Mauna Kapu

Dec 29, 2019

With: Sierra Club

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Palikea is a P1K at the south end of the Waianae Range in western Oahu. There is a road leading to within about a mile of the summit but it has two locked gates and is regulary patroled by the various landowners that have property along the private route. I had tried walking up it three years earlier, but was stopped within a few minutes of starting out. The HTMC and Sierra Club have permission to do hikes up there and I was able to get on the Sierra Club calendar for our last full day on the island. I was told ahead of time that we would get close to Palikea's summit and sort of hoped I might find a way to sneak up there while the group was having lunch. The Sierra Club's rules say everyone has to stay together, so in the end I did just that. There are more arduous ways to reach Palikea, so maybe that will have to wait for a future trip.

There were 12 of us that met up at the Makakilo Community Park at 8:30a, including three guides from the Sierra Club. As far as I could tell, I was the only peakbagger in the group, the others consisting of birders, amateur biologists and folks more interested in the plants and animals than summits. This was billed as a photography hike, a chance to take pictures of rare endemic fungi, snails and spiders with a very slow pace. The hike is only about 1mi each way, but it would occupy the group for more than five hours. The trail starts at some telecom installations where the pavement ends. After passing the last installation, the trail goes over the top of Mauna Kapu, a consolation summit about 300ft lower than Palikea. The summit and trail are covered in invasive bamboo. The trail then goes through a long section of invasive ironwood trees before finally breaking out into more varied terrain where the native and endemic species can be found. To the untrained eye, of which mine would be a fine example, the plants look much like those I've seen elsewhere on the island above about 2,000ft. Our main guide was the most knowledgeable on biota, but we had other crew members that seemed nearly as knowledgeable. Whether they had studied this stuff in school or perhaps just online before the hike, I couldn't tell. They seemed to almost trip over each other trying to share this knowledge. I just puttered along with the group not caring too much, but smiling and enjoying the views. And today was a good day for views. Most of the trail follows along the crest of the range between Mauna Kapu and Palikea, with views west to Nanakuli and Nanakuli Valley, views east to Waipahu and Pearl Harbor. At our turnaround point one could see the windmills on the north side of the island. There were several stops at key locations to look for microsnails and the famed Smiley Face spiders. The team would turn over leaves on specific plants to look for the rare items on the backsides of the leaves. I was the only one to not participate in this activity, claiming I'd left my glasses in the car and would be unable to see the tiny creatures. Most of this was truth, but the main reason was I didn't really care. The others were more enthusiastic, some especially so. One woman would exclaim loudly, "Oh, look! I've found one!", only to be told by one of the experts that it was a nice spider, but not the right one. She seemed to take this a little hard - "I think they just don't want me to find one," she whispered. Microsnails were found, but smiley face spiders were not. Birds were spotted, but to be honest, they were small brown varieties that I couldn't discern from the standard LBBs that are found, well, everywhere. One enthusiastic birder with nice binoculars would yell out whenever one zipped by, naming them by species. After a while, no one bothered to look up because they'd already be gone before you had the chance to see them.

Besides the stops to find mythical creatures, the pace was pretty slow because there were a number in the group that were not so sure-footed. There are lots of stairs, some muddy sections, and several narrow ledges that gave some the willies, including our leader. I would eventually find my legs tired from standing around too long and would look for places to rest my butt. I think I sat down more than the rest of the group combined. The turnaround/lunchspot was reached after three hours, a nice overlook spot that had views to three sides of the island. We were only 480ft from the summit of Palikea, a pig fence running along the connecting ridgeline with only a small drop between them. I probably could have gone over and back in about 15min, but I would have felt bad if my absence was noticed and didn't want to give our kind, volunteer guides a reason to dislike me. Our return was somewhat faster, just under 2hrs, but still a pretty slow pace for a 1.2mi hike. All-in-all, a decent day, thanks to the views. This would have been a loss if we'd been in the clouds with rain.


Scott Hanson comments on 12/30/19:
Bob, I think you are a "peak destination" type of guy; rather than a micro "plant/animal identifier' type of guy. I went on a hike with a coworker in the Columbia Gorge once. He wanted to stop and take multiple pictures of almost everything, while I was more interested in reaching a single viewpoint after a long uphill grind. I think we only hiked together once.
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