Pu'u Kahuauli
Pu'u Keahiakahoe P1K
Koko Head P500

Jun 12, 2014
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profile


Pu'u Keahi a Kahoe

Pu'u Keahi a Kahoe is the fourth most prominent summit in the Koolau Range and a P1K. The shortest and easiest route to reach it is via the Haiku Stairs, or Stairway to Heaven, a set of steel stairs and railings that climb steeply up the east side from a neighborhood off the H3 freeway. The route was used by the US government to reach a radar installation at the summit but has long fallen into disuse. Unfortunately the route is off-limits to the public, though even with a guard watching much of the day, a few intrepid souls slip through its defences. I didn't want to bother with the hit or miss aspect of this effort, especially if another route is available, even if longer. Just such a route is decribed by Stewart Ball Jr. in his book, The Hikers Guide to O'ahu. There are two possible ridges that can be climbed out of Moanalua Valley (also called Kamananui Valley) from the west and I decided to make a loop of it by going up one ridge and down the other.

There were several cars at the locked gate of Maunalua Valley Park at the end of the road, waiting for it to open. Signs said the park was open at 7a, but it was just before 6a. I parked outside the park, but the ladies knew what they were doing. Another car drove up, unlocked the gate, and soon half a dozen cars were in the lot. The ladies all appeared to be Japanese seniors, the delightful hike up Moanalua Valley their regular workout. One of them took off at a steady pace in front of the others, the remaining ladies traveling in small groups of 3-4, chatting it up as they took a more leisurely hike. I passed by most of the leisure crowd, but the one hustling up the road out in front I never caught up to.

One of the valley's wealthy owners built a series of seven stone bridges across the normally dry Maunalua Stream more than 100yrs ago. They are still serviceable by foot and bike traffic, adding rustic charm to the lush valley. A set of signs along the route describe the flora found here, including invasive alien species, those introduced by the first polynesians and endemic Hawaiian ones. Other signs told of the valley's history over many centuries. I saved the reading of these for the return trip when I was significantly more tired and welcomed the short respites.

At a post numbered "12", about 1.6mi from the start, is found the unsigned right turn to start climbing out of the valley. The easy hiking officially ends here as the narrow trail climbs steeply through dense koa forests and other types of trees and shrubs as it makes its way up to Kauakaulani Ridge. Once this ridge leading up to the main crest is reached, things get progressively better. The views open up to both valleys on either side of the ridge, behind to the urban areas along the coast, and ahead to the center of the Koolau Range. Ominous clouds that had overshadowed the range at daybreak were not so threatening now. The summits of the crest were still hidden by clouds, but the cloud layers was slowly rising as the day began to warm. A good stiff breeze was also felt now sweeping over the ridge, a welcome bit of cooling after the steep, sweaty climb out of the valley.

It had taken about an hour to reach Kauakaulani Ridge and would take several more hours to make the excursion to the main crest. It was a delightful hike along the narrow ridge, often only a few feet wide and dropping precipitiously on two sides. There were some handy ropes set up to help with the steepest portions that could be quite slick when wet (this morning the trail conditions were quite good), as well as some fixed lines along the longer stretches where the ridge is narrowest. Before reaching the crest the clouds would lift to just above the tops of the summits, and while I was exploring along the crest I found myself right at the bottom edge of the clouds, sometimes below, sometimes just inside. The highest summit in the area, Keahiakahoe, was to the left (north), its top just visible. Instead of heading there, I turned right to pay a visit to a bonus summit, Kahuauli about 1/5mi to the south.

The traverse to this subsidiary summit was interesting on several accounts. Not part of the regular loop described by Ball, this portion was much less traveled, though a trail was still discernable. In fact the Summit Trail runs the entire length of the Koolau Range, an amazing bit of breathtaking (and breath taking away) hiking up and down the sawtoothed range's crest line. Part of this I had traveled yesterday on my failed effort to Lanihuli. The section I traveled today was not as severe as yesterday's, but it was still unnerving. The windward side drops dramatically, sweeping down to the Kailua coastal area almost 3,000ft below. Cars could be heard and seen buzzing along the highways like toy cars. The trail was overgrown, making it difficult to see the ground where I placed my feet through the ferns and other overgrowth. And there were no secured hand lines to add confidence. I took about 20min to cover the distance, and then a similar amount to return.

