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Hanalua is the 4th most prominent summit on Maui with a prominence of 1,556ft. Located in the clump of P1Ks around Pu'u Kukui on West Maui, it features a road that leads to a pair of reservoirs high on the mountain, within a mile of the summit. With no information found online, I did not really expect to be able to reach its summit. Most of the route from the south is through rocky desert and upper grasslands, but like any summit over about 3,000ft on the islands, summit clouds and mist produce a dense biomass of tropical rainforest, virtually impenetrable without a trail. It seems I ought to be able to reach the two small reservoirs depicted on the topo at 4,000ft where the 4WD road ends. Nothing on the satellite view suggested the road continues, so if I got that far I'd consider it a success.
I set off about 6:30a on the Lahaina-Pali Trail, starting at the west end at Olowalu. Featured in Stuart Ball Jr's The Hiking Guide to the Hawaiian Islands, this 5-mile historical trail was first constructed 200yrs ago as a foot and horse route around the cliffs on the south side of West Maui. It climbs from sea level to 1,600ft before descending again to sea level at the other side of the cliffs. It fell into disuse when an easier route was constructed around 1900 nearer the coastline and paved in 1951. A more modern route was cut even lower in the cliffs which is the current SR30. A section of the old 1951 pavement is incorporated into the beginning of the trail before it begins a more serious climb along the older route. Lahaina means "cruel sun" and Pali means "cliff", an apt name for this trail. It is usually hot and dry and exposed to the sun with little shade for most of the route, today being no exception. Starting early gave me some advantage in that it was slightly cooler ad parts of the climb were shaded by the broad Kealaloloa Ridge which marks the highpoint of the trail.
Along the Kealaloloa Ridge runs a series of large wind turbines. The lower group comprising a dozen 180-foot turbines were erected in 2006. The upper group of about 10 210-foot turbines were added in 2012. Altogether they supply something like 5-10% of Maui's electrical demand. The turbines are a bit of a controversial issue. On the one hand, Hawaii has the highest electric utility rates in the US - most of the electricity is generated by burning imported oil. Having a home-grown green energy source ought to help reduce the oil dependency. On the other hand, they are an undeniable eyesore. They are easily visible as one flies into Kahului and from many places on the island. They are built on upcountry grasslands that were used for cattle grazing for more than a century until the mid-1990s. Other Hawaiian islands are also considering the use of wind turbines but they do not have universal support. Homemade signs on Molokai, for example, are set against them.
Where the trail crosses the line of turbines is a service road used by the utility folks to maintain them. Both up and down this road are signs warning hikers to stay on the trail proper. Serious injury or death due to high voltage is the emphasis to discourage trespassers. Surveillance cameras are threatened for those not concerned with death by electrocution. Fearing neither, I nonetheless passed up the opportunity and continued on the trail. A second road is found about a quarter mile further east, bypassing the turbines and more suitable to the destination I was seeking. As I was traveling on the trail between the two I came across several parties of young folk hiking the trail from the other direction. In opposition to the long pants, shirt and hat I was wearing, the others were clad in little more than swimsuits. It was rather warm in the sun I had to admit and while sweating profusely in the early morning hour (with no wind, the turbines were all quite still) I had to admit I was probably improperly dressed.
I found the dirt road I had marked on the GPS easily enough and started up it. It showed signs of recent use, but does not appear to see a lot of traffic. Much of it goes steeply up soft volcanic dirt which would probably limit its use to 4WD vehicles a bulldozers. One of the latter was situated about a mile up the road at a junction. Here the continuing road seems to see less traffic. With the line of windmills about 1/4mi to the west, I kept an eye out for vehicle traffic and utility personnel, but all seemed desolate on a Saturday morning. At the two hour mark I noticed I was passing my a small, subsidiary summit called Pu'u Anu. I figured I should scale it lest I come up short on Hanalua - I'd have at least one summit to credit myself with. There is a stand of Cook pines on the north side of the peak that I thrashed my way through to reach the top in about five minutes, not the easiest route as it turns out. A found a battered, mostly unreadable benchmark and a reference mark in better condition. A small cairn marked the highpoint as well. Though not all that high, perhaps 30-40ft of prominence, the views were surprisingly good with a sweeping view east to the 10,000-foot Haleakala around to Maalaea Bay and continuing around the south side of West Maui.
