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After yesterday's longer-than-expected outing to Kapilau Ridge, I decided to start early today as I made another forray into the West Maui mountains. Today's outing would be about the same elevation gain and mileage as the previous day's, but without a trail. My hope was that the route up from the south desert side would compensate by making the cross-country easier than the trailed route through the rain forest on Kapilau Ridge. Unnamed Peak 3,820ft is the highpoint of a ridge dividing the Olowalu and Ukumehame streams, just managing 1,000ft of prominence. I had planned to ascend the South Ridge starting from the junction of two forks of the Ukumehame Stream, but this proved problematic for several reasons. First, the ridgeline looked daunting when I actually got a look at it - somehow the contours on the topo map I had used did not strike me as problematic. Secondly, just reaching the start of the route was no easy feat.
Neither of these problems had occurred to me as I made my way to the start I had identified on the east side of the stream. The beginning is easy enough as there are some wide, paved roads complete with speed bumps that looked to have been the start of a new Maui development that never really took off. Several cul-de-sac branches, sewer, and underground utilities were installed, but no actual homes other than a few old-timer homesteads that probably weren't all that hot on more neighbors anyway. Some rocks had been placed across the path of the road to keep vehicles off, but from the haphazard look of it, it seems like it may have been done by one of the locals rather than the developer or state highway dept. I walked past this weak barricade and made my way along to the end of the pavement. At first I followed a dry, abandoned irrigation ditch on the east side of the stream, then when that became too brushy I crossed the stream and found a road leading up Ukumehame Gulch on the west side. This went past a few more old homesteads before devolving into a use trail, a pretty crappy one at that. By this time I had already seen the severe slope of the South Ridge and wondered if trying to make my way a mile upstream was going to be worth the effort. I decided to climb out to the west to the adjacent ridgeline that also reached to the same summit.
I had avoided this initially because it goes over three subsidiary summits and thought little of the extra elevation gain it would entail. Now that I was finding this might be a bigger effort than I had planned, I thought I'd at least get a few bonus peaks even if I didn't make the ridge highpoint as planned. The slope I climbed up to meet the Southwest Ridge was terribly steep, a mix of dry, brown summertime grass and loose volcanic rock - not unlike climbing some peaks in Southern California. Though I had started at 7a, it was already 85F as I climbed this slope, sweating like a pig and finding myself thinking maybe two quarts of Powerade might not be enough.
Once I reached the ridgeline the gradient relented and I found myself enjoying the route more. Wanting a small rest break, I took five minutes to call Laura and wish her a happy birthday (I think I missed it by a few days). Somewhat refreshed, I continued up the ridge, hitting one subsummit after the next. Though there was much loose rock, the route wasn't half bad. The vegetation stayed light, as hoped, and I made good progress, climbing more than 3,000ft in 3hrs. In that time I went over three named summits (though all less than 100ft of prominence) and several pig fences. What's a Hawaiian ridge without a pig fence? These were a little different than the standard fare. The part right on the ridge was the typical rigid upright fence about 5ft high. The unusual parts were the sides that were made of two tubes of meshing that ran about 100yds down each side of the ridge. Beyond that the ridge drops off in a cliff and presumeably it would be impossible for the pigs to get around the ends of it. These weren't the only signs of previous human visitors either. There were a handful of cairns at various local highpoints, a crude rock wall at a small saddle, and what looked like an unused fire ring higher up. There was some flagging (as ubiquitous as the pig fencing), but they were few and didn't really seem to have much purpose.
All was going swimmingly well until I reached Halepohaku, the third summit at 3,400ft. At this point I was only 4/10th of a mile in a straight line from the summit (perhaps 3/4mi along the bend in the ridge) and the easy travel suddenly got hard. A stretch of the ridge here becomes a virtual knife-edge with severe drops on two sides. Going slowly, I successfully negotiated this stretch leading to the final climb up to Pt. 3,786ft which is clearly visible for much of the route (the true highpoint, less than 40ft higher, is about 1/10th mile further north). Though there was no longer a knife-edge to be concerned with, I found myself getting into the thick of an ever-greener summit area where clouds and mist have combined to bring a far richer biomass to cover the land. The lack of any sort of trail was quickly becoming a huge problem. I got up about halfway from the last saddle before I stopped to take stock of the rest of the route. The GPS showed I was 0.18mi from the summit, probably more like 1/3mi following the ridgeline where it bends at Pt. 3,786ft. Nothing ahead looked any easier than the stuff I was desperately trying to claw my way through at the moment. The knife-edge section was looking pretty tame by comparison. What to do?
Unlike the previous day where I persevered at the moment of doubt, this time I decided to throw in the towel. At the rate I was going it would probably take at least 2hrs to cover that last 1/3mi, and that might be an optimistic estimate. Never had I seen Hawaiian terrain so daunting, and I'd already been to some of the toughest summits on the islands. I can't recall turning back from a summit at this close a distance, but I also can't recall having so few regrets at choosing to do so - the terrain was really that brutal.
Once I started back down, the going naturally became much more pleasant and I took more time to enjoy the views. Besides a fine view of the southern beach areas of West Maui, there are incredible views of the deep gorges on either side of the ridge, with cliffs dropping more than 2,000ft, nearly vertical. At the head of these canyons are the dark green, incredibly lush valleys that mark the center areas of West Maui. Though not large by most standards, these upland valley receive sufficient rains to keep both streams on either side of the ridge perennial and well-supplied, even as they flow out west to the parched desert side of West Maui.
Rather than descend the steep sloped into Ukumehame Gulch that I had ascended, I simply continued south along the ridge until I had lost all the elevation. This left me well to the west of Ukumehame Stream and it took some time to make my way east across roads, grassy cross-country with a stream crossing in the middle before I got back to the car. Back my 1:15p, it had taken 2.5hr to descend vs. a little more than 3.5hrs on the ascent. Once again, West Maui proved harder in practice than it had appeared on paper. I think it's time to take a break and try the trails on Haleakala tomorrow...
This page last updated: Fri Jun 27 16:49:58 2014
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