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The Kohala Mountains, located in the northwest corner of the Big Island, are the lowest of the four major mountains on the island. with 2,600ft of prominence a 5,500-foot elevation and a jungle bushwhack experience not found on the other three mountains, it is definitely worth a visit. Having spent sometime studying Don Nelson's route description on SummitPost, I had the info in my GPS and a pretty good idea where I was going.
I was up early and at the start of the route off Kohala Mtn Rd (SR250) by 6a. The sun had just risen but would be blocked by the mountain on its southern aspect where I started. The route begins about halfway up the mountain just above 3,000ft. This side of the mountain is a modestly steep grass slope primarily used for grazing. At the start is a gate used by hunters and hikers with a rough jeep track rising for 1.75mi to the edge of the Forest Reserve that encompasses the highest elevations. Just left of this gate is the Koaia Tree Santuary. I went through the santuary gate and took a meandering trail through what turns out to be a rather small reserve and within 5min I was across a wooden stile and on the jeep road heading up. The tree sanctuary is interesting, but a drier and far less impressive forest compared to the Forest Reserve at the top of the mountain.
I watched the sun rise on Mauna Kea to my left and the Kona Coast behind me as I hiked the steep road up the grassy slopes. There are more wooden stiles along the route to accomodate people crossing the various barbed-wire fences more easily, without damaging the fence. At the Forest Reserve boundary (and it's unmistakeable - the slope goes from grass to dense rain forest quite abruptly) I noted the red gate on the right but chose to follow Don's directions heading left and up for another 3/4mi or so. In following the fence I noticed that where it goes over several creeks there is a huge gap below that would allow not only pigs but cows to easily enter the reserve. Worse, there are neat square pig openings cut into the fence at periodic locations - evidently the hunters don't like seeing their quarry kept out of prime foraging space. More pigs, more hunting!
I did not locate the start of the flagged route that Don describes, entering the reserve through one of the pig openings a short distance before I probably would have reached it. Though described as bird transects, the flagging the can be found throughout much of the Hawaiian forests appear to the work of hunters, marking routes used to get from point A to point B. They are of various degrees of usefulness, some old and abandoned, others helping make for speedy travel. I found that the forest is not so dense that I couldn't just make my own route, and for the first hour or so in the forest I did just that. Make no mistake, this is a rain forest and although it didn't rain during the hike, the ground was saturated and it was impossible to keep the boots and feet dry. In fact I would sink into bogs up to the top of my boots quite often and simply had to accept the fact. Given that, I had an absolute blast. The terrain was of similar difficulty as the trek to Kawaikini on Kauai, but with a much better GPS I had none of the route-finding stress that previous effort entailed.
I first made my way to Eke, a bonus peak about 200ft lower than the highpoint. It was more or less on the way with only a slight detour to nab it. Like all the summits today, it was indistinct amid dense forest and fern, misty and without any views. In fact I had only fleeting views for a few moments in the three hours I spent wandering the forest. I didn't mind, because it was the forest itself that was the draw on this outing, not the views. I scrambled over and under and sometimes through trees and ferns along the way with large, decaying branches often breaking easily when grabbed, other very-much-alive branches poking me sharply underfoot where I often couldn't see the ground. I slipped and fell several times, laughing at myself and the mud I collected.
Upon reaching Eke I found a blue-flagged route that I used for a short while until I had to descend to the saddle with the highpoint about half a mile to the northeast. Not that I could see any of this mind you, it was something that had to be taken on faith in the GPS. I lost the flagged route as I descended steeply down from Eke's ridgeline, wallowing in a forest of monstrous ferns 8-10ft in height. After climbing about halfway up from the saddle I picked up another flagged route which got me to the highpoint in short order, waterlogged and muddied and having a ball. I noted that when several flags were wrapped around a prominent tree, it was to indicate a trail junction (or sorts). One of these was located near the highpoint, and after wandering around to ensure I had the highest point, I decided to follow one of the flagging off-shoots east to another summit about 1/3mi distance. On my way there I startled a large pig that took off running when it spied me coming through the trees. I worried for a moment that others might come crashing through behind it and smack into me, but apparently it was alone. The only other creatures I saw in the forest were a pair of large birds looking like chickens (but probably not). Other birds could be heard singing in the canopy, but would invariably fly away or fall silent before I could spot them. A birder I'm not. At the top of this third summit, I looked around on the GPS for more nearby summits to extend my little forest adventure, but the next ones were much further away and I decided not to press my luck.
I used the GPS track to retrace my steps, but probably only about half of it was the same line, and those where I had used the blue flaggings. I was usually close to the original line, but keeping religiously to it would have taken far more time than just keeping in the same general direction. I emerged from the forest at the boundary through the same small hole in the fence, not much worse for the wear. I had a few bruises on my shins from unseen objects poking me, and a small bloodied cut on my head where I ran into something higher up. It was nearly 5.5hrs after starting out before I approached the road and the tree sanctuary where I'd parked. As I was descending the jeep track, a voice called out to me from within the sanctuary. I went over to find two young ladies wondering how to get to the top. I explained that the track I was on would take them to the reserve boundary and asked where they planned to go. "To the top?" they said without strong conviction. When I told them I had just spent 5hrs on that quest, their eyes got large. I asked if they had a GPS (they did not) or any idea how to get to the summit (they did not). I kinda laughed and let them know it would be impossible to get to the highpoint, but they could certainly hike up the forest reserve and spend some time wandering around inside. I mentioned that there is a red gate just right of the road at the boundary ("yes! we heard something about a red gate!") they could use. I was really curious where they might have heard about this hike and the red gate (SP?), but let them continue on their way. I was happy to see others out enjoying the off-the-beaten-path adventures...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Kaumu o Kaleihoohie
This page last updated: Fri Jun 6 13:29:21 2014
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