Sat, Jun 14, 2014
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Driving around Oahu at 5a is pretty easy and one can get to almost any point on the island in less than an hour. That has worked great in the morning when I'm heading to the trailhead, but the return is often a different matter, a frustrating effort with serious traffic congestion on weekends as well as weekdays. Part of this is the Hawaiian nature of what they call a state highway. These are often little more than a main drag punctuated with dozens of lights as it goes through one town or another. Posted speed limits are often 35mph if there is a traffic light within a mile, 45mph otherwise. Ah, you say, but Oahu is the only island with Interstate Freeways. Yes, this is true. Presdent Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in WW2 who brought Shock and Awe to the European Theater in the defeat of the Nazis, saw fit to see through the construction of the massive US Interstate system that allows commerce and common folk alike to zip from one end of the country to another at high speed. On Oahu, this seems to mean something completely different. The highest posted speed limit I've seen on the freeway is 60mph and that was a short stretch at the west end of H1. Going through Honolulu the maximum speed drops to 45mph. On one section of H3 the posted speed limit is merely 25mph. In California we would call this a residential street, but apparently here it gets Interstate billing (never mind that the concept of "Interstate" has no meaning when you can't actually drive to another state). None of this by itself is that bad - after all, you're on vacation and you should expect to arrive someplace on "Hawaiian time." But then there's the matter of road construction. All over Oahu they have orange signs posted declaring to the like of, "Construction begins June 29, 2011." One of these signs dated back to 2008. Yes, eight years now, and the construction is still not complete. They have blinking signs everywhere warning you that this freeway or that exit or this half of the island will be closed for anywhere from 4hrs to 4 days. There are cones blocking off lanes, chocking traffic down to one lane in the middle of rush hour. In CA they save this sort of thing for 9pm-5am, but not in Hawaii - that would be our sleep time (this is why driving at 5a is a breeze). The best part though, is that in seven days I've been on the island, having driven almost 400mi in that time, I've never, and I mean never, actually seen any road construction. Not a single bucket of asphault or concrete being poured, no bridge or lane construction, nothing that I would consider "Construction" like they have posted all over the island. The cones were chocking traffic so they could trim trees, or in one instance to use a bulldozer to scrape the weeds off the edge of the medium strip (you can't make this stuff up). Two police cruisers, 4 white trucks with flashing orange signs, a collection truck, a bulldozer and a crew of a dozen where you could have had a guy with a weedwhacker walking the medium strip. The Hawaiian Transportation department must be the biggest make-work programs on the island. A guy on the back of the truck following the bulldozer was a huge Hawaiian guy, upwards of 300lbs, tats, hardhat and orange jacket, fast asleep for all the cars to watch as they inched by him. By comparison, they make Caltrans look like a Silicon Valley startup company. Ok, rant over. :-)
Within about 3/4 of a mile the trail begins to move onto a ridge and from here it becomes more interesting. Steep, very steep at times, following an ever-narrowing ridgeline as it rises to the main crest above. One scrambles over tree roots, using trunks of all sizes to pull up on for assistance. A few ropes and cables are available for help as well, but these are really only needed in wet conditions. Today was another fine weather day, three days now without significant rain and the trails are in great shape. Some of the cables are questionable - a multicolored phone cable for example, a thin piece of baling wire in another (how do you even grab onto that) and the like. The views during this time are primarily behind you to Kahana Valley and across it to Manamana rising even higher and more intimidating. Once at the crest, views (though not great because of trees), can be had looking north to Punaluu Valley and behind it to Sacred Falls State Park.
Turning left at the crest, I found this last 1/4mi section a bit hairy mainly because of the overgrowth. Steps were often placed gingerly without being able to see the tread through the ferns and brush on this very narrow and exposed ridgeline. A few more ropes are found here, but they are generally on the steep sections where the route is clear and good holds can be found in dry conditions. It took about an hour and a half to cover the two miles and 1,500ft of gain to the summit. The summit itself was a disappointment, buried in trees and brush without a clearing, a place to sit or any views whatsoever. All the pictures I managed to take were on the thin crest going to and from the highpoint. The descent of course went much quicker, taking but an hour, though I did manage to smack my head way too many times on overhead branches that I failed to see in time. The skin covering my balding head is looking worse and worse by the day...
The ridge is dry, hot and windswept, supporting tall, brown grass and small trees about head level that look somewhat sickly and in need of water. Most folks climb only the first half mile to one of two WW2 pillboxes dug into the mountain. These graffiti-strewn concrete bunkers offer the best views of the Lanikai and Kailua areas, the seashores and small islands just off the coast. The highpoint of the ridge is another half mile inland, offering a nice view of Olomana and the Koolau Range, but overall not as good. I saw only a few people making the trek out to this point. The summit has an old surveyors monument, the third such structure I've now seen on Hawaii's summits. Looking south, you can see that the trail continues across a series of smaller hills out towards the south end of Lanikai. I decided to make a loop of it, following the undulating trail until it unceremoniously dropped me onto a neighborhood street. From there it was about a mile along residential streets to get back to the car, less than four miles for the whole outing.
The main crest clear most of the day, clouds were starting to lower as the afternoon progressed, the range highpoint to the north no longer visible as I neared the crest. Lower, Mt. Olympus managed to stay just below the cloud deck and allow for some views (though hazy) when I reached its summit after an hour and half's effort. Just before reaching the top I passed by two young ladies heading down on the steep rope section. They were eyeing the trail junction off to one side that continues north up to the range highpoint. I looked at this later on my way down and noted the trail looked quite good - better than other sections of the Summit Trail I had been on. When I caught up with them later much lower on the trail, I commented about that side trail. They laughed and said it was only a fleeting consideration. Like me, they had their car at the Wa'ahila Ridge park and didn't have a good idea how they'd get back to it if they descended another ridge.
It wasn't quite 3p by the time I finished, but three outing proved enough for one day - I was pretty beat and my toes needed a break. I still had one more day to hike in Oahu and would spend some time this evening working out a plan...
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