Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kahuku Ridge Trail

September 20, 2011

Today's trail was actually an accident because I had planned on doing Schofield-Waikane.  I'd driven all the way up to California Ave and started up the trail but the military was out in full force and I was without a permit.  Not wanting any trouble, I headed back to my car and to regroup.

California Ave
There was another trail up near Hale'iwa I'd been thinking about so I drove up there to scout the trail head.  It didn't just have a gate, it had video surveillance!   Defeated again, I drove towards La'ie and the Kahuku Trail popped into my mind.

The only clues I had for the location and route of the trail were a nine year old map from Waianae Steve and the dashed lines on the government's topographic maps of O'ahu which are so old they don't even have H-3 on them.  I parked my car at the La'ie ball field and headed up the same road that leads to both the La'ie and Malaekahana Trails just before 1030.  I suspected that the road I'd mistakenly taken when doing the Malekahana to La'ie Loop  a few weeks back would be a good way to get to the Kahuku Trail.

Continuing past the Malaekahana trail head I took the next left a few yards beyond.  The road curved and climbed gently until I reached a pasture gate.  After passing the gate, I saw some ribbons descend down to the right of the road so I followed them.  They led me down a small ravine and then to a junction where blue ribbons continued and some pink ribbons split to the left.  I opted for the pink ribbons which led mauka.

Shortly thereafter, I had to pass through an overgrown section filled with some kind of weed.  That only lasted for a few minutes and soon I found myself at the gate of the Sky Ranch.

Thankfully nobody seemed to be around to yell at me so I continued past their front gate along what looked like a horse trail.  The trail paralleled the fence of the Sky Ranch westbound and only a short time later I spotted some ribbons on the fence and a trail of them leading west. I opted to continue along the fence instead for a short time and ran into a horse pen.  About the same time as arrived near the horse I set off a chorus of barking by what had to be at least 10 dogs at the property I'd inadvertently stumbled onto.  Wanting to avoid any confrontation at all, I headed downhill as quickly as possible to get away from the chorus of barking.  After a short time I looped back up a dirt road and arrived back where I started at the gate of the sky ranch.  I head up the horse trail again and this time went under the fence and followed the ribbon trail.


It led through a grove of ironwood trees and eventually made a hard right then left depositing me on the same horse trail / road.  I guess someone has designed it to stay just far enough from the dogs to keep them from going crazy.  The road continued to a gate that I went through and then continued down hill to another junction with a dirt road.  I took a left and followed the road to where it split with a ranch style gate on the left and big yellow metal gate on the right announcing this was part of the Army's Kahuku Range.

The army gate was easily bypassed by a huge gaping hole in the vegetation on the right side so I simply walked around it and up the road.  Here I paused to check Back Country Navigator to see when I'd reach  the historic Kahuku Trail.  It looked like it should be off the left side of the road so I continued up.  After a while I realized that I had passed the trail junction so I reversed course.  I spotted a pink ribbon tied to a branch and crossed the dry stream bed to investigate.  I spotted an old yellow ribbon and after crashing around in the brush I found what appeared to be the remains of an old dirt road.  With no other leads, I decided to follow it.  Although partly overgrown in varying degrees, the road was easy to follow.

It steadily gained elevation and climbed along side the ridge towards the mountains.  It made a few twists and turns then eventually peaked along the ridge.  There it melted into a dried out landscape of rocks and red dirt which was eventually swallowed up by vegetation.

 I suspect in the past this road continued up the ridge to some Cook Pines which are about an equal way up the La'ie Ridge.  Today however, the trail became obscured in strawberry guava, ironwood, and other introduced vegetation.  Early on I spotted to nice endemic plants, akia and pukiawe right in the middle of the dried out old road.

The Old Road
Wikstroemia sp.
Reaching a rather flat area the trail became a little jumbled.  At one point there was a junction with pink ribbons leading east and the other with blue ribbons mauka.  I'd been following pink ribbons earlier on and it had paid off so far so I went with the east trail.  After a while I realized it was wrong and backtracked to the junction and followed the blue ribbons instead.  Just beyond the junction was a series of deep mud wallows in the middle of the trail.  I stepped around them and headed into the dimly lit strawberry guava forest.  Suddenly there was some grunting and thrashing on the left side of the trail.  I could see one big pua'a and another smaller one beyond it.  I yelled but they didn't run like they usually do.  I changed tactics and did my best dog bark imitation and they scattered into the brush.  Whew!

