Thursday, April 12, 2012

KST- Pauao to Castle

April 3, 2012

This segment of the Ko'olau Summit Trail has intrigued and frustrated me for over a year.  I anticipated it as having some of the most amazing views of O'ahu in the Ko'oaluloa area and I wasn't disappointed.  After cutting short our recent attempt to tackle this segment from Poamoho last month I'd relegated it to waiting for the next federal holiday to get another permit but when my hiking partner bailed out on me this week I decided I'd finish the whole section of trail from Pauao to Castle Junction then down Papali solo.  Note that the blog post is titled Pauao to Castle... yeah, things didn't go as I planned.  Yesterday's short trip to Sacred Falls after a grueling midnight shift had not quenched my desire to do some hiking and the week long trek of the entire Ko'olau crest by super hiker Chase Norton also provided some motivation to get off my rear end despite all the overtime I'd been working.

I arrived at Kahana Valley sometime after 6am and parked just outside the neighborhood at the end of the road.  I finished my coffee and waiting impatiently for my Droid RAZR to charge.  I only got to 60% before I decided I couldn't wait any longer.  I still have the old Droid 1 with several extra batteries so the RAZR was serving backup anyway.  I put on my boots and locked the Jeep making one last mental check of my gear and emailed my route to Mrs. XJ before setting off up the road towards the water tank where the trail to Pauao starts.  This segment is almost exactly 1.5 miles.

The initial road walk was fairly uneventful but I had to stop to check out some Mountain Apple blooms that have started popping out in recent weeks.  Ohia Ai is a Polynesian introduction and it's magenta blooms aren't quite as vibrant as the lehua flowers but are still eye catching.

I arrived at the water tank at 7:09am and took a mental deep breath.  Pauao really beat me up last time I'd gone up it but that had been after a midnight shift at work so I was hoping that there would be a breeze to keep me cool and than a full night's sleep would help tame the trail a bit.  The initial section to gain the crest of the ridge was still just as steep and slippery as I'd remembered it.  There was not a breath of wind as I struggled up through the hapu'u fern and hala trees.  By the time I reached the crest I was lathered in sweat.  The sun was shining its first rays down into the valley from over Pu'u Manamana which separates Kahana from Kualoa.

Gaining the ridge, I could see down into Punalu'u Valley which would end up being my destination later that night.  Where I'd exit later is just 1.75 miles away from where I stood.

Punalu'u Valley viewed from the climb up to the ridge from Kahana Valley
After lingering I started the roller coaster ups and downs of the ridge towards the Ko'olaus.  The trail was a little more overgrown than it had been on other ventures and I don't think it's seeing too much traffic.  The uluhe closed in places but the trail was still very easy to follow.  As I slowly made my way up the trail I passed several landmarks I remembered from my other two ventures on the trail.  I learned last time to take breaks where there was a breeze and to keep moving where there wasn't.  By now the sun had come out in full force so I added shade to the list.

Working my way past a couple climbs and descents I passed a big, well O'ahu big, Koa with a rope for assistance to gain the crest. 

 The ridge rolls so much it's hard to say how many up and and downs but I count this as the third large climb.  Just beyond is yet another I dubbed Pu'u Heart Attack as I felt like I was going to have one climbing it!

Pu'u Pauao from Pu'u Heart Attack
After a couple hours I had to stop and check my boots.  I'd worn an old pair of socks and I could tell I was getting a blister on my left heal.  After removing my boot I saw a huge nasty looking blister that had broken exposing the raw flesh beneath.  I dragged out my moleskin knowing that it probably wouldn't do any good so I added a wrapper from the freeze dried apples I was eating for some additional protection.  Since I was stopped, I figured I might as well take a self portrait and drag out the D90 for a few shots of the scenery around me.

Looking back down the Papali Trail
Looking east from the ridge.

Honestly, I wasn't keeping very good notes on the trail side plant life.  Today was more about completing a section of the KST than plant life but I couldn't help taking a few shots of the more interesting or unusual ones along the way.

I spotted what looks like a huge Lama tree.  I guesstimate it at about 40 feet tall.

This Kanawao has some strange galling on the leaves.

Check out the size of this fungus growing on a Koa!

Later in the trail I spotted some almost golden colored lehua flowers which seemed richer and darker in color that the typical yellow. 

