Pu'u Kou
Yellow Cone
Pu'u o Kamaoa
Pu'u o Ka'au 2x

Mon, Jan 13, 2020

With: Eric Smith
Ingrid Dockersmith

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile
Pu'u o Ka'au previously climbed Wed, Jan 8, 2020


We returned to the Ka'u Desert for a second day in a row, my third time in the past week. For the most part, we could avoid the rains that were pummeling other parts of the island, and since Ingrid hadn't been able to join us yesterday, it would give her a first chance at hiking in this volcanic Wilderness area. Our targets were a pair of cones several miles from the highway, not particularly easy to get to. After finishing this in the morning, we spent the rest of the day visiting various other small summits on the south side of the island. Much of this was exploratory as we didn't have much beta, and consequently there was limited success. Still, we had a grand time seeing new places and revisiting a few old ones and generally staying dry.

Pu'u Kou - Yellow Cone

The Ka'u Desert Trail runs within a mile of these cones on their east side, but using it would require extra miles and not be terribly convenient. Instead, we started directly from the highway where it comes closest to our summits and use an all cross-country route to reach them. The biggest unknown had to do with the land ownership of the parcel next to the highway since the NPS park boundary doesn't start until about a mile from the road at this location. We found no fences, signs or other indications of private ownership, and were happy to be able to simple park in a small clearing and head off towards our destinations. There was some jungle-like wading initially through thick fern sections (probably unnecessary), but this didn't last more than about ten minutes. We found easier ground and began enjoying a more leisurely walk across the lava fields. Native Ohi'a trees do very well on such terrain and have not yet been displaced by more aggressive, non-native versions. Their flowers look somewhat like a bottlebrush. The trees and other vegetation thinned more as we continued east, initially heading off towards another point to the north that we mistook for Pu'u Kou. We reached the park boundary in about 45min, finding a goat/sheep/pig fence running the length of the boundary as far as we could see. We went over the fence and corrected our heading to the southwest once we got a visual bearing on Pu'u Kou. Now moving over more desolate lava flows, we found sections surprisingly brittle. Ingrid was a little nervous that these could collapse onto underground lava tubes, and since she was the resident Hawaiian among us, her nervousness had Eric and I a bit wary too.

We reached the summit of Pu'u Kou an hour and a quarter after starting out, finding it to be not a cinder cone, but a small lava plug built up from a localized outpouring of lava rather than a gaseous explosion. It was easily scaled from the north side at class 2 (pretty much from any direction as well), giving us a lookout from which to survey our surroundings. Besides all the lava flows laid down in the 1970s, we noticed heavier clouds moving in from the northeast. The rain we'd been avoiding had caught up with us and would start coming down lightly even before we'd left the first summit. Yellow Cone was located about 0.4mi to the south and it was easy enough to make our way between the two, but the camera would stay in my pack to keep it from getting ruined by the wetness that was now drifting down on us. We climbed Yellow Cone from the north side and then descended the west side almost immediately, finding no good reason to stay atop as the light rain continued. The rain would subside as we made our way back towards our starting point and we found the return route had fewer obstacles and less brush than our outbound route. We were back by 12:30p and mostly dry, thanks to the wind that followed along with the clouds and rain.

Pu'u Kamaoa

We spent the next few hours mostly driving. After returning to the jeep we headed south on SR11, intending to first visit a trio of summits in the Kahuku Unit of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, found on the lower slopes of Mauna Loa's Southwest Ridge. Having lived on the island for more than four years now, even Ingrid didn't know about the existence of this section of the park. Tom and I had stumbled upon it earlier in the week, but had only enough time to climb one of the summits before the 4p closing time. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to us, the Park Service has it closed on Mondays and Tuesdays due to low traffic - and today was a Monday. With decent cell service, we were able to make alternate plans and headed further around the southern end of the island on the highway to the community of Ocean View. This lightly populated area has a huge footprint on the southwest slopes of Mauna Kea, with many miles of straight roads laid out on a regular grid. It reminds me of places like California City where developers had huge plans that never quite materialized. There is little industry and almost no employment opportunities, save for those willing to commute to the resorts on the Kona Coast. There are almost 1,000 developed sites and while some of these are kept nicely and a few are very nice, most are rundown with old cars and other junk strewn about the large properties. The name Ocean View is pretty darn misleading - one can see the ocean on a crystal clear day perhaps, but it is many miles from the highway and many more from the uphill side where most of the residents are located. We found ourselves driving through the nearly-empty streets heading uphill in search of a summit (Pu'u Ohohia) that Don Nelson had recorded climbing in 2016. The summit is located outside the development on NPS property, but it looked like the easiest way to get there was through Ocean View. We eventually found our way blocked by private property and signs indicating we couldn't get to the NPS lands from inside Ocean View. More study online found there was a road running on NPS lands just outside the community but by now our interest in this one had dropped to zero. Instead, Ingrid found a named Pu'u just off the highway not found on LoJ or PB. I was skeptical, but we paid it a visit because it was easy enough. It turned out to be better than expected, with an HTS survey monument from the 1930s. Points to Ingrid. After this, we tried to visit a few LoJ points found along the coast southwest of the highway. A very rough road can be taken to reach it, going through private property that appears to have been abandoned. Our jeep managed to get within about a mile of the closest one where we were stopped by a steep, loose slope of volcanic rock that was more than the jeep could manage without risking damage. With more time we might have just parked and walked from here, but it was getting late in the day and time to start back.

Pu'u Ka'au

This was an easy stop on our way back to Hilo, an interesting little Pu'u that Tom and I had visited a week earlier. Knowing the easiest way to reach it, we wasted no time finding the dirt road that gets one to the coast on the outside of Whittington Beach Park. The summit is no more than 10ft above the shoreline, but it is found in a picturesque location with views of the coast, beach park and estuary. After our short visit we returned to the highway and headed back to Ingrid's home on the rainy Hilo side where we were staying.


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