Pu'u'ohulehule P900

Tue, Jan 3, 2017
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

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Puu Ohulehule rises up on the windward side of Oahu, the highest peak found on this side of the island that is not on the Ko'olau Crest. It is not far from where we were staying in Ka'a'awa and is clearly visible as one drives north on SR83 or the Kamehameha Hwy as a high, pyramid-shaped mountain. It is often enshrouded in clouds that frequent this side of the island. The approach through Kahana Valley involves three significant stream crossings in one of the wettest places on the island. I saved this one for the last of a 3-day window of dry weather before the rain was due to pick up again. There is an unsanctioned trail going 3.5mi to the summit one way, starting from Ahupa'a O Kahana State Park. It forks off the Nakoa Trail (one of two official trails in the park) after the first stream crossing and is not too hard to follow, though there are several forks that lead off in the wrong direction. I seemed to find all of them and spent several hours wandering through jungle forest and along Kawa Stream, one of two that drain the valley.

With one vehicle between the two of us, my son Ryan and I had to coordinate our plans to make things work for the last week we were on Oahu. Today we arranged that I would take the car in the early morning, leaving it at the park entrance with the keys hidden atop the muffler. He would then pick it up later while on his run and I would have to walk the extra two miles back to the house in Ka'a'awa. It seemed a fair compromise.

I did not get up as early as I'd planned (sleep feels sooooo good...), but I still managed to start hiking by 7:20a, one of my earlier starts. I didn't know what kind of conditions I'd find and I was uncertain if there would be route-finding challenges, so it seemed the earlier the better. The first mile from the highway passes through a community of about 30 homes that occupy the lower part of Kahana Valley. Chickens abound, as do rusting cars, a handful of horses and some small children, too. These are not upscale homes, by any stretch and they don't seem to be kept up well, if at all. But they're still home. 3/4 of a mile from the road is a parking area for hikers. After passing by the last homes, one comes to the start of the looping Nakoa Trail. I turned left and five minutes later came to the first stream crossing at an old gauging station. I took off my boots and socks and put on a pair of water shoes which I left on until I was done with the three crossings. The first proved the deepest, only a little above my knees. A few minutes past this is a small concrete trail marker and some direction signs. I didn't recognize this at first as the place to leave the maintained trail by following the fork behind the marker. After a few more minutes walking up the Nakoa Trail and noticing I was no longer following the route I'd marked on the GPSr, I returned to take the correct trail. Very soon after I came to another fork and followed the left one across Kawa Stream and into a swampy area before once again noticing I was off-route. Back I went to take the right fork. This one took me to the which I recognized from one of the TRs, and not long after to the third one. I then switched back to my hiking boots, put the water shoes in the pack and carried on.

The trail follows through forest in a meandering fashion that makes it easy for one to lose their bearings in the dark shadows. An overcast sky didn't help any. Still, the trail seems to be well-used and not hard to follow, even if a bit muddy. A mile after the last stream crossing I came to a small, grassy clearing. The flagged trail went left and I started down this for a few minutes before noticing I was once again veering from my GPSr route. I returned to the grassy clearing and took the right fork, a little-used trail that started me off on a two hour odyssey through heavy jungle and the shadowy Kawa Stream. I was definitely following a trail, albeit an old one that was heavily overgrown. I probably should have known this could not be the right way, but I started thinking maybe the peak was climbed less-often than I had imagined. I eventually ended up down at Kawa Stream where old flaggings periodically made an appearance. I would follow them across the stream to a quagmire or dead-end, then head back to the stream. Maybe follow upstream? This was a tricky proposition since the rocks were often quite slick and in places there was little room to manuever between the creek and the walls enclosing the streambed on one side or the other. I wandered through bamboo forest, octopus tree forests and all sorts of jungle growth, trying to follow along the line I had depicted on the GPSr. After more than an hour of this with little progress, I was ready to give up. I even had an consolation trail in the area picked out that I could do upon my return. I made a few more efforts to follow the GPSr, but each time I came to the edge of the forest where I met with a wall of uluhe ferns over head level. Those seemed like death without a trail through them, so each time I backed off. I decided to throw in the towel and head back.

As I was returning back along the creek and the various wet and muddy forest sections, I considered that I ought to give the left fork at the grassy clearing another look. My GPSr route was not based off a GPX track, but rather copied from a jpeg taken from a Google Earth image, which means I could be off by several hundred feet or more in places. After returning to the spot, I once again explored the left fork, following it all the way down to Kawa Stream and then across it. Shortly the trail forks again, this time one fork is blocked by tree branches and the right fork heads steeply uphill - this is what I was looking for. I had apparently copied the route a little incorrectly, missing a bit of its meandering to get across the creek and start climbing up the narrow ridgeline between two forks of Kawa Stream. I watched the GPSr as I climbed higher, noticing the trail getting close to the several points where I had turned back. In my off-route wanderings, I had come within 40ft of the correct trail on two occasions. Had I known this, 40ft through the uluhe ferns would have been no big deal. I had even shouted out in frustration at one point - had someone been on the trail they would have easily heard me and probably could have spotted me too. Oh well, so it goes.

I was happy to be once again heading in the right direction, and after another quarter mile or so the trail starts to gain elevation in a hurry. There are numerous old ropes and cables for handlines in the steepest, slickest sections. The trail climbs 1,600ft in the last 2/3mi and I was sweating up something fierce by the time I had finished it. Along this last steep stretch the views begin to open up, first to Kahana Valley behind me, then to neighboring Ka'a'awa Valley (part of the Kuloa Ranch and a popular filming site), and by the time one reaches the summit the views extend in all directions. There wasn't much to the summit as there were lots of trees and bush blocking views, but several small clearings provided views off various sides of the summit. At the highest point one can see east to the vast Kuloa Ranch properties and south along the windward coast. Flaggings continue down the SE Ridge, one of the more difficult routes on Oahu, according to Stuart Ball, author of The Hiking Guide to Oahu. The route looks imposing from above and would require a bit more research to figure out where to start and how to avoid the private property on that side. It was hard to get unobstructed views west and north to the Ko'olau Range, but the better views seemed to be towards the coast anyway.

What had taken me five hours to ascend took only two hours to descend once I had the correct route dialed in. I slipped and slid my way down the slick rope sections, muddying most of the remaining clean areas of my pants and daypack. When I got back out to the highway I considered trying to hitch a ride, but when I looked at the filthy condition I was in, decided no one in their right mind would pick up someone liking this. The hike along the road is scenic in places, but there is often little room to walk between the edge of the roadway and the cars zipping by. I got back to the house around 3:20p, making for an 8hr excursion - about 2hrs longer than it needed to be, but truth be told, I rather enjoyed being "lost" in the jungle and wandering about those two hours. This was the real Hawaii I had come for. That, and the teriyaki burgers...

Continued...


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