Thursday, December 20, 2012

Palehua-Palikea Trail

December 19, 2012 

Palihua-Palikea used to be an easy trail to get to but when the Nature Conservancy abandoned the Honouliuli Preserve in 2009 and the residual company that was formed from the James Campbell Estate sold the land effectively to the State of Hawaii access to the area became difficult.  A friend of ours had attempted to get access about a year ago but her emails had gone unanswered.  However, last month she received a reply and the forms we'd need to fill out to gain access to the trail head.

After some more email exchanges a date was set and I learned that fellow blogger Andrew of Punyari's Island Adventures was also trying to get access.  He ended up joining our group for this hard to get to but easy trail.

We met at lower gate to the winding road up into the Waianae Mountains at 8:30 and waited for our guide for the day to arrive.  He and an associate appeared and we began the long drive up towards the dark, rainy looking mountains.

The road up to the trail head is an experience in itself.  The land here is mostly lease hold and many of the families that call the area home have been here for years.  The views from the road of the Ewa Plain, Pearl Harbor, and Kahe Point are gorgeous.

After about 20 minutes of driving we reached the antenna farm where the trail begins and parked the cars.  The initial portion of the trail descends and climbs a few times through a mostly introduced forest of eucalyptus and ironwood trees.  The wind, rain, and cold kept me from taking many pictures until we started to enter the more native forest.

 We walked the boulder lined trail buffeted by the strong winds and passed through the iconic rock passageway.  Of course I got a shot of everyone in the rocks on the way back!

Beyond the the cave like passage way we passed a wider open area.

 Beyond is a small contour section cut into the rock face with a steep drop to the valley below.

 Beyond the contour is the fenced area of the preserve.  We crossed a gate and continued along the trail.  There are hidden treasures to be found but today we weren't going to be searching for them.  Initially the trail passes through a large stand of mixed Cook and Sugi Pines.

 As we moved quickly up the trail we noted the dead rat hanging from a very well built trap.  While the pigs seem to get a lot of attention these rats are just as harmful chewing up fruit and stems killing endemic plants and their offspring.  In many cases, just eliminating rodents is all it needed for many species to recover.

 Perhaps my favorite spot of the day was the stairway up through the small ohia forest lined with moss.

Some of the Ohia found in the Waianae Range seem so different from those of the Ko'oalu.  For example this particular tree that featured disorganized blossoms with a far lower number of individual flowers.

There were several examples of this type of Ohia but I wont' bore you with all the details.  The Honouliuli Perserve is home to some extremely rare and endangered land snails.  With the weather and our time constraints we didn't have an opportunity to look for them though.  However, we did run across several Succinea species.  The poor little guys are the famous "Snot-in-a-hat" snails that get their unfortunate name from their shells that are too small for their body.    This one cruising along a Kanawao leaf had a nice red pigmentation I've not seen before.

A bit further up the trail we ran across another hanging out on an 'ie'ie leaf.

A short time later we topped out to the summit of Palikea.  There was no view as the clouds continued to blanket everything. 

We had a quick snack and headed back the way we came.

Along the way back I managed to jump off the trail for a second to take a few shots of this Pānaunau, an endemic Lobelia yuccoides.  There were a bunch of these along the way but none in bloom.

After reaching the cars back at the antenna farm we gathered for a quick group photo.

Ali, Marian, II, XJ, Mrs. XJ, Thomas, and Andrew
 Despite the clouds, rain, and cold wind and our lack of time to search for all the other hidden plants and animals tucked away in the preserve it was still a fantastic day on the trail!  I will be coming back to this one again when I can take the time to see all the other treasures tucked away here.

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

Monday, December 3, 2012

KSRT- Moanalua Middle Ridge to Tripler Ridge

November 23, 2012

The winter lobelia blooming season is in full swing now and this post will focus more on plants than on the trail.    A little over two weeks ago we'd noted the flower spikes of Termatolobelia singularis, a federally listed endangered member of the Hawaiian Lobelia family, had appeared but none of the flowers had opened on our Bowman to Stairway to Heaven trek on the Ko'olau Summit Ridge Trail.  Joshua Serrano of  808 Goonies had headed up to check on them  a week later and they hadn't opened yet.  He did however see a very special plant in bloom but I'll get back to that later.

Horticultural expert Christopher Wong had flown in from Hilo for the holidays and mentioned that he'd like to head up to the area to check on the flowers and some other rare plants.  The Koloa Gulch Trail, while beautiful, had left me a little unfulfilled because my legs weren't aching so I tagged along after getting a pass for a second trail from Mrs. XJ.

Climbing Moanalua Middle Ridge
We shoved off from the park in Moanalua Valley and headed up the old carriage road.  It was still cool but the vog hanging in the air and the still air meant it might turn out to be a hot day.  We wound our way up through the valley until we reached the junction with Middle Ridge and began the long climb towards Pu`u Keahi A Kahoe.

We paused briefly from time to time to catch our breath but it wasn't until we reached the big boulder perched on the ridge that we began to slow down and examine the plant life around us.  Chris noticed this cricket on the boulder.

We paused for a moment while Chris took some shots of some Ohe Naupaka.  I spotted what I thought was an unusually deep green colored Lapalapa that I dropped down to investigate.

Turns out it's actually an Oʻahu Prickly-ash, Zanthoxylum oahuense.  That explained the different coloration

A little further up we again left the ridge to check out a small stand of Loulu palms.

We didn't see anything really noteworthy aside from a keiki palm.  Rats eat the fruit of these endemic Pritchardia martii palms and their numbers have dwindled so it's encouraging to see that some of the seeds survive.

