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Olomana later climbed Wed, Dec 28, 2016|
Crouching Lion later climbed Sat, Dec 24, 2016
Having done a good deal of hiking on five of the Hawaiian islands by now (three on this trip so far), I have come to the conclusion that almost all of the best hiking is on Oahu. Part of it is due to geography, the island blessed with two rugged ranges covered in lush tropical flora. Only Kauai seems to be to be more beautiful. The other factor has to do with the much larger population on Oahu which gives rise to a very active and dedicated hiking club that has opened, and kept open with regular grooming a large number of hiking trails. Many of these follow incredibly scenic and highly exposed ridgelines unrivaled on the other islands and for that matter on the mainland. Today's agenda included three relatively short outings, but all three individually offered the finest scrambling I had yet encountered on Oahu, including the first day's visit to Kaala (which I would put at a close 4th).
I was not the first to the trailhead though I started at the wee hour just before 6a. I parked on the "less safe" Luana Hills Rd just before the entrance to the golf course. I don't know why he described it as such, but it's the closest parking and seemed perfectly safe to me. One hikes up the golf course entrance road past a first guard station. A sign here indicates "No Biking/No Jogging/No Hunting/No Skateboarding" that almost makes you think you shouldn't be there. But it doesn't say No Hiking or No Trespassing, and in fact there is a public easement to reach the signed start of the trail before a second guard station.
The trail goes past an abandoned concrete home deep in the forest before climbing up to the start of the NW Ridge at a junction. Follow the more used path to the right and climb through a small stand of very tall evergreens before starting more steeply up the ridge. About a third of the way up I came across a couple pausing to catch their breath, a man in his 40s and a woman about ten years younger. She commented, "Oh, I thought WE were the early birds!" upon seeing me come up from behind. The man immediately got up and continued up the trail at a good clip, his companion right behind. Evidently it seemed they wanted to get there first. Clearly he underestimated my ability to follow or his own to lead out in front, because not 200yds later he pulled up suddenly, his breath heaving - he needed another rest. I continued ahead on my own.
I eschewed the ropes/cables because the trail was dry and the scrambling was more enjoyable without them. It took just about an hour to reach the first summit, the final obstacle a near vertical section of perhaps 15ft with excellent holds. This mountain has been climbed by so many thousands that pretty much all the loose rock has been knocked off. After taking a few pictures, I continued on to the second and third summits in succession, taking another 20 minutes to reach the last at the southern end of the ridge. There is a fairly significant drop right off the south side of the second summit to a deep notch before one climbs up to the third summit. Ropes dangled down for most of the downclimb and the steeper sections of the uphill to the third summit were likewise provided. The scramble up to the third has been described as a thrilling, nerve-wracking knife-edge, but I found it no such thing. The ridge seemed plenty wide and there was only one exposed step around that had a handline for security. The ridge climbs in the Koolau Range I thought were much more hair-raising.
From the third summit I continued a short distance south along the ridge, noting it appears to continue down in that direction. Having no idea where it might end up and how to get back around to the car, I chose to do the standard retreat back over the other two summits. I could see the couple on the highpoint as I was leaving the third summit, but they were gone before I reached it for the second time. I caught up with them again on the downclimb, this time his companion needing more time as she seemed uncomfortable with the steep section down through and around tree roots. We spoke a second time, this time more friendly, he was impressed that I had never been up there before. "A lot of people have died doing that traverse," he said, "myself included." I kinda smiled and offered that he looked pretty good, considering. "Well, I mean I almost died, but I turned around where the route goes around a corner with a huge drop off to one side." I knew the part he referred to and would have to agree that is the most exposed. But I didn't use the handline available and still only thought it class 3. The exposure is something though, if you're not used to it.
I met a few other parties on their way up as I continued down - this was as popular a hike as I had been led to believe - just past 8a and already there were 4-5 parties on the route. I returned to the golf course road, exchanged waves with the Hawaiian guard at the entrance booth, and returned to my car. A fine scramble, that one!
Undoubtedly, it is the most difficult climb I've yet found on the island. Much of it is along a highly sawtoothed ridge, often little more than a foot wide and hugely exposed. A strong wind blows over the ridge from the east, adding to the challenge. My second effort was better, but again I came up short, only about 1/10th mile past my turnaround the first time. I had surmounted the frighteningly steep section with a thin rope for aide and gone on to a second one. But the route seemed to become more unstable, more overgrown, and the aid ropes, even if partly only psychologically helpful, seemed to disappear. I found myself looking up a steep, narrow section with loose conditions, poor holds and no aid. I looked at the GPS which showed I'd gone about 8/10th of a mile and still had almost 6/10th to go. Though it looked easier near the top, the next few hundred yards were downright scary. This time I turned around feeling I had given it my best effort. I could not blame weather, or being tired, or not having enough time - the route was simply beyond my ability. I'd still like to find a way to reach Lanihuli, but this route from the Pali Lookout will not be it.
The route continues for almost 2mi before reaching the highpoint at Turnover BM. Before reaching it, I came across two parties going the other direction. The first was a pair of 20-something males, one of them shirtless and singing all the while. They were having even more fun than myself. The second was a young couple going much slower and not looking to be enjoying themselves. They asked how much further (halfway) and how much longer (it took me 1hr40m to that point). They were dejected by the first answer, but perked up at the second, especially when I mentioned it was almost all downhill. Only later did I realize why they weren't having so much fun. The most enjoyable part of the route was the ascent up to Turnover BM. The small grassy summit offered a nice place for me to relax for a bit and take in the views. I couldn't find the benchmark, but I did find two reference marks (I dug around in the grass at the intersection of the two arrows, but found nothing).
It was the descent that proved annoying and probably why the second party was not having so much fun. The upper half of the route is terribly overgrown by scratchy ferns (I was at least wearing long pants, unlike the couple) and quite muddy even though it had been two days since it last rained. Having enjoyed dry boots these past few days, I was annoyed to find them getting sucked into the muck. The ferns were grabbing at me and tripping me up with frustrating regularity. I had been having the time of my life only a short time earlier, and now I was swearing under my breath and sometimes out loud as well. As I dropped elevation, the ferns gave way to more forest and the enjoyment of the route improved. The descent follows an amazingly steep and narrow ridge all the way to the bottom, but the exposure is minimum thanks to an endless supply of trees and roots to grab onto and make use of in the descent. Just before the finish, the trail passes through a small graveyard with perhaps a dozen graves, victims of a tsumnami that struck Kahana Bay in in 1946. About 3.5hrs after starting out I had returned to the car. I had in mind another hike nearby, also suggested by Ball's guidebook, but I found myself too tired out to try a fourth outing - I'd come back to do this one the next day...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Olomana
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