summit I could take a short section of the Ko'olau Summit Trail to the La'ie Ridge Trail making the day into a loop.  As I headed back to the La'ie Falls Trail sign I did some reading on my Droid and came up with my sources for my new plan.  They were a mixture of Stuart Ball's Hiking Hawaii which I'd been using for the La'ie Trail, an Around Hawaii article, and of course a  Dayle Turner Hike O'ahu article written by Wing Ng describing the loop to get me through the day.

Once back at the road I headed deeper into the back country.  I was on the lookout for a spot where the stream crossed the road.  The Malaekahana Ridge Trail would start at the first left turn past that stream.  There was another sign denoting the Malaekahana Falls along the way.  How helpful is that!   I passed fields of different crops like papaya and banana until I reached the stream crossing.   On the left there was a gated road that seemed a little pointless because right next to it was a huge opening that bypassed the gate.  Hmmmm no sign.  A little spoiled at this point, I figured I'd keep going until I found one.  The road dead ended at a field but there was a road to the left.  No sign.  I gambled and took it.  The road climbed above a guy on his tractor working his fields below.  There was some horse poo strewn along the road as it climbed into the introduced forest of iron wood and some kind of eucalyptus.  After about half and hour I realized I was on the wrong road and turned back.  I arrived at the gated road  at just before noon.  Way to blow 6 hours of good hiking time on my precious weekend!  Should have followed the instructions and got out of bed earlier!

 Now on the trail, I knew time was precious because I had some miles to cover before dark.   For about the first third of the way I was on an old dirt road.  It climbed slowly up into the mountains until I reached a grove of ironwood trees with a lean-to built.  I paused here to catch my breath and take a look at the landscape around me.
The ironwood tree campsite
Looking back makai from the campsite
Although up until now most of the plants around me were introduced there were a few endemics to be seen.  Most interesting of them was this ohia.  People tend to think of it as an upland tree that enjoys rain and cooler conditions but prior to the slashing and burning of the lowlands first by the Hawaiians for their crops, and then the westerners sugar, pineapple, and ranching, ohia and many other species once extended much further down to the coastal zone.  This particular form had a really small and compact leaf design.  I added a shot with my fingers for some scale.

It had been pretty hot and muggy up until now but the weather was changing and I'd been eying some rain showers as they moved in off the ocean up towards me.  Before I left I got my first shower of many I'd be receiving but this one passed through pretty quickly and it just made it even muggier.  My forward progress was dismal with the heat which sucked the energy out of me.

Following the trail upwards I was soon encased in Strawberry Guava.  I now understand how the world looks to all the pua'a that tunnel their way across the mountains on their own network of trails.  The strawberry guava section continued and the ridge began to roll.  Up and down I climbed while watching the clock.  Initially, I'd set an unrealistic turnaround time of 2pm.  It was clear there was no way that was going to work so I bumped it to a still very conservative 3pm considering the sun would set just before 7pm.

The clouds rolled in cooling me off but the summit had been obscured by both the rolling ridge and clouds so I had no idea how much further it was.  At 3pm I bumped it to 4pm which I decided was as far as I'd push things.
Here comes the rain again!
As I'd moved higher into the Ko'olaus the native vegetation had become more dominant but strawberry guava still permeated the landscape.  At around 3pm I found a sign labeled "Alternate to the KST" or "Shortcut to KST"- I can't remember and didn't take a picture.  I had no idea what that was all about and the route it pointed to was visible but overgrown.  Being late in the day and already running up against the clock, I was in no position to investigate so I continued on the Malaekahana Trail.   I found this information later on the Hawaii Hiking, Backpacking, and Camping blog.

"It was there we left the ridge trail (heading right) to begin a segment we called "The Shortcut to the KST," a longtime brain-child of Bill Gorst. This route drops down to a little stream, passes some paperbark trees, winds around some low ridges and ravines, crosses little streams at least twice more, and eventually gains the summit trail about a half mile (as the mynah flies) north of the KST/Malaekahana junction. It takes about half an hour."

By now I had entered a miniature forest like those I've seen in the Poamoho area.  It was pushing 3:30pm when, frustrated, tried, and wet, I gave up.   Based on the Turner/Ng loop article I estimated that I needed one hour to get from the KST-Malaekahana junction to the La'ie junction then another three to get back to my car.   That added up to an 8pm finish if everything went perfectly and left no room for error on a trail I'd never been on.  It seemed too risky so, resigned to throw in the towel,  I marked the point in my Back Country Navigator app on my Droid and stood there cursing the strawberry guava that was taking over this fantastic little section of forest.  I wondered how many years it had left before it was swallowed up like the lower sections.  Then, although I'm really not sure why, I continued up the trail towards the summit.

