Crouching Lion 3x

Jan 6, 2017
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
previously climbed Dec 24, 2016


It was my last day on Oahu and we had half a day for some last-minute adventure in Hawaii. Ryan decided to sleep in and then watch Hawaii Five-O (reading over my shoulder, he pointed out that he did run 6mi after getting up) while I got up before 7a to get in a last hike, a 3-4hr tour of the Manamana Loop on the windward side of the island. I didn't even need to drive to the TH as the starting point was only a few hundred yards from where we stayed. I had been on half of this loop a few years earlier, doing another loop, one described in Stuart Ball's Hiking Guide to Oahu. Today's loop would go up the eastern ridge of Pu'u Manamana (the new part I hadn't done) and down the western ridge which I'd ascended previously. It had the promise of twice the views without the overgrown/muddy uluhe fern descent that previous loop featured. My schedule was a little tight, having to get back by 11a so that I could shower and finish packing things up. I easily kept ahead of schedule and finished up with almost an extra 45min to spare.

I was out the door and starting up to the end of Hamalani Rd by 7a. The TH is completely unmarked and well-hidden, neatly squeezed between the two homes at the road's end. Jackie and I had used this same trailhead a few weeks earlier to visit Makaua Falls, so I knew exactly where to find it. After a few hundred yards following the dry streambed, a fork is reached where a memorial cross can be found. I turned left and started up the trail, well-flagged and easy to follow. Within 10min the ridge is reached where views begin to open up. It was shortly after sunrise and the morning glow was lighting up Ka'a'awa below me and the ridges above. One comes across an old WWII pillbox upon reaching the ridge, so well-hidden that it's invisible from the coast below. I spent about half an hour scrambling along this eastern ridgeline with a few fixed ropes in the most exposed places. From below, the ridge looks quite impressive and once on it I wasn't disappointed. The trail does not continue to the highpoint of this ridge, but rather stops when an abrupt edge is encountered. The trail then begins a downward traverse, in spots dropping steeply across and under a menagerie of roots, rock and mud. The trail drops to Makaua Stream, above the high falls that the Makaua Falls Trail visits at its base. There is a smaller falls upstream here with a shady pool, but not all that inviting with the mosquitoes lurking about. It took 35min to climb back out of the stream channel along a subsidiary ridge to the higher western ridge. The trail here grows increasingly muddy and it was impossible to keep my boots and feet from getting soaked - oh well, the boots would fly back in a plastic bag, probably smelling pretty ripe by the time they get back to San Jose. Weather-wise, it was the nicest day on Oahu in the 20 days we'd been here (Statistically, I suspect the probability of such an event happening at the tail end of a vacation is quite high) and the descent along the western ridge was quite pleasant with sunshine, a slight breeze, fabulous views and some spicy scrambling along a narrow line. The danger here is that one might get so swept up with the views that you forget how important each foot placement is. It has been just about a month since Kaisha Chu, an energetic 22yr-old local died on this very ridge. I thought about her alot which made be unusually cautious. I wondered how she happened to fall some 200ft - did the slope give way? Was it muddy? Inattention? Did weather play a role? Certainly there are lots of places where the exposure is severe, but there are generally trees to use for holds or handlines fixed in the dicier places. Nothing is more difficult than class 3 on any section of the loop, but of course that doesn't mean you can't be seriously injured, obviously. Always good to pay attention.

The forest along the ridge gives way to grassy stretches as you descend, the lower half of the western ridge comprising the best part of the loop, in my opinion. Lots of folks climb up to one of the sub-peaks along this section before turning around, a good, short workout with unbeatable views. I found two young ladies on one such point, sitting atop the openpoint for a good five minutes after I spotted them from above, getting up to descend as I neared. They were caught by surprise to see someone coming down from above and were kind enough to let me pass them by. There are sections of eroded trail here without handlines that require extra caution, luckily today it was fairly dry and not very slippery. There were more parties below, a solo woman heading up and a couple heading down. I stopped off to climb the small perch of Crouching Lion about 500ft above the shore barely a stone's throw away. I paused at Kaisha's memorial installed on the ridge just below Crouching Lion to pay my last respects. My own daughter is only 5yrs younger than Kaisha and I know I would be devastated if something like this happened to her so young. I can only imagine how hard it must be for her parents.

I continued down the slope, the trail now veering off the ridge and dropping steeply through forest, more handlines tied to trees for extra security in places. It was almost 10:15a when I reached the highway with another 10min along the roadway to get back to the house. As I watched the waves break along the rocky shore and the crabs scrambling for cover as I passed, I began to feel the sadness of a vacation ending too soon. With a full month on the islands I could hardly complain, but I could easily have spent another month. Or two...

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