Things returned to a more secure footing at this point. Turning left towards Keahiakehoe, there were two tall transmission towers at two saddles along the route. Fixed lines had been added to the whole section between the towers (I wonder if they were installed by the power company?), making this traverse going much more easily. The tread was better defined and the footing more certain, even with some muddy and slick sections. Upon climbing up to the highpoint of Keahiakehoe, I found a benchmark and a small wooden sign showing where to find the descent ridge. My GPS showed Keahiakehoe actually about a 1/6mi further north along the ridge where I could see the old radar installation. It was obviously lower, but seemed worth a visit, so off I went. This was an easier traverse taking less than ten minutes, mainly because there were no low saddles to drop to along the way.

At the graffiti-riddled radar installation I found the Haiku Stairs dropping down to the northeast. I hiked down a short ways to check them out and take in the stunning views they offered, particularly of the northern part of the Koolau Range north of the massive H3 tunnels. After snapping some photos, I hiked back up the stairs, then back to the highpoint and finally started down the middle ridge of Kamananui Valley. I found this ridge better than the ascent one, both for views and better footing. There were a couple of ropes on a few steep sections, but these were relatively easy. About ten minutes below the summit I spotted a party of five coming up the ridge. In their 20s, the party consisted of two ladies and three guys. The ladies were out front leading the way, the guys pulling up the rear. As I met up with, and passed them, I found that two of the guys were struggling with the exposure. I found this somewhat amusing, imaging the ladies taking the guys on the challenging route to test whether they were boyfriend material. Probably nothing of the sort, but it amused me nonetheless.

I continued down the ridge at a brisk pace - ok, not all that brisk since the ridge still demanded diligence with big air to fly into if one trips up. Eventually I ended up down in the valley bottom once more and on the rough road I had started in on. I still had two and a half miles to get back to the car, taking longer because of the signs I stopped to read and ponder. It was almost 12:30p by the time I returned to the park and the car, making for a 6.5hr outing, covering some 11.5mi. I had to admit I was a bit tired...

Koko Head

Tired as I might be, it was still too early to call it a day and head back to the hotel in Waikiki. I decided to go check out Koko Head again, a minor summit on the south shore east of Waikiki that I had explored a few days earlier. As I drove by the entrance to Hanauma Bay, I noted a couple of folks with official-looking shirts and hats monitoring the obvious starting point to Koko Head at SR72. The summit has an FAA VOR station and some other government installations and seems to be unwelcoming to visitors. I decided to drive around the neighborhoods on the west side of the summit and got incredibly lucky. Near the southwest end of the summit, I found a cul-de-sac with an old public-access stairway leading down to some cliffs overlooking the ocean. A series of old railings and ladders, most disassembled, once allowed folks to reach the water here. It seems incredibly dangerous with waves crashing hard against the rock cliffs, and probably why it fell into disuse. Still, plenty of folks seem to know about it and there were folks coming and going while I was there.

Of course I didn't want to get to the ocean, but rather up to Koko Head. Through continuing strokes of good fortune, I was able to walk east along the tops of the cliffs and just below some neighborhood homes (very high-end homes, these) to the south side of Koko Head where I could then turn uphill. A few ropes were even installed to help with a few steep sections (no more than class 3 and not that needed when dry). Almost before I knew it I had reached the summit installations only 1/3mi away. Such good luck! I walked around the summit to get pictures of Hanauma Bay, the VOR station, and Diamond Head/Waikiki. When I returned back down to the coastal cliffs there was a different set of folks there. Some had just come to look, others to fish in the surf, but all to get away from the usual hustle that is the south coast of Oahu...


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