The always amazing upper forest of the Ko'olaus
At a small clearing I noted some really bad pig damage that had toppled an ohia tree.  I reached the three ribbon end of the Malaekahana Trail at 3:48 and continued past it to the junction with the KST which I reached at exactly 4pm.  That put me back at my car at 8pm according to the loop article.  No time to screw around.

The arrival onto the KST was unceremonious.  If there was a sign, I didn't see it.  I set off eastwards and although the trail is fairly recognizable, there are some sections where it looks like it has been bypassed.  Thankfully there are a few ribbons to follow along the summit because I almost took a wrong ridge in the clouds.  I think most of the initial portions are leeward of the summit but occasionally for reasons of overgrowth, slippage, or whatever the trail now sometimes hops over to the windward.
The Ko'olau Summit
Malaekahana / Ko'olau Summit Trail Juntion- just some uluhe fern to greet you.
Trying to move as quickly as possible I didn't linger to look at much but I did get enough glimpses of sections that weren't damaged or overgrown to imagine what this trail looked like in the 1930's when it was new.  It must have been among the most beautiful in the world.  Such a shame it's fallen into disrepair!  Eventually the trail switched sides to the windward and weaved in and out along the summit.  Most of the trail was evident but every once in a while I was left to guess a little.  My time put a little more pressure on me and I guesstimated the La'ie junction on Back Country to make sure I didn't blow past it.

You can get a sense of what the entire KST once looked like from this small section which has weathered the years.
Cloudy windward section of the KST
At 4:46 I reached the sign announcing my arrival at La'ie Junction.  Whew, I figured I was in good shape now.  After the battling Malaekahana uphill all afternoon the La'ie Trail was nothing short of a dream come true.  Although both were originally built by the CCC in the thirties, the Malaekahana Trail was lost to time and the new trail was carved mostly by clearing the ridge line itself by the HTMC and the Boy Scouts back in the 1990's. 

KST Junction with La'ie Trail
Slippery as ice!
Lucky for me, La'ie is still in it's original graded condition as it cuts it's way down from the summit.  The only hazard now was that the continuing rain and clouds left the trail ultra slick in areas where it's worn down to reddish brown rock.  It's a fascinating process how the incredibly strong igneous rock is broken down over time.  As water soaks the rocks over thousands and thousands of years it oxidizes the iron in the hard volcanic rock turning it a rusty reddish brown color.  As the process continues, the rock literally melts away or crumbles.  It's one of the biggest reasons all the current Hawaiian islands will eventually suffer the same fate as those to the west of Kauai- to become nothing but a small atoll in the vast Pacific.

Happy with myself for getting to La'ie a little ahead of schedule I continued to make my way down the trail quickly- until I slipped and rolled my ankle.  A whole host of words went through my head and I probably uttered a string of curses too.  I fell to the ground as the pain seared through my ankle.  I lay there on the wet muddy trail pondering my fate and wondering just how bad this was going to slow me down- or worse.

After a minute or so I tentatively stood up and put a little weight on my ankle which really didn't feel too bad.  Carefully I flexed it around and began walking cautiously down the trail.  Luckily, it was just a tiny bit sore and I walked off the lingering pain.  Lucky!

I marveled at what a pleasure this was, heading down hill on a fantastic trail, cooled by the rain.  There were some beautiful sections of trail on the way down and after an hour I exited the clouds and took out the Nikon for some shots.

Beautiful La'ie Trail. 


There is an area that looks like it's being replanted with koa.  I'd be curious to know what has happened here because it looks like all the ohia was killed.  Why you'd kill one native to replace it with another is beyond me. 

Koa planting area

I entered another area of strawberry guava as the trail lost elevation and passed the junction with La'ie Falls Trail at 5:40.  Hat's off to Hawaii Reserves Inc. for the great signage.  I hope people can manage to respect them enough not to trash them- or, more realistically, that they're far enough up that the type of people who do things like that are too lazy to get to.

HECO experimental wind farm at Kahuku.

Keenly aware that sunset was at 6:58, I'd picked up a lot of speed by now and departed the grove of Cook Pines at 6:40.

Earlier I'd heard the very loud bird calls from a ridge east of the trail.  It was very loud and sounded like a pretty big bird.  As I walked through the pines the bird flew by out of sight so I never got a look at it.  I took out my phone for some quick video hoping someone else could identify it by the calling.  No luck so far figuring out what kind of bird it was.  My personal theory was it was  a pterodactyl that eats hikers who don't get off the ridge by sun down.