Back on the road, I continued up, passing an old cattle yard before reaching a junction. I turned right to continue upwards, finding the road shortly at an end. Though depicted on the map as a continuing 4WD road, all that remains is a narrow, overgrown path through knee-high ferns. Though mostly cloud-free overhead and excellent visibility, the ferns were wet from the overnight mists that often envelope the mountain above 3,000ft. It did not take long for my boots and feet to be equally wet, but this was expected. Now pretty much just a use trail, it continued for almost a mile through the ferns, partly along a ridgeline\ that provided dramatic views to the right into the Ukumehame drainage. Across the deep gorge were the fluted, nearly vertical cliffs on the east side of ridgeline I had climbed a few days earlier.
It was 9:30a, three hours on now, when I reached the pair of small reservoirs at the 4,000-foot mark. The GPS showed I was about 8/10th of a mile from the summit. So far so good. I walked around the edge of the lake and was happy to find a series of blue flagging marking a route through what was now a full-on rain forest. So far, even better. Some clouds floated overhead but the weather continued to cooperate. Plunging into the thick of it, I followed the set of ribbons as they marked a route, of sorts, through the rain forest. My pants became quite wet to match my boots through here. The route soon changes to a narrow ridge between the Ukumehame and Pohakea drainages. Underfoot are a series of irrigation pipes once used to channel water from a pair of springs just below Hanaula's summit to the two reservoirs I had passed. Corrosion, treefall and hillside slippage had done in both steel pipes and the plastic one that later replaced them. Rather than follow along the top of the narrow ridge, a cut was made on the east side where the pipes were laid and a trail once allowed for inspection and maintenance. The flaggings continued but the trail began to deteriorate rapidly. The hillside had slumped badly in places making footing uncertain. Though not frighteningly steep, a slip along here could be a serious problem. I got within 0.38mi according to the GPS before I decided to call it quits. Had I a partner to goad me on I might have pursued the effort further, but by myself I was having serious misgivings. A P1K is not really worth taking significant chances on. I imagined that the flagging might stop short of the summit, perhaps at the springs, but of this I was uncertain. I turned back.
No regrets, really. The short half mile I spent each way in the thickest part of the forest was other-worldly and worth the effort. Having gone from desert zone to grassland to rainforest in a few hours was a fine experience, wet boots and all. Once I returned to the two reservoirs the return trip became more relaxing and far easier thanks to the downhill nature. Before returning to the trail I found a white truck coming up the dusty dirt road towards me. I moved to the upwind side (more of an upbreeze, than upwind) and didn't try to hide. If I was to be accosted, so be it. It turned out to be an elderly couple who didn't stop but just waved. In the back they had supplies of water and irrigation tubing, heading perhaps to do some gardening on their property. I'd like to think they had a small field of pakololo under cultivation up there somewhere.
Even before reaching the Lahaina Pali Trail it had become quite warm again. My pants and boots were on their way to drying (though my feet wouldn't get much help) as I reached the junction with the trail. I had considered continuing east to the other TH and then hitching a ride back, but in the end I decided to head back to the TH directly. The trail was less popular now that it was near noon, I saw only two solo young ladies on the trail. One looked tough and strong, the other like she was regretting the adventure. I found a small backpack alongside the trail probably belonging to a child. Bearing the name of one of the resorts, the main seam had ripped out and the pack was apparently disgarded with more trash inside. Makes you wonder. Anyway, I picked it up and brought it back with me because I found the trail to be pretty trash-free despite its popularity. I was back by 12:15p but done with hiking for the day - 4,000ft of gain is enough to wear me out, it would seem...
This page last updated: Sun Jun 29 16:55:04 2014
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