With no sign of the pigs I continued uphill.  The trail meandered a little and I was surprised to see some really low christmasberry trees hanging over the trail blocking it.  I wondered if I should turn around but I noticed that many of the limbs had been sawed off allowing enough room to crawl forward on my hands and knees.  It was only a couple feet of crawling but somehow I manged to bang my knee on a nice sharp rock which left a nasty painful bruise to enjoy for the next couple days.  Finally I reached the small grove of Cook Pines I mentioned earlier.  I passed more guava, another ironwood grove which was home to a fantastic lichen on a large rock, more strawberry guava, and then the uluhe showed up.  By now I was getting pretty run down.  I'd been fighting off a cold for a few days and the heat of the midday sun added to my misery.  I stopped to change the battery in my phone and took a long break.  Checking my progress I knew I should have been less than a mile and a half from the summit.  Onward I pressed encouraged by the more native forest I was entering.

I was not disappointed when I reached the Halapepe tree I'd read about researching the trail.  Also in the vicinity were a few Ho'awa trees, some nice larger sized ohia, maile, 'iliahi, and more mountain naukapa.


Ho'awa Fruit

The ridge continued to climb steeply through more uluhe but apparently the trail still gets enough use that there is a swath to follow and despite ranging from waist to shoulder in height it's still passable here.  Unfortunately I was falling apart with less than a half mile to go to the summit.  I gave up more than once but, as I usually do, I regrouped and continued.  After a few of those starts and stops I finally through in the towel for real.  The stuffy ears, my throat felt a little closed off, and I was just worn out.  I absolutely hate to turn around!  After reversing course, I kicked myself all the way back down the ridge.

A view of Kahuku
Waypoints and Track
The only hope I had now was to try and salvage the expedition and find the old route on Waianae Steve's map.  Reaching the junction with the pink and blue ribbons I took a right turn to follow the pink ribbons.  They were leading me east towards the Malaekahana stream and there were enough of them to follow that I was pretty confident that things were going well.  A short while later I was looking and a very steep drop to the stream bed which I had no doubt would be followed by a steep climb on the other side of the valley.  Determined to salvage the trip, I plunged down the trail following the ribbons.

Steep descent into Malaekanana Valley
After descending a good way down I lost the ribbons.  It started to get very steep and the vegetation became very dense.  Looking at the map, Back Country Navigator, and the terrain I could see I was a little mauka of a little spur that would lessen the steepness of the descent into the valley.  I back tracked to where I lost the ribbons to see if I could make my way over to it.  Back at the last ribbon I still couldn't find any the correct trail and with day light running out I abandoned yet another objective and had to climb all the way back up the steep trail to the ridge and hike back to the route I'd taken up.  What a disaster this entire day had been!  Thankfully I'd stored a track on my phone of the route back and my memory of the trail was pretty good too.  What had taken maybe 4 hours to pick my way through coming up was reduced to less than 2 hours coming down.

Lehua Flower
Ohia in Ironwoods
Other than running across a few cows the return trip was uneventful.  At just after 6pm I was in my Jeep at the La'ie Ball Field for the beautiful drive back to Kailua.  I really hate to give up on a trail but everything seemed to be going wrong.  Sometimes it's best to just try again another day.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2011

La'ie Trail Revisited

September 13, 2011

Peanut Butter Hill
Last week Tuesday we had planned to do the Castle Trail to Pauao Trial however, when we arrived a Punalu'u the weather was looking pretty bad so we abandoned our trail plans.  I was kicking myself for blowing what turned into a beautiful day later all week but for some reason my motivation levels had fallen.  I didn't even do my usual Ka'iwa Ridge 3.0 hike midweek.  I mention this only because this way the underlying motivation for selecting a rather large chunk of trail to do this week.  When we formulated our plan it was to fill in the entire gap of the Ko'olau Summit Trail from La'ie to Pauao that we hadn't done yet.  It's not that big of a distance to cover but it would be an all day event leaving little room to screw around along the way.  It also meant we had to get an early start or we'd be coming out Pauao in the dark and given that it's a pretty rough trail that wasn't desirable at all.  We could have solved that problem but taking Pauao to La'ie but then we'd have to suffer the ravages of Pauao uphill then hike the 12 miles out La'ie.

