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Pu'u Lanihuli is the sixth highest summit in the Ko'olau Range and the 5th most prominent summit on Oahu with almost 1,300ft of prominence. Like most of the Ko'olau Range summits, getting to it is not easy. I had tried to reach it twice before in 2014 on my previous trip to Oahu, both times attempting the shortest route from the Pali Lookout (also called the Nu'uanu Pali State Wayside) on SR61, a mere mile one-way. A good portion of this route is in good shape, climbing to a puka (hole in the lava rock), beyond which the trail grows scant and significantly more difficult. I got about halfway to the summit before calling a retreat when the ridge grew crumbly and knife-edged. Others have climbed up this route (part of the Ko'olau Summit Trail), but it was beyond my comfort level. Another route, 3mi one-way, starts at the end of Alewa Dr in Honolulu, following Alewa Ridge from the southwest to the Ko'olau Summit, then a short distance south along the ridge. This route is officially closed and there is a high, chain-link fence at the start that must be surmounted while drawing the attention of the neighbors when their dogs start barking fiercely. This didn't sound like much fun either, but was the route I was planning to take until I did more research. There's a third option which goes up Moole Stream from SR61, then climbs out of the drainage to intersect the Alewa Ridge up to Lanihuli. It visits 6-7 waterfalls along the way and is just two miles, one-way. This seemed like just the ticket, and 100% legal, too.
When I left Ka'a'awa in the early morning, I was actually planning to do a hike in the drier Wai'anae Range since the weather report over much of the island called for 40% chance of precipitation. I noticed right away that there were few clouds over the Ko'olau summits and no rain on either side of the range, so I quickly changed plans to head for Pu'u Lanihuli. I drove to the west side of the range on SR61 (Pali Hwy), making the first left possible about 1.5mi past the tunnel at Nauanu Pali Dr. I parked immediately in the dirt area near the junction, the start of a popular hike on the south side of the highway, the Luluahu Trail. My route up Moole Stream required me to cross the often busy highway to the north side, then follow the fence a short distance to the east where an unlocked gate gets one through the fence. A trail meanders through the forest until it reaches the Moole Stream Ditch. This old, no longer functional ditch used to bring water from the Moole Stream drainage to the Nuuanu Reservoir on the south side of the highway, a distance of a little over a mile. The trail follows along the embankment of the old ditch, dodging under downfall, across rooted and sometimes muddy sections, for about a mile until one reaches The Tunnel.
Most of the reports I read describe hiking through this 5-foot-high tunnel, about 50 meters in length. The floor is described as wet and muddy but today it looked to be about a foot deep in water that was flowing though it - not much fun by my reckoning. It had rained a good deal the previous few days, so there would be plenty of water in the stream today. Luckily, the tunnel portion is completely optional as the trail continues over the shoulder of the ridge through which the tunnel passes, neatly bypassing the tunnel and bringing one back to tunnel where it starts adjacent to Moole Stream. The trail then turns upstream, following along on one side or another past 6-7 waterfalls over the course of about 2/3 of a mile. The going is slow here, taking me about an hour and quarter for the stream section, though I didn't mind. The trail is well flagged (and portions of it are annoyingly spray-painted), one just has to pause now and then to find more flags. To bypass the waterfalls it is necessary for the trail to leave the stream, sometimes for a good length, before eventually returning to the creek. I counted six waterfalls where I'd read there would be seven, so I either missed one or found it too small to count by my own reckoning. There were ropes dangling down from the fifth and sixth waterfalls. On the right side of the 5th falls the rope is needed to climb a wet, slick section. The rope I saw on the left side of the 6th falls looks to be impossible to use without first swimming across a pool of chilly water. This one is not needed as there is a bypass to the right up the slope on that side.
Eventually the flagging (usually pink) leads one out of the drainage and begins a steep climb to Alewa Ridge on the north side of the stream. It doesn't take too long, only about 15-20min before one intersects the more traveled trail along Alewa Ridge. Right away the trail became muddy and my boots, which had served me so well until this point, did not take long to become saturated. Skies were clear to the west, providing clean views to Honolulu and Pearl city. To the east there were some clouds, but most of the Ko'olau summits were clearly visible. Pu'u Lanihuli looks a little intimidating, but like all these ridgelines, a decent trail makes it only moderately difficult and there are handlines on the steepest sections. I spent about 30min on the ridge to reach the Ko'olau Summit with clear views over the windward side. Lanihuli is another 1/7mi along the crest to the south, requiring a 15min effort along the soggy, muddy and very overgrown Summit Trail to reach the highpoint. The views off both sides were as good as I've had over the past two weeks, so I didn't mind the trail conditions. The summit has no redeeming features save for the views - no little tuft of grass as some of the other summits have, just knee to waist-high foliage and nowhere to sit down. The most striking view is to the southeast, overlooking the Pali Lookout on SR61 with the range highpoint rising behind it.
After taking a few photos looking windward and leeward, I reversed the route back to Alewa Ridge and then down to Moole Stream. Not surprisingly, the return went a good deal faster thanks to the physics of gravity. I picked up a small cache of coins someone had dropped in the mud along Alewa Ridge, the oddest thing I found all day. After returning to the ditch trail, I followed this back for most of the way before making a short detour to visit the summit of Makuku just above the ditch less than 1/5mi. There was no trail, no flagging and just some steep cross-country to get me to the top where I found the remains of an old Hawaiian-style benchmark, the pole and concrete broken, nature doing her best to reclaim the site. I returned to the highway by 1:30p, having taken a little over five and half hours on the outing. Ryan would be waiting for me to return so he could use the Jeep to go fishing in the afternoon, so I beat a retreat back to Ka'a'awa...
This page last updated: Tue Mar 21 19:23:00 2017
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