Monday, September 24, 2012

Poamoho Trail & Cabin

Poamoho is one of my favorite hikes on the island but it's always a tough one for me to do because I work on weekends and holidays and that's the only time it's open to the public.  My friend Jamie is moving back to Florida in a few weeks and I've been on a mission to make sure he got a nice sampling of waterfalls and summit views before he leaves O'ahu.  Poamoho certainly offers up a pleasant graded contour through some of the best native forest on the island to one of the best views so it was absolutely required that he experience it!

I picked Jamie up in Kaneohe and we headed out to Wahiawa to meet II at 6:30 am.  Unfortunately, I screwed up and forgot we'd changed the meeting place so while I was right on time I was not in the right place!  II drove up to Wahiawa and we headed up to Helemano in the Jeep to make the 5 mile drive up into the Ewa Forest Reserve to the trail head.

Opening the gate- Photo by Jamie Allen

Passing through the first gate and circling the military reservation we saw a large group of pua'a in the field along side the road.  They seemed mostly uninterested in us as we slowed down to take a better look at them at first but then the bolted off into the brush and vanished.

Continuing up past the first gate we passed the second and finally the third.  Years ago this trail was open all the time but because of problems the Dole Foods and the US Army were forced to limit access because of dumping and problems.  Now access is tightly controlled by the State Forestry Department in cooperation with those land owners so being respectful of their property is an absolute must to preserve access to this place!

Although the road is generally in great shape the permit requires four wheel drive.  Even with the heavy rains all week the Jeep's factory suspension and all terrain tires were far more than enough to handle the conditions.  In fact, it looked like the road had been recently regraded since our last visit in April.  There were a few downed limbs here and there but the only time we had to get out was to open and close gates.

Arriving at the trail head we gathered up our gear and the rain showers began.  Luckily we were prepared with rain gear and since this was Jamie's last shot at seeing the trail it really didn't matter what the weather was, even a hurricane wouldn't be cancelling this hike.  We paused for a group photo and headed up the trail into some of the finest native forest left on the island at a little before 8am.

The initial sections of Poamoho receive periodic maintenance so it is well manicured and the inevitable  slippage has been repaired over it's roughly eighty years of service.  There was little to look at with the clouds obscuring our views so we didn't really have a reason to stop until the first bench with it's overlook of central O'ahu with the Wai'anae Mountains beyond.

Leaving the bench behind we continued up the green sidewalk towards the summit.

The rains increased again as we approached the noteworthy tree trunk that blocks the trail and requires that you crawl under.  So much rain!

Passing at the first little bridge we noted the small waterfall that had appeared.  We'd see many more as we continued.

After passing another bridge we got our first good look at the Poamoho Stream in the valley below us.  No doubt the water level had risen as well.

A second stream was forming as well- the trail!  I've long since given up on trying to keep my feet dry and mud free on the trail so I just walked right through it while II and Jamie did their best to stay out of the water and brown muck.

We noted a fairly good sized falls across the valley from us draining the upper reaches of the valley into the stream below.

A set of three falls continued to swell in the stream it self too.

Beautiful contour trail.
Soon after we arrived at the end of the Na Ala Hele maintained section of trail with its wide open space to the slightly less hospitable trail to the summit.

This is my favorite section of the Poamoho Trail.  There are tons and tons of native plants lining the trail- in fact there is very little that isn't native.  The Akia, Wikstroemia oahuensis, was in full bloom everywhere with it's bright yellow flowers.

This Dubautia seemed just a little bit out of season but was blooming as well.

And of course the familiar red blooms of the Ohia tree were present in many of the trees.

As we approached the summit the trail joined a small stream in a miniature valley.  Everything's size seems reduced in here. The valley, the stream, and all the plant life.  If I could choose any spot on the island to build a cabin this would be the spot.  It's simply fantastic up here!

After crossing the stream, I paused in the soggy upper trail to take a photo of Jamie and II as they approached the hairpin turn.

Wet feet.

A few twists and turns later we arrived at the meadow below the Cline Memorial and the junction with the Ko'olau Summit Trail.  Looking back the clouds had lifted a bit to reveal the Wai'anae Mountains behind us.

After one unsuccessful attempt at a timed group photo we managed to get it right.

A few yards beyond should have been one of the finest views on the island but the clouds were rolling up Punalu'u Valley obscuring it.  Jamie moaned and groaned about how he'd been promised an easy walk though beautiful native forest and an amazing view half joking and half serious as we prepared for the next short leg of our trip, tiny little Ko'olau Summit Trail segment over to the State's Poamoho Cabin.

Poamoho Summit View... what there is of it.
As far as I'm concerned, any day I'm on the KST is a fantastic day.  There's nothing I don't love about this trail!  We headed into the somewhat overgrown but heavily trafficed section westward and after a brief leeward segment we arrived at bending windward section blasted into the summit.