 We met at the back of Kahana Valley 30 minutes later than anticipated due getting stuck behind a bus on Kam Highway and then headed for La'ie leaving my jeep behind.  We started up La'ie Trail around 7am or so.  Despite being my third time on the La'ie Trail, this was the first time I'd be going up.  As we made our way up the dirt road that makes up the first part of the trail we couldn't help but note the clouds hanging along the Ko'olau Summit.  Another bad sign was the red dirt was the consistency of peanut butter from the rains overnight.  It stuck between the voids of my panama soled boots and collected ironwood needles and adding weight to each step.  I stopped periodically to scrape it off on roots, rocks, or whatever else I passed but eventually just gave up and lived with the added weight on my boots.

Although the lower sections of the trail are filled with introduced vegetation there are a few endemic plants to be found if you keep your eyes open.  We passed by a few ohia and akia trees along the sides of the road.  Two ohia in particular were very interesting- one with hot pink colored flowers and the other with a magenta coloration.  While there is a lot of variation in color in ohia these were a bit different than the normal range.  Their location in this dry lower elevation climate is less common after somewhere around 1000 years or so of human activity too.  Most of the dry forest was burned repeatedly to clear the way for polynesian agriculture and what wasn't destroyed by the Hawaiians was later destroyed by the introduction of cattle, the sugar plantations, coffee, and pineapple fields in the 1800's through the end of the last century.  Sorry, back to the trail.

Looking back at the ocean and the approaching rain showers wasn't encouraging.  However, after giving up last week we were determined to push as far as possible today anyway.
A wall of water headed for us...
When we arrived at the Cooke pines and the official start of the La'ie Trail we got our first shower of many we'd be receiving that day.  The rain poured down through the trees but we pressed on.  Again we heard the calls of the La'ie Pterodactyl floating over from the ridge east of us.  This time we were able to see the birds which were making the calls.  They are about the size of a cattle egret or a large macaw.  They make giggling noises while they're perched and that screeching noise when they're flying.  I counted eleven of them which means there's a good chance they're breeding.

Continuing  up the trail past the pines we entered the strawberry guava zone.  Other than stopping occasionally at breaks in the dense guava to check out the views or wait out showers this section of the trail is pretty nondescript.

As memory serves me the change to more native forest happens about where the side trail to La'ie Falls is.  We passed the falls yet again not wanting to waste any time still hoping to make it to Kahana Valley however the rain showers just kept coming.

After the falls junction we the passed though, in my opinion, the nicest sections of the graded trail.  The difference between Malaekahana's ungraded ridge and La'ie's graded trail are something you just have to experience to appreciate.  Despite some slippage in a few places the trail is very tame and the gentle climb to the summit is a pleasure not a grueling workout.

La'ie Trail cutting into the ridge
Near the end of the trail the grade switches sides from the east to the west side of the ridge alerting you that you've almost reached the summit. 

II approaches the crossover
The trail had been a microstream most of the way past the falls junction in the periodic rain showers but we pressed onwards agreeing that we'd at least go to the summit.  Along the way we passed this nice naupaka kuahiwi, Scaevola mollis, with it's trademark purple half flowers hanging right across the trail.

When we reached the KST Junction we were greeted with more clouds and some passing showers.  I'm completely shocked that I took hardly any pictures.  I did take some video which I may patch together into another not-so-great video.  Here's my ugly mug posing with the KST Junction sign.

Lai'e Junction

We did get some really brief but great views of central O'ahu at the junction before the clouds took them away.  The western Ko'olaus are as remote as it gets on O'ahu- a very nice change from our busy urban landscape,  I don't remember what time it was but we were behind schedule by about an hour when we reached the junction.  Despite that, we decided to press on to at least the Kawailoa Junction less than a mile away to check out what the Army had been up to over the last two weeks.

