Koolau Range HP P2K
Tantalus P300
Kohelepelepe P1K
Makapu'u Head P500

Tue, Jun 10, 2014
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profile
Makapu'u Head later climbed Fri, Dec 30, 2016


Koolau Range HP

There are two major mountain ranges on Oahu, the Waianae Range on the west side, the Koolau Range to the east. The Waianae Range is higher by almost 1,000ft with it's highpoint, Kaala. The Koolau Range is much larger however, and the its summits are often more difficult because of the large amount of rain it gets compared to its western cousin. It is odd that the Koolah Range highpoint has no official name since it seems the Hawaiian practice is to name almost every odd bump on the islands. It's slightly lower twin sister to the south has been given the name Konahuanui on the topo map, though some sources give both summits this name. The range highpoint is a P2K, the only other on the island besides Kaala. It seemed fitting that I should tackle this one on my second day on Oahu.

I was up at 5a and to the TH off Tantalus Rd in less than an hour. I picked this not because it was the shortest route, but because it offered an easy chance to bag Tantalus, a prominent summit overlooking Honolulu. Greek mythology on a Hawaiian island - can't pass up that opportunity! Tantalus Rd winds its way up the hills behind Honolulu, climbing more than 700ft in several miles. The home along the way are mostly well-to-do folks, though some are older and more run down, particularly those near the top at the edge of the forest reserve. The ground grows wetter the higher one goes - this is the leeward side of the range, but clouds often pass over the crest and linger here, leaving things very wet and very green.

I started up the Pu'u Ohia Trail and right from the start it was a mudfest. I danced around the muddy sections as I always do at the start, but my boots would be ankle deep in the stuff before the outing was through. Keeping boots dry on the islands is proving to be a challenge. The trail starts off through a dense bamboo forest before shortly reaching a paved road. The trail continues to the right, but I first turned left and climbed to the top of Tantalus. The summit featured an old concrete/rock structure almost exactly like one I had seen on Molokai a few days earlier, constructed it seems by surveyors in the 1930s. Surprisingly, there was a view to the south towards Honolulu and the coast. To the east, rose the higher ridges leading to the main crest of the range, buried deep in clouds.

I went back down the road and continued on the trail, passing through a couple gates in a pig fence before eventually landing at the Nu'uanu Lookout at the two mile mark. A sign signifies the trail ends here, but it's only the beginning of the real adventure. Though some tall, overgrown bushes one must push through for about 20ft until the trail opens up and has been obviously groomed. The Oahu Hiking Club does a fine job of keeping these adventure routes open. The brushy start is simply to discourage random visitors from venturing beyond their means.

The trail follows a subsidiary ridge for a mile and a half to the main crest. In dry conditions (rare) it has spectacular views and not terribly difficult. In wetter conditions the tread is slick and muddy and often treacherous. Ropes have been installed to help with the steeper, slickest portions of the route and like the previous day, they were a welcome sight and I used them shamelessly. It rained on and off the whole way to and from the lookout. There were fleeting views through the clouds, always impressive, but fleeting nonetheless. I put on a rain jacket and tucked my camera out of the way when the drizzle turned to more of a light rain. Though the elevation gain was not as relentless as Kaala, the extra wet conditions, boggy mud traps slicker trail conditions made it harder. I spent just over three hours to reach the summit, about 2mi past the lookout. There were no views, not even fleeting to be had for the 4/10mi traverse back and forth between the two summits. What I could see in the clouds was that the ridge drops away dramatically for hundreds of feet on the windward side, sometimes steeply on both. The trail nicely runs along this sharp edge but it's not the same as a knife-edge and there's plenty of vegetation to make one feel fairly secure. Heading back down was more dicey than going up, but the ropes again were a big help. I took my time on both the way up and down, slipping only a few times but enough to help drive the mud into the seat of my pants and my pack. Such fun!

By the time I got back down to the lookout I was pretty much soaked from the waist down, damp elsewhere. My feet were not complaining about the elevation gain today, but rather the wet conditions - and they let me know they weren't happy about it. I plodded my way back to the car when the strongest shower of the morning started up - just for good measure it wanted to make me feel I was in the real Hawaii.

Finishing up before noon, I drove back to the hotel where I took a shower and set my stuff out to start drying. I had a big lunch and rested a bit, eventually deciding to head back out for more. Easier stuff, this time.


While Diamond Head is the most well-known on the southeast coast near Waikiki, there are several other points behind it that are also popular, albeit less so than Diamond Head. Kohelepelepe is a smaller version of Diamond Head about five miles further east. The popular route to the top is called the Tram Line, after a very steep set of tracks that runs directly up the steep South Face. It's an impressive sight and is often used as a workout by locals or a test of stamina and fitness for young marine-types. There were probably 30-40 folks on it during my visit, a variety of folks in various levels of fitness. Though I made no effort to jog up, I kept a steady pace without breaks and finished the tram portion in 20min. The record is probably less than half that time. Still, I was sweating profusely, breathing heavily and my heart keeping a pretty good beat, too. I passed only one person along the way with perhaps a dozen heading down. There were another dozen milling about the summit area that is peppered with graffiti-stewn pillboxes left over from WWII. Despite the overcast, the summit manages fine views in all directions. It appears that there is a faint use trail running around the crater perimeter which would make a fine adventure in its own right, but today I was just heading up and back down the same way.

Makapu'u Head

This head is about 3mi further east of Kohelepelepe at the very SE corner of the island. A state park encompasses the highpoint, a lookout and a decomissioned lighthouse that sits off the promitory. I parked in the ample lot provided of SR72 and hiked the road up to the lookout, about 1.3mi. There were many folks walking down and lots of kids running down, chasing each other. A popular place to visit for the views and rocky surf. The lookout is situated halfway between the highpoint and the lookout. It seems to be a popular custom to leave a padlock attached to the chainlink fencing around the highest point of the lookout - there were many hundreds of all types and sizes. The lighthouse is off-limits to visitors but you can see it down below from the lookout point. The original Fresnel lens appears to still be installed inside. Behind to the west is the highpoint and it was there I headed next, about five minutes via one of several use trails that climb up from the lookout. There are more pillboxes and even better views to be head from the highpoint. I was happy to find another use trail leading down the northwest side of the summit, allowing me to avoid the somewhat boring paved road I had followed on the way up. The trail ends up at another tourist viewpoint to the north, but it was only another 5min walk back to the state park where I'd left my vehicle. I had hoped to visit a third summit, Koko Head in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve Park, but had two problems - first, the preserve is closed on Tuesdays, and secondly the route I had picked out is signed for No Trespassing. This might not have bothered if the preserve ranger wasn't sitting in his car right near the entrance. Might have to do this one by moonlight...


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