Hoping that my heal wouldn't ruin the day, I continued up the last series of climbs and descents until I reached the final climb section that would take me to the KST.  Looking up at the windward sections of the KST blasted into the side of the Ko'olaus provided the motivation I needed to continue up the trail.  I fretted a little about the clouds that looked like they may be moving in for two reasons.  First, the phenomenal views of the valley would be lost and second and more importantly I'd need some visibility to identify the overgrown trail when it left the crest near Castle Junction.

The final climb to the KST
The crumbling section with the two ropes was just as brittle as I remembered so I made use of the ropes to provide some insurance against slipping.  Finally, about five hours after I'd left the Jeep I crested out to the KST almost exactly 2 miles from the water tank.  5 hours to cover 3.5 miles... not impressive at all!

The poor little troll on the Pauao sign had last all his hair since I'd last visited him...

I took a couple shots of Punalu'u and Kahana Valley before setting off westward on the KST. 

Pu'u Pauao eastern view
Pu'u Pauao western view
Punalu'u and Kahana Valley
 The trail was overgrown a bit but I suspect that it's the most highly traveled section with easy access from Poamoho and then down Schofield.  The trail was mostly open and very easy to follow.

Wide open trail
Panoramic from beyond Pu'u Pauao

I liked the symmetry of Pu'u Piei in the background with the small valley in the foreground.
It wasn't long before I was cruising on some of the best sections of this amazing trail that were blasted out of the side of the ridge during its construction in 1935.  This was by far the most enjoyable stroll I've taken on the KST.  I absolutely love the views and the construction of the trail is just amazing.  I wish I could have seen this trail when it was new and in pristine shape.

Gorgeous trail!
Smooth sailing...
The trail switched to the leeward side of the crest for a moment offering some great views of the Waianae Mountains and central O'ahu before passing through a notch back to windward.

The First Notch
Leeward Views
Back to windward

First sighting of Poamoho Cabin
The trail switched twice from windward to leeward then on the third section I finally caught sight of my first stop, the Poamoho Cabin tucked away in a see of summit vegetation.

As I approached I saw the door was open but when I arrived I didn't see any gear or sign of activity.  After signing the guest log I "borrowed" some old duct tape and wrapped my heel and the nasty blister that the moleskin hadn't really helped.  Next time I'm here there will be a nice big roll of fresh duct tape in my pack to repay my debt.

There wasn't much tape to use and not wanting to use all of the tape that didn't really belong to me, I settled for a couple 2 inch strips which I applied directly over the blister.  After putting my boot back on I grabbed a self portrait and continued down the trail towards Poamoho Junction a half mile away.

Just below the cabin there's a large pond that I'd seen on Google Earth doing my research for the trail.  I noted a white object which might be some kind of gauge sticking up on the west side of it.  Some day it would be fun to visit the pond area but there was no time for it today.

As the trail continued westward the views of central O'ahu kept getting better.  I noted many more footprints in the mud in this area- human, pua'a, and dog.

Leaving Poamoho Cabin behind...

There seemed to be little danger of the ridge clouding anytime soon but I still worried about the last section before Castle.  When the clouds roll in it can be confusing and a couple ohia bushes or some uluhe can mask a few feet of the trail making it difficult to see a turn.  I've heard stories about people getting lost up here and even Back Country Navigator or GPS only provides educated guesses as the trail has moved in a few spots throughout the years and as datums and mapping techniques have changed.

Approaching Paomoho- The green metal snail enclosure and the solar powered weather station
The infamous KST mud wasn't too bad all day.  I never sank in over the tops of my boots but it does drain quite a bit of energy.  From Pauao to Poamoho there wasn't more than a handful of mud holes.  The trail meandered along the crest, passed through another notch, and arrived at Poamoho Junction.

Switching sides again

Poamoho Junction
A few moments later I arrived at the Cline Memorial and what I consider one of the best views on the island.  The snail enclosure has been ripped apart and I wondered about the fate of the snails who'd lived there.  I didn't check for any of them but I hope their little paradise hasn't been invaded by predatory rats.

The snail enclosure... well what's left of it.
Circling the enclosure I searched for the trail.  Unable to find the correct route, I doubled back and after thrashing about in the bushes for a while I finally found the trail... right along the crest where I thought it had been in the first place... sigh.

Poamoho leeward view
After just a couple hundred yards I ran across the remains of another weather station with an anemometer.  It was pretty rusty looking and I have no idea if it's even hooked up to anything.  I didn't bother with a picture.