The Army's brand new "Cabin"
We weren't disappointed when we rounded the corner to see that they'd installed a new "cabin" on the hill near the junction.  Looks to me like a really great idea of how to build a transportable and sturdy cabin.  I have one suggestion though, a covered front porch would put this thing over the top!

 After seeing all the activity here two weeks earlier I'd contacted the Army to inquire as to what they were up to. 
Fencing materials stacked and ready to keep the pua'a out
While they were happy to answer my questions, they did ask that I make my inquiries in writing to avoid any confusing, misleading, or conflicting information being disseminated.  In that spirit I'll simply post the questions I submitted and the email I was sent in response.

My questions:

1.  How much area is being fenced, for what purpose, by which agencies, and on who's property.

 2.  Previous fence projects have taken into account the historic Ko'olau Summit Trail that runs the ridge from Pupukea to Kipapa.  Will this fence impact the Ko'olau Summit Trail or the nearby Kawailoa Trail, or any of the historic trails in the area?  If so, will access to these trails be impacted?

3.  Is the purpose of the fence to protect one particular species of plant, a pig exclusion fence to protect native forest, or for some other purpose.

4.  Is there anything that the Army would like to say or have included in the very short narrative I'll be writing?

Here is the entire official response I received.  They also included a really great shot of the CH-47 dropping a shipping container off.  I'm going to take that inclusion to mean I have permission to post that here as well.
How cool a shot is this!  (US Army Photo)
"Koloa Fence Description:

The Oahu Army Natural Resource Program (OANRP), in partnership with Hawaii  Reserves Inc. and the Koolau Mountains Watershed Partnership are staging  fencing materials for a fence to protect the upper reaches of Koloa Gulch,  Ko'olau Mountains. The fence will be constructed on land owned by Hawaii Reserves Inc. The fence, intended to keep out feral pigs and their damaging  effects on native resources, will protect over 8 endangered plant species, 2  plant species  proposed for endangered species listing and one species of  endangered Oahu tree snail. In  addition 164 acres of wet forest habitat and watershed.

The Oahu Army Natural Resource program is contracting a fencing company to clear the fenceline and erect the fence. All proper permitting has been acquired including a Finding of No significant impact  under NEPA, a conservation district use permit from DLNR and an license agreement with the   landowner allowing OANRP to conduct natural resource protection on this parcel. Exact placement of the fenceline along the Koolau summit trail will be determined in consultation with the Hawaii Trail and Mountain Club and crossover stiles will be installed where needed to preserve the use and integrity of the trail.

Last Tuesday's operation involved flying bulk loads of fence materials to a relatively flat "staging area" using a (large capacity) Chinook helicopter. Once all the fencing is at that staging area, it will be  distributed along the fencline using a small hughes 500 helicopter. The next possible date for flying the remaining fence materials to the site using Chinook helicopter is Tuesday, Sept 6th."

It certainly looks like this is a great project that will help protect more native forest from the feral pigs that inhabit the area.  Judging by the large areas of damage we saw on the Pupukea to La'ie sections and that on the Malaekahana trail the area is in need of protection.  It's also a very positive sign that the trails in the area will have access preserved and that the HTMC will at least be consulted prior to installation of the fence.   All that said, I'm fully aware that metal fences can spoil the mood and the views but there is no other way to preserve what's left of the endemic forests here.  I know I'd rather see a fence than a strawberry guava / clidemia summit scared with pig wallows.

The steel matted LZ
View from the LZ
Lot's of decaying batteries...
So, curiosity satisfied, cabin inspected, and drenched by the passing showers, clouds, and wind we investigated a few more yards down the KST and called off the trip to Kahana.  The clouds and showers showed no signs of relenting so we elected to turn back around.  The good news was this would give us the opportunity to check out La'ie Falls which we'd passed three times now and hadn't visited.

 On the way back we passed a flat area where at one time the Kawailoa Cabin stood.  It's now strewn about the area with some old liter that probably dates from that era.