Kamakou P2K
Kalawao County HP
Kukui P1K

Sat, Jun 7, 2014
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


Kamakou, at nearly 5,000ft, is the highpoint of Molokai. About 3mi NW is the highpoint of Kalawao County. I'd heard about this CoHP as somewhat of a toughie - 10 miles of poor dirt road, then a typically wet and muddy hike through rain and mist-enshrouded jungle. Kamakou I heard of years later, and from what has been written about it, much tougher. A party of nine highpointers had visited it 18mo earlier, taking 16-17hrs for the roundtrip effort. That was as much time as it had taken me to do Kawaikini on Kauai some years ago, but the mileage on Kamakou is only about a third of that to Kawaikini. Surely Kamakou couldn't be that hard. Or could it?

I landed on Molokai the night before, picked up the rental car, a few supplies and headed to the Blue Goose B&B on the west side of the island. It was 7:30p by the time I got there, with barely enough time for a shower and a few small items before getting to bed. I set the alarm for 4a, planning to make the drive and arrive at the TH by sunup. My plan was to do both Kamakou and the CoHP on the same trip since they share much of the same approach- the CoHP is just a mile off the junction of the two routes. The party of nine had been too beat to do both so they settled on returning the next day for the CoHP, a five hour effort.

Knowing the road was rough, I had rented a Jeep Wrangler with 4WD. The larger party had done likewise, driving to the picnic/camping spot on the main crest about 2mi short of the TH. They then walked the last two miles of really bad and muddy road at the start, in the dark. Ugh. I was hoping to maybe drive this section to make things easier. The others had done their hike in wintertime when the roads are typically muddier. Being summer, I hoped for better. As I was driving in the road, I was happy to find it relatively dry. A truck came up behind me while I was driving - someone else on this road in the wee hour? What are the odds? Pretty good actually. The area is popular with hunters and the group behind me was a handful of locals with a pack of dogs in the truck bed. I let them pass, but then I caught up when the stopped to sign in at the hunter check-in. A big samoan came over to talk to me, quite friendly (after all, Molokai is the Friendly Isle). He wasn't the pretend native that they have employed in hospitality and luau performances. He was the only one of the three that could understand my english and the only one I could understand. He loved hunting and he loved his dogs and explained that two of them were in training. He told me the road to the TH was in good condition (relatively speaking) which boosted my confidence enough to try it. I met them again at the grassy picnic overlook, stopped for a few pictures, then continued the drive. The last two miles were considerably rougher, quite muddy in places with three steep saddles to descend into and back out of. Unlike the piece of shit I rented on Hawaii, this thing was awesome. It took on everything like it was the easiest thing in the world. My next car is definitely going to have clearance and a drive train like this one.

It was 6a when I reached the TH and started out. The first mile is on an aging boardwalk, though still quite serviceable. The planks are topped with wire mesh to give excellent traction in wet conditions. Some of the boards were saturated and partly underwater and I tried to jump over these to keep my boots dry a little longer. In hindsight, it was laughable. My boots and feet would be soaked within minutes of leaving the boardwalk. The ridge is riddled with bogs that can suck a boot in to the ankle and sometimes more. When I reached the exit point on the boardwalk I passed through the gate in the pig fence and started following the GPS track I had downloaded from the highpointer group. This was a nice advantage the others didn't have. Like in other Hawaiian forests, there is plenty of flagging marking use trails through the forest, usually along ridgelines. Generally blue or pink, the flagging helps tremendously. Once out the gate, the flagging was only spotty at first, not really all that helpful. Eventually it becomes more pronounced and one learns to go at a slow enough pace to keep from wandering off the route. I still wandered off plenty of times, to be sure, but for the most part I never got off track for more than about a minute.

With about 3mi of non-boardwalk hiking to Kamakou, I made excellent time for the first half of this, leading me to believe I'd make it to the top by 9a. But the route worsens for the last 1.5mi and seems to steadily worsen all the way to the summit. As previously reported, there are some steep ups and downs to contend with and a heartbreaking number of false summits along the way. I slipped and skidded my way down these, grunted and struggled to go up them, happy there was plenty of flora to grab hold of.