From there the number of trails and roads got a little sketchy but I manged to get to the bottom of the trail and out to the road and to my Jeep at the La'ie field a little after 7pm- about an hour earlier than anticipated.

What had started out as a lazy day of sleeping in had turned into a bitter test of my will to keep going.  I feel a little bit bad about having to just bang out the miles without taking enough time to explore and enjoy but I have no one to blame but myself for electing to add mileage and decrease the time to do it in.  Next time I do Malaekahana I'm getting an early start because it's brutal in the early afternoon sun.  Another thing I've really learned to appreciate over the last few months are the fantastic CCC trails.  Graded ridge trails are a real pleasure and make hiking in the Ko'olaus more like touring.  Not that I don't enjoy a challenging ridge trail like Pauao or Aiea but these seem a little less intense and more relaxing- especially after the battle up Malaekanana.  I can only imagine how they looked when they were new and maintained.  If these were ever resurrected to their former glory... wow!

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

Ohia thriving in the arid lowlands above La'ie

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

KST- Waikane to Pauao Ridge

August 17, 2011

Monday's sleep deprived grueling round-trip on Pauao Ridge left me tired and a little sore but the main side effect was an uncontrollable urge to put my boots on the Ko'olau Summit Trail.  I'd been eying the windward sections which are literally blasted into the side of the ridge ever since first I'd first seen them at Poamoho a year and a half ago.  Getting up close and personal with them at Pauao Ridge meant my burning desire had become a full blown obsession.  I hate to wait and entire day before I could get back into the mountains but this gave me time to plot my journey.

I decided on a windward loop from Waikane to Pauao.  Schofield-Waikane is a trail I've had my sights set on for quite a while.  Everyone seems to just do the Schofield portion to the KST and skips the descent into Waikane.  I figured I'd involve the Schofield section in another loop I've got in mind and going up Waikane and out the untamed Pauao Ridge would provide a short but fantastic experience on KST.

First order of business was some quick research about the Schofield-Waikane Trail route.  I relied most heavily on Dayle Turner's, probably vintage late 1990's, description and supplemented it with Joshua Serrano's 808 Goonies Blog description to fill in a few of the blanks.  Not mentioned in either one of these is the fact that Waikane Valley still harbors unexploded ordinance from years ago when it was used for aerial bombing and live fire practice.  The military has hired contractors to locate, excavate, and explode that ordinance and work continues to present.  A recent Star-Advertiser article.  More on that later...

We started early Wednesday morning parking my Jeep in Kahana Valley and dropping II's car off along Kamehameha Highway right near Waikane Valley Road.  It was still early enough that a few of the children who live in the valley were walking out to the highway for school.  Following the route description, we passed the plantation era looking old Ka Mauna 'o 'Oliveta Church and hung a right turn at an open metal gate.  As we started up the road a new looking Jeep drove up behind us and we stepped to the side to allow it to pass.  I noted the rental bar code stickers on the windshield which left me to wonder how some tourists figured this one out.  Minutes later, the roar and whine of a turbo diesel engine sounded behind us.  A United Rentals F250 passed us, then another rental Jeep, and another!  A short while later we could see where they had pulled off on an area on the left side of the road and were unloading stuff.  Weird.  We continued up the dirt road for a while and heard the sound of another Jeep approaching.  This time it stopped and a pretty big military looking guy asked us where we were going.  I'll end this story here because I don't want to chance on getting anyone in any kind of trouble.  Though a series of events, we discovered that they'd be doing ordinance disposal in the valley that day, and everyday, for a while.  We made it a point not be inside Waikane Valley at the time they started disposal.

 Okay, back to the hike.  We took a right at the fork with the explosives warning sign and passed the fenced area still owned by the USMC.  Further up there's a chain across the road that announces you've arrived at the Waiahole Water System.  The road continues for a a good ways up the valley until you reach an outflow tunnel that forms a stream that crosses the road.  We stopped to poke around before continuing along to the start of the Waikane Trail around the next corner.

Looking to the left you can see where the trail contours on the left side of the ravine but as stated in Josh's writeup, it's easier to just walk up the ravine following the pink ribbons where the contour trail is bisected by the dry stream bed.  It had been about an hour since we'd left Kam Highway and to be honest, I'd had enough of walking on what my Jeep or truck could have made effortless.

The beginning section was filled with introduced forest.  Early on there are a ton of fig trees with their fruit growing out of their trunk.  These early parts of the trail also have been "paved" with lava rock.