We climbed back to the ridge and Chris pointed out a Pueo, a Hawaiian supspecies of the Short-earned owl,  that had been resting on a tree slightly above us.  I snapped furiously trying to get a decent shot of it but I was far too late and the 200mm lens wasn't working miracles for me.  Bummer!

We continued along the ridge looking over the side for any plants of interest until running across the little Ohia I'd seen when I'd done the loop trail last year.  This miniature version of Metrosideros really doesn't fit into any of the species level taxonomy but it's so different it really seems like it should have its own name.


I photographed it and it's one full lehua to death before continuing up the ridge towards summit of Pu`u Keahi A Kahoe.   

As we approached the summit I spotted some Labordia off the side of the trail.  Laborda hosakana is found only in the Ko'olau mountains and usually on the windswept windward side.  This plant was in various stages of reproduction.

Kāmakahala buds
Kāmakahala Flower
Kāmakahala Fruit
 Looking back down Middle Ridge the vog ruined the usually magnificent view of the leeward side of the island.

We took a left and made the short trek along the summit to the CCL Building at the top of the Stairway to Heaven.

We had lunch on top of the roof and each climbed the scaffolding that hold the two dishes up.

The vog spoiled some of the scenery but it's still hard not to appreciate the perspective.


We packed up our gear and headed back to the Middle Ridge junction and continued east along the summit. 

Our hunt for Lobelias began as we approached the microwave relay station.  Off the side of the trail Chris showed me this Oahu Cyanea, Cyanea calycina which Josh had noticed the week before.  I can't believe I never noticed it before!

This rare plant is quite unusual with its sand papery leaf texture.

The blooms had already fallen so we couldn't see its bi-colored purple and white flowers.  Luckily, blogger/hiker Joshua Serrano from 808 Goonies was generous enough to share this image of the bloom he'd seen on the plant about a week earlier.

We noted a fallen leaf and I discovered this slug happily munching away on the midrib.  It had tunneled its way into the stem and emerged when I'd tapped on the leaf.  There are no endemic slugs in Hawaii and this is a perfect illustration of the effects introduced species have on the native ecosystem.

Moving further down the ridge we spotted the Trematolobelia singularis flower spikes we'd come to visit and we were happy to see their flowers had begun to open. 

These endangered lobelia are found only in the Ko'olau mountains on O'ahu and are supposedly commonly known as Lavaslope False Lobelia although I've never heard anyone mention them by that name.  T. singularis is named because it normally has a single flower spike while T. macrostachys normally has many.

Their deeper, richer purple coloration is very striking compared to the related Trematolobelia macrostachys with its lighter shade of pink.  When not in bloom it can be difficult for an amateur like myself to tell which species I'm looking at.  Luckily native plant expert Joel Lau was nice enough to share some of his wisdom on Flickr which I incorporated here:

His suggestion that the texture and sheen of the stem of the plant be used in helping identify the species is due to the number of flower spikes not being a reliable method of identificationA few of my shots with multiple branches on a T. singularis and a single branch on T. macrostachys.

We photographed several of these plants, some of which I'd seen on previous trips, and discovered a few more.
Flower paparazzi

Our thirst for T. sinularis flower pictures quenched, we continued east scouring the terrain for more plants.  

Chris found a few young Lobelia oahuensis plants near the dead stalk of one that had lived in the area. previously.  The O'ahu Lobelia is found only on the Island of O'ahu and is also a listed as an endangered species.

I found one further down the ridge that looked a bit larger.  Sadly, none of them were in bloom and I've yet to see their huge blue flower spike that reportedly can be as long as a meter.

Perched on a windward slope was this Lobelia gaudichaudii.  The Ko'olau lobelia has a subspecies that is listed as endangered but without flowers it's nearly impossible for an amateur to tell the difference.

Ko'olau Lobelia
The real treat was a plant I can't even believe Chris found.  It's way down the windward slope and only a madman like him would discover it!  

We made our way carefully down the windward cliffs and tucked away in the vegetation he showed me a Cyanea acuminata, the Honolulu Cyanea.  Simply amazing that he discovered this rarity way down here!

Cyanea acuminata is another endangered species found only on O'ahu.  The number of plants left in the wild is estimated at less than 250 according to the USFWS. (Cyanea acuminata Five year Review)

I didn't really end up with very good set of shots.  It wasn't overly dangerous but it was a little tougher to move around on the side of the steep cliffs.  I settled for what I got!

We climbed back up to the ridge and after talking briefly with a pair of guys from Climb Aloha who were doing some work with the contractors building the footings for the powerlines HECO is replacing we started down Tripler for our return leg.  

We're alive!
All along the upper reaches of the trail were ropes strung for the safety of the workers.  I found them to be a giant pain in the okole as they kept crisscrossing the trail.  I was convinced I'd eventually trip on their rope but managed to make it down safely.

We elected to take Tripler down and passed three military looking guys heading up towards the summit.  Tripler seems to be getting a fair amount of traffic keeping it mostly clear.

As we made our way back down the ridge we heard the rumbling of a thunderstorm building in central O'ahu.  That gave us a little more incentive to keep moving so our cameras stayed mostly in our packs.  I'd never been down the lower reaches of Tripler so Chris lead the way to the junction and down a steep spur ridge into Moanalua Valley below. 

At some point it began to rain huge drops from the overcast skies.  Strangely, there just weren't many drops so we never got soaked.  We popped out on the dirt road on the valley floor next to marker 12 and headed back to the park and our cars.

While this is familiar ground, the extra time we spent hunting for plant life really made this a memorable experience and I feel fortunate to have been able to see some of these very rare plants up close in their habitat.  A big mahalo to Josh Seranno for sharing his photo with me here and to Chris Wong for letting me tag along on his plant hunt. 

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