Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Awaawaloa (Mt. Olympus) via Kolowalu

December 28, 2011

My Mom accompanied me on what would be the last hike of 2011.  She'd asked to do an eastern Ko'olau ridge trail and her choice was Awaawaloa via Kolowalu which she and my dad had done a few times over the years.  I'd seen the signs for Kolowalu at the junction with Lower Wa'ahila Ridge but hadn't heard or read anything about it.  As we left Kailua and headed over the Pali the weather looked a little iffy but after debating about changing trails we elected to stick with our original plan.  We arrived at the Kolowalu Trail parking near Alani St in Manoa.  We continued up a short paved lane which became a dirt road into an introduced forest.  Wandering down the road a way we arrived at the first junction where Pu'u Pia Trail starts.  There's a shelter there with a picnic bench.

Taking the well marked right fork we continued up the Kolowalu Trail.  The trail contours along the foot of the ridge before turning up a valley.  As I recall it's mostly uphill but not strenuously so.  At a point approximately midway up the valley the trail then contours again towards the ridge where the trail crests and turns abruptly to follow the ridge up to the junction with Wa'ahila.    Looking at the topographic maps it appears that the old trail used to run from Woodlawn Terrace Place down in Manoa up to this point.  Indead, the earth looked like it had been pounded down over the years before the new Kolowalu Trail had been forged.  The climb from here up to Wa'ahila was steady and strenuous with just a short reprieve at the junction with the Lower Wa'ahila Trail.

We took a short  break to enjoy the view and catch our breath.  Looking out over the sea of strawberry guava I was shocked and pleased to spot an endemic Koki'o ke'oke'o, Hibiscus arnottianus, sporting a purple variegation in the leaves. 

Continuing up the trail we made our way past the overlooks down into Manoa valley and paused at each to enjoy the views.

One of the things I really like about this trail are the large ohia along the way.  While common on the neighbor islands all the large Ohia on O'ahu seemed to have vanished over the last 100 years.

Continuing up the trail I noticed the SBX radar being towed back out to sea.

We also noted the group of hikers atop neighboring Pu'u Pia

Pu'u Pia hikers
The series of ups and downs that makes up this trail can get a little tiring at times.  The wind was howling as we made our way up the ridge but the nice thing was that it was blowing the clouds off the summit and keeping us cool.  The view of the Ko'olaus towards Konahuanui was all the motivation I needed!

Looking east towards Konahuanui and Manoa Middle Ridge.

Another great thing about this trail is that after you leave the lower ridge behind you're in the native forest.  I busied myself checking out the various ohia along the way while my mom continued up the trail.  I spent a few minutes watching a bee work furiously on a gorgeous yellow lehua blossom and later stopped to examine another ohia that I call "mini ohia".  While not a recognized separate species, I'm convinced that it's different from the other scientific classifications.  I always seem to find it on the windward side of the mountains and at the summit or in the upper elevations just behind it growing as a shrub.  Often times it's blooms consist of far fewer individual flowers than a typical lehua too. 

At this point our first views of Ka'au Crater were also coming into view.  Before I started hiking I remember finding this giant crater in the Ko'olaus on Google Earth and thinking to myself that some day I'd have to go see it for myself.  

Ka'au Crater
We paused to look back at the way we'd come.  The view from the ridge is fantastic including Manoa Valley, Downtown, and Diamond Head.

Looking towards my home town of Kailua through the saddle between Awaawaloa and Manoa Middle Ridge I could see Olomana, Ka'iwa Ridge, and Mokunui Islet.  The Ko'olau Summit Ridge Trail I'd done from Konahuanui a few months back was also clearly visible with all the traffic it's been getting over the last couple years.

Looking through the second and third peak of Olomana

Further on another form of Ohia showed up.  I call it symmetrical ohia with it's stacked paddle shaped leaves and scraggly growth pattern when it gets bigger.   No wonder it's simply called Metrosideros polymorpha with all of it's crazy variations.

As we approached the summit the clouds began to roll in.  This always seems to happen when I'm about 20 minutes from the summit however we were still treated to fantastic views.  The wind died down to a cool breeze too so conditions were great.

Shrouded Konahuanui and Maunawili Valley below.
Looking back at Honolulu from the summit.
We ate a quick lunch and it was time to head back down so I could be home when the kids got out of school.  The clouds had dropped down and were started to obscure the views anyway.

The return trip was uneventful except my knees were killing me with the relentless downhill pounding but didn't fail me like they had a month earlier.

50 feet of ohia awesomeness!
Strawberry Hill- a steeper section dominated by Strawberry Guava trees
We made our way back down to the junction with Kolowalu Trail and headed downhill to the car to finish a great day on the trail.

As it turned out this may be the last hike I do with my mom for a while.  On  January 11, 2012 she got a terrible headache that wouldn't go away.  She called my wife to take her up to Castle Hospital to get it checked out and it turned out she'd had an aneurism.  She was transferred to Queens and spent over a week in the Neurological ICU.  The fantastic doctors there were able to fix the bleeding artery and what has followed has been a tough road to recovery.  She got out of the ICU and into the regular hospital a few days before they discharged her.  Total time in the hospital was two weeks and a day.  For a while there it was pretty sketchy which put everything on hold but it looks like everything is going to work out thanks to some great doctors and nurses.

Strangely enough, my only New Year's resolution was to see more sunrises, sunsets, trails, mountains, and to learn more about the fantastic island I'm so lucky to live on.  I also wanted to make sure that my family did too because it's far to easy to get sucked into the rat race of life or glued to a TV.  I'm still behind on the blog but hopefully I'll get caught back up soon!


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


  1. Love the pictures and descriptions (as always). Wishing a full & speedy recovery for your mom.

  2. That is pretty crazy seeing the buildings encroaching towards and into the valley's. Looks like one of those fun day hikes!