The views of from this section of the Ko'olaus are simply amazing.  I took far too many breaks to enjoy them.

After continuing westward 0.4 miles I hit one of the fences along the summit.  The trail generally followed the fence but occasionally I could see where it diverged and then rejoined.  Now that I have the trail's gps track I can actually see the fence line on Google Earth.

Start of the fence
There were a few fairly overgrown sections along this section as I recall.  Along this section the trail was often muddy and wet and the duct tape and moleskin had long since lost their hold on my skin so I had to just grit my teeth and deal with the blister on my ankle.  Along the way there were a few steps to use to cross the fence but I didn't take note of them. However at the final section I crossed at one marked by a sign and a leather jungle boot on a pole.  Earlier I'd caught sight of the Army's Cabin but this late in the day there was no time to take the trail over to check it out.  Oh well, next time.

The viewing angle of the windward valleys below had changed now.  The variations of emerald to forest green and the weathering of the Ko'olau summit combined for a stunning landscape.

After leaving the fence crossing with the boot on a poll it was a short walk over to a steel matted helicopter landing zone with some fencing materials and a big Menehune Water jug.  The LZ is roughly one mile from the Poamoho Junction.

In the vicinity of the landing zone I noticed the skeletal remains of a Koli'i.  Trematolobelia macrostachys blooms then small fruit form but instead of dropping from their stalk the sides of the fruit open and the seeds are dispersed by the wind.  There are plenty of these great little plants all along the the KST from Castle to Waikane.

At the LZ I took a long break to eat, drink, and enjoy the beautiful back country of O'ahu.  I'd been rationing out my water and, to be honest, I'd become a bit dehydrated.  I hadn't stopped at the Poamoho Stream or taken any of the catchment water at the cabin to refill and I was reaching the end of my 3 liter Camelbak supply.  I still had my backup bottle of Aquafina but that was only a half liter.  It now 3:52pm so it was getting later in the day and I still had a some pretty serious ground to cover so I decided to cancel my planned exit via Papali and take my alternate route down the Castle Trail.  Yeah, it's off limits but I needed to refill my water at upper Kaluanui Stream and it looked like I'd be finishing after dark so the familiar trail and available water made it the far better choice.  It was just before 4pm and I watched the afternoon sun settling in the west over the Waianae Mountains in the distance.

I hunted around for the continuation of the trail for a short time and finally found it continuing along the crest and set off on the last leg of the KST for the day.  The trail followed the crest for a while and then headed inland away from the valleys on the windward side.  The faint mist of clouds began to move in which was my biggest worry of the day as this was the section of the KST that proceeded inland from the ridge towards Castle Junction.

Uh oh...
Arrival at the Castle Trail Junction 6:06pm
Thankfully nothing more than a mist seemed to develop and 1.84 miles later I arrived at Castle Junction at 6:06pm.  I set off down the familiar trail with a sigh of relief knowing that the chance of me loosing the trail now were remote and, baring injury, I'd have no trouble getting out of the Ko'olaus.  I'd forgotten just how long the upper section of the trail was though.  In my mind it contoured around for a bit then junctioned with Papali and a short time later it would descend into Kaluanui Stream.  It seemed far longer as I picked my way down though but the relatively clear trail was much better than the muddy and often times overgrown KST.

Dusk settling in on the upper section of the Castle Trail
0.6 miles later I arrived at the junction with the water fall at about 6:50pm.  It had clouded up a bit and I didn't hold out much hope that I'd finally see that elusive waterfall I'd only heard but never seen but decided to take the short detour.  Amazingly it was still light enough an clear enough to see.  What a beauty!

Snapping a few shots of the falls I noticed I'd picked up a hitchhiker- a snot-in-a-hat snail.  I removed in gently from my pack and tried to put in on an ohia but it clung to me stubbornly.  Finally I coaxed the little snail onto a leaf and shouldered my pack to continue towards Kaluanui.  It had been 12 hours since I'd left the Jeep in Kahana and I was pretty tired.  The somewhat vacant look I'm wearing in this  picture of me below betrays my fatigue.  I did a short video entry gets cut short a little with Flickr's video limit.

By now the sun had set bringing a beautiful twilight augmented by an almost full moon.  I caught sight of the lights of Hau'ula below a few times and resisted taking out my headlamp for a while.  By the time I'd reached the Papali Junction I was forced to bring out my headlamp though and kicked myself for not having fresh batteries in it.