Though the sky was full of stars as I drove out from the west end of the island, mist and clouds were the order of the day. I saw the sun for only the last 20min of the hike. The route follows near the top of the long ridgeline cutting across the east side of the island. The north side drops away in dizzying cliffs with spectacular views of the deep green valleys that characterize that side of the ridge. Unfortunately the views today were only fleeting. I managed to get a few during one brief clearing, but mostly all I saw was a bank of clouds blowing strongly with the wind over the mountain. Everything about me was saturated because of the continual mist. My pack cover did little to keep my pack dry because the branches I had to continually duck and crawl under kept knocking it off. For most of the day my camera stayed buried in my pack because everything was just too wet - I've ruined enough cameras in the dampness to know that the poor quality photos one gets in such conditions aren't worth the price of the camera.

It would be nearly 4 1/2hrs before I finally reached Kamakou's summit. I went a short distance past the end of the track I was following just to be sure I was heading downhill, then turned around. There was not even a brief rest at the summit. No views, chilled hands (my leather gloves were soaked for the last 3hrs), no reason to hang out that I could fathom. Today's fun was all on the move. And I was having a great deal of fun despite the difficulties. When a hidden stick would poke my head, stab my thigh or knock my shin I would make exaggerated howls of pain and then laugh out, "Is that all you've got?"

I saw no pigs today, no mammals and very few insects. Though I rarely saw them, the birds were plentiful by contrast. They had the most enchanting songs that entertained me almost continuously. They were unlike any I've heard in CA, far more melodic and loud, too. The only other noises were the wind howling over the ridge on one side and my crashing through the forest noises. One of the better ones is the sound of a bog sucking in a shoe and then another as I pulled it out. A few times it sunk in so far that I nearly popped out my knee trying to free it too quickly.

When I finally got back to the boardwalk, I turned right and followed to its terminus to a small overlook about 4/10th of a mile further on. From here I followed flagging and then a fenceline to the CoHP. The use trail was much better than the one going to Kamakou, but it was not without its own issues. The bogs on this short section were deeper than those I encountered to Kamakou. In one I sank up to mid-calf and thought my boot might pull off as I tried to free it. I also made the mistake of following the wrong fenceline for about five minutes before noticing something wasn't right. I hadn't seen that there was another fenceline angling off near a gate, so I was puzzled because I had read that the last part is simply following the gate to the county line. I went back and forth several times trying to figure out this problem before retreating all the way back to the start of the gate and finding the other fenceline.

The CoHP wasn't any more exciting than the summit of Kamakou. I noted a gate in the fence near the highpoint which I passed through to find a steel pole within about 30ft of the location as indicated on the GPS. Good enough. I retreated to the boardwalk and followed it for the last half hour back to the TH by 4:15p - 10 1/4hrs, the longest outing on this trip so far. Back at the Jeep I was surprised to see another tourist out for a drive in his black Jeep Wrangler. He asked if I'd take a photo of him and then returned the favor. After catching sight of me and my soaked and ragged clothes, I don't think he was going to be going for a hike this afternoon.

I drank a little over a quart on the outing, though I carried three. The constant wetness made me less thirsty though I knew I was dehydrated. I also carried a sandwich and snacks but ate none of them until the drive back - the idea of trying to eat something when everything was covered in mud was unappetizing to me. As I was driving back down I consumed all that I had carried plus some additional food I had left in the car. It was only after stopping that I realized just how hungry I was.

That should have been the end of it, but as I was driving back to the B&B on the west side, I made another stop to tag a P1K about a mile from the road, the third most prominent point on the island (the second most prominent at 1,900ft of prominence is on the north side of the island and considerably more difficult than Kamakou). I followed a line of power poles for much of the way, aided by faint trails along what looks like it used to be an old powerline road. The summit is home to an FAA VOR station which I dutifully photographed while walking around looking for the highpoint. Though free of clouds, the views were lacking because the summit rise is very gentle and covers a huge area. I could see the ocean off to the north and the island of Lanai to the southeast, but trees, distance and haze conspired to make it weak. Tomorrow - an easy day....


David A comments on 06/09/14:
One word: Awesome! Good to know Kamakou is attainable.
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