"Kahili" Ginger- pretty but doesn't belong here!
The Junction of Waikane Trail and the KST
Winding our way up we arrived at the saddle between Kahana and Waikane Valley.  This is the junction of the Waikane and Waihole Ditch Trails.  Left is Waikane and right Waihole which I'll have to check out some time.  As we hung a left the plant life along the trail side steadily improved.  I was really surprised at the number of Lehua Ahihi, Metrosideros tremuloides, present.  In addition to their numbers some were fairly good sized and were sporting air roots.  One thing I was not happy to see was the so called kalihi ginger.  This stuff can get out of control pretty quickly.  It's a huge pest at Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.  I feel a little guilty about not stopping to hack the crap out of it.

About midway up there's some hi'lawe, crytradra hawaiiensis, right along the mauka side of the trail.  The trail continues to wind it's way up to the summit in and out of small valleys.  Finally we reached the rusty pole that marks the junction where you can continue via the KST westward or take a left turn and head uphill to Pu'u Ka'aumakua.  We continued to the right stepped onto a trail I've been waiting over a year to experience.
Looking back at the Waikane / KST Junction

Section of the windward KST near Waikane

This section of the KST is literally cut into the side of the Ko'olaus.  You walk high above the valley below with amazing views.  The wind blasted over us cooling us from the climb up.  There is at least one area I recall where the trail crosses over to the leeward side for a short time but other than that the trail stays on the windward side.

Here at the top of the Ko'olaus the Loulu palms take on unique character.  There are more than a few species of pritchardia palms but the majority have been dumped into the species group martii.  I don't know much about that but the palms here take on unique characteristics dependent on their exposure to wind, water, and other environmental factors.  The result is some cool looking loulus!

Continuing along the summit trail we were treated to some green flowered Kanawao and a crytandra.

I was still kicking myself for forgetting the battery for my Nikon as we crossed the summit- the views were amazing.  Not that I'm an amazing photographer, but my point and shoot just can't do what the DSLR can.  Here's my best attempts to take a few shots of the KST and Kaneohe Bay.

I couldn't help but wonder how wide the trail was initially when it was constructed back in the 1930's.  Now, it's mostly a comfortable width for one person with the occasional avalanche that has to be traversed.  I believe there were three of them along this section but all were passed fairly easily.  Every so often the trail would narrow where sections had washed out but overall it it is good shape considering it's age and neglect.  Don't get me wrong though, if you don't like heights you won't like this trail one bit because you're constantly looking at least a thousand feet down into Kahana Valley.

Our first stop along the KST was the Schofield-Waikane Trail junction.  We had no problem finding Waianae Steve's geocache.  I unscrewed the lid but it was pretty packed so I just screwed it back on and put it back.  We also got a good view of central O'ahu in the same area.

We departed the junction and continued our journey along the summit.  The views remained spectacular as the clouds continued to stay above us as mostly a high overcast layer.  Shortly before our arrival at the Pauao Trail I found a driver's license sitting in the trail.  I picked it up to mail back to it's owner.  I didn't really count but I think there are a total of three washouts along this section.  All can be negotiated fairly easily.  The rock is loose and the sections may be unstable, use caution.  The summit trail is fairly clear but long pants or gators would be a good idea if you don't like wading through uluhe.

Approaching the Pauao Junction
Since I had done the Pauao Trail just 2 days before, I had a better idea of what was in store for my partner than he did.  Having the advantage of knowing what to expect, I moved fairly quickly down the trail waiting for him to negotiate the various trees, ropes, and gaps.

By the time we'd reached the water tank he'd had enough!  After making our way down the road from the tank to the beginning of the residential area, we arrived at my waiting Jeep in Kahana Valley. 

Sorry I didn't get too many good pictures on this one... Lugging my D90 and lenses around with no battery was my punishment.  I'd like to add again that the beginning of the Waikane Trail has some potential for danger considering the live ordinance disposal operations being conducted.  I'd suggest a call to Army Corps of Engineers prior to entering the valley or just staying clear of the valley until they finish their work.

So far the western Ko'olaus have been spectacular.  I have a feeling I'm cherry picking the best part of the KST but, that's okay, I like this section enough I think I'll do it more than a couple times!

Oh, one more thing... I just don't have the time to edit video between work, family, life, blogger, and Flickr.  I'm going to post a few clips here and there from time to time but they'll be mostly raw, undedited, and of course, not so great.

More pictures from this trail and others I've done can be seen on Flickr.  Aloha and mahalo for reading.
Choke Koli'i!