One of the really neat features of these windward sections is how the usually strong winds affect you so little.  As the air blasts up the valley it is drawn up and over the ridge which forms a small eddy in the flow.  Standing on the trail it's just a slight breeze unless the ridge dips closer to the height of the trail.  If you climb up to the ridge itself it can feel like a powerful gale.

As the official weather forecaster of the Not So Great Hiking Blog Jamie felt obligated to test the winds for us.  (The blog is accepting applications for someone who can actually get more than a 2% accuracy)

When we arrived at the first and only switchback of this segment I had to stop and photograph the lehua blossoms on a Lehua Papa.  This species of Ohia is endemic to the windy ridges of the Ko'olau Summit with it's stiff veiny leaves and usually dwarfed stature.  I can't help but photograph every one I come across like I'm a paparazzi stalking a celebrity.  I'll only post two of the at least dozen I shot.

Leaving the Lehua Papa behind we hiked up the short switchback to arrive at the notch cut into the ridge where the trail passes from windward to leeward.

On the other side of the notch the trail immediately took on a more overgrown characteristic without the steady winds to keep the plant growth in check.  Aside from some Clidemia almost everything along the trail is native and with a good variety.  I'm sure Jamie and II said "weeds" to me a few dozen times each as I stopped to check various plants along the way.

Olapalapa, Manono, Koli'i, tucked it with lots of the usual native stuff. 
As the trail moved back to the ridge we noted the improvement in the views.

 We continued for a short distance up the trail beyond in the mists to arrive at the Poamoho Cabin.

 Once there, we wasted little time in making our selves at home hanging our gear up and unpacking lunch.

Taking stock!

Staying dry
After lunch
We ate, joked, signed the log, and rested at the cabin for a while waiting for the weather to take a turn for the better.  The short summit trail was something I really wanted Jamie to experience before he transferred off island.

A hint of better views
The view from the Lanai of the cabin offered just a hint of blue skies over Kahana and Punalu'u so we packed up our gear and set off back towards the Poamoho Junction.

Sure enough the clouds had lifted significantly and the familiar sights of windward O'ahu were appearing.

Pu'u Ohulehule

Kaneohe Bay

As we worked back westward we were treated to views of central O'ahu too.

The misty ridge was now open and I hoped we'd get the scenery we'd come for on the return leg to the Poamoho Junction.

Although there were still some passing showers the view did open up and the showers added a small rainbow to the valley below.

The improved conditions allowed us to get a distant view of the cabin and the small marshy area below it which had been obscured by the clouds earlier.

Jamie's mood seemed to improve as well!

With the rains abating and the better lighting I pulled out my Nikon D7000 which I had mistakenly grabbed that morning to take some shots of the plants along the trail.  The Kanawao which is an endemic relative to the Hydrangea was in various stages of bloom and fruiting.  I've never successfully grown it down at sea level which may be why it always grabs my attention in the mountains.

At the notch I scrambled up to the ridge to take a shot of Jamie and II passing through it.

The clouds rolled in and out a few more times as we did but everyone's spirits were already lifted so they didn't spoil the mood.

Jamie decided he'd take a break... again.

While he did I grabbed a shot of yet another Kanawao flower swaying in the breeze.  Flowers can range in color from this bluish/purple to green and white.

I did my best to capture the tiny flowers of the Ohe Mauka, Tetraplasandra oahuensis, swaying in the breeze but their size and the wind made it tough.  These little flowers start blooming this time of year and their fruit will develop over the next several months.

Arriving back at the junction we decided to head over to the ruins of the snail enclosure.

Arrival at the remains of the enclosure
Jamie had really wanted to see on of the beautiful Achatinella species but we only found a few Succinea "Snot in a hat" snails.  I'd found one on the way to the cabin but Jamie found several more in his fruitless search for the rarer Achatinellas.
Snot-in-a-hat Snail Photo by Jamie Allen
We left the snail enclosure and Jamie frantically searched every tree we passed all the way back to the junction with no luck.  We did get our best view of the valley below of the day right before heading back down the trail though.

As we turned down Poamoho Trail from the junction we noted the rains had moved over to the Waianaes.  Those clouds looked dark!

Most of the small waterfalls along the trail had dried up with the passing of the rains and with clearer skies overhead our pace picked up but we still made plenty of stops to savor the scenery on the way down.

All too soon though we found ourselves back at the trail head with the waiting Jeep.  We took one last group photo and piled back into the Jeep for the 5 mile drive back to Helemano.

Poamoho is a fantastic trail and provides the easiest access to the Ko'olauloa Summit.  The trail is tame and the views from start to finish are simply amazing.  If you haven't done this one you really should consider it!  The only drawbacks are that it requires a permit and a 4x4 unless you want to walk the 5 plus miles to the start of the trail.  While the weather wasn't as good as it's been on other trips Poamoho is one of those trails where I don't really care what the weather is- I'll go any chance I get!

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

Misty Ka'ala