Almost full moon...
After winding down the trail a while I finally reached the section that dropped me down to the stream.  In the moonlight the place had a surreal look to it.  Perhaps it was the long day but the initial beauty of the stream was replaced by a irrational fear.  Looking up the stream towards the Hibiscus arnottianus that marks the continuation of the trail the gray boulders of the stream began to take on new shapes and identities.  One massive boulder looked like a bone grey skull or some kind of otherworldly face.  Behind it other rocks took on ominous and unfriendly shapes which made me want nothing more than to get the heck out of there.  Pushing back my ridiculous imagined fears, I crossed the stream and made may way though the trail towards the notch.  Here, previous experience had me on the look out for a few confusing spots where it's easy to lose the trail.

The lights of Punalu'u from "The Notch"
Safely navigating the upper Kaluanui region I arrived at the notch at  8:36pm.  By now the fading batteries of my headlamp were providing just barely enough illumination to see the area directly in front of my feet.  I still had my backup flashlight but the convenience of the headlamp  trumped what would have been a far, far brighter beam.  The lights of Punalu'u below were a welcome sight but a short time later they were obscured as passing showers began to roll though the valley.  Remembering that last long cold night on this trail when we'd done La'ie to Castle I donned my rain jacket not wanting to repeat the shivering cold experience.  I was so exhausted the thought of taking out the little silvery space blanket in my pack and laying down in the mud to take a nap sounded fantastic.

Although tired and beat the trip down Castle was far more pleasant even with my toes now being jammed into the front of my boots and the occasional reminder that my heel's flesh was still being tortured by my boot.  It seems like either the trail had received a bunch of traffic or a recent clearing because the pink fringe that had choked the upper section back in November had been opened back up.  There were a few new blow-downs here and there but for the most part the trail was in great condition.  I anxiously awaited the first switchback, then the second.  Finally at exactly 9:15pm the detour section appeared out of the dark.

The Detour Section
After passing the two dry waterfalls I knew the straightway section couldn't be far and finally I gained the crest of the spur that would deliver me to the valley road below.  I called Mrs. XJ who was furious with me for not checking in with her sooner and advised her that I'd be at Punalu'u Valley Road in about the same amount of time as it would take her to get there from Kailua.

Descending the spur was uneventful but wet as the showers continued.  I guess the one positive effect was that they helped to remove some of the mud from my legs and boots.

I reached the valley floor and headed makai towards civilization.  I neither saw nor heard anyone on the way out of the valley but passing the plantation near the end of the dirt road I smelled the scent of a pipe being smoked.  Even the dogs at the homes that have always barked at me were absent in the rain as I walked towards the intersection that would take me to Kamehameha Highway.  About midway up Punalu'u Valley Rd I could see the headlights of Mrs. XJ's car and a very disgruntled wife and two sleeping keiki picked me up at 11:31pm.

I got a little bit of a lecture on the way back to Kahana to retrieve the Jeep which was deserved.  When we pulled up to the Jeep, I noticed  piece of paper jammed into my window.  Too tired to worry about it, I took off my boots and traded them for some slippers.  As I got to the driver's side door I examined the note which said "Sorry, Taillight" and had a phone number and 50 dollars folded into it.  I went back and sure enough the passenger side taillight was busted.  Honestly, I was too tired to care about the damage and pretty shocked that someone would be so honest to leave a note and cash!

With the benefit of hindsight, I would have stuck with my initial planned route of Papali to Pauao but the lure of having the Castle Trail as my alternate was too tempting.  My first miscalculation was that by climbing Pauao first I'd spend the entire day coasting down the KST.  While that's somewhat true, I was surprised that there were still some uphill segments after gaining the summit.  Normally 3 liters of water is enough for me to hike all day but again I misjudged the distances, my fitness, and the terrain.  I knew Kaluanui Stream is always flowing so water would be available on the final leg when I might need it.  I've done Castle twice and once was a night so I knew what to expect if I arrived late at split with Papali.  Papali has some narrow sections and is ungraded so coming out after dark on it could be more dangerous- another reason to select Castle as my alternate.  Of course this whole segment would have been far easier if I could have used Poamoho.  Oh well, I had a good time and the scenery and experience were well worth the long day.

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