Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bear Claw Ridge -- 4/1/2001

[photo credit -- Jason Sunada]

I dislike hiking in streambeds and along narrow ridges with rotten rock. As things turned out, I did both today probably because I'm a hardheaded son of a gun. Or maybe I did it because it was April Fool's Day, and I'm the king of fools. Today, the TM gang was slated to work on the Kipapa Trail in cooperation with the feds, but that outing was cancelled at the 11th hour. So, in place of Kipapa, Mabel requested that the crew hike/work on the Pu'u o Kona route for an upcoming club hike. 

So a bunch of us showed up at the end of Kalaau Place in Kuliouou Valley this morning to do our thing. I'd hiked the o Kona route last Saturday and reported to Mabel that not much work was needed on it. Given that, the day was designated more one for hiking than for labor. No complaints from me in that regard. 

The assembled throng dispersed hither and yon. Some folks went up the direct route to Kuliouou Ridge. Some went up the middle ridge via the end of Papahehi Place. I went with a group of folks up the valley trail that led to the waterfall trail that led up to Kuliouou West by an airplane wreck near the summit. The valley/waterfall group had a good workout. 

We all made it up to Kuliouou West in good stead, after a romp thru a dry stream (which, as mentioned earlier, I dislike) and a huff-n-puffer of a climb.  Our group summited, rested awhile, then began clearing the trail along the crest toward Pu'u o Kona (not much work to be done).

Once at o Kona (elev 2200), we took a look at Bear Claw Ridge, the massive spur that extends down to Waimanalo. Many of us have looked at this ridge from the summit and from Waimanalo, wondering if we'd muster the nerve to ever attempt it. Well today a few of mustered up some muster. 

After some rationalizing and feet dragging, we took the plunge. I went down a side spur and then bashed and slashed left into a wide, heavily vegetated ravine that was a mess of 'ie'ie and strangling plants. Ed later followed my basic line of torture. Meanwhile, Jason damned the torpedos and went down the direct ridge, and Peter edged after him. My way was safer but required more energy expenditure. Jason's way was direct but more exposed. It was pick your poison.

I eventually made my way thru the vegetation stranglehold, while being urged on and peppered with advice via walkie-talkie from comrades watching my progress up on the summit ridge. After hearing from Jason that the main ridge was "okay" (a relative term in the HTMC), I clawed my way very steeply thru 'ie'ie and buffalo grass to regain the main ridge where Jason had stopped to wait for me. 

At this point, Peter had decided to head back up and Ed was still battling the tangling flora (Ed later gained the main ridge and then headed back to the summit). So Jason and I slowly and carefully continued makai down the Bear Claw. We moved gingerly down some steep, crumbly slopes that obviously were negotiable and edged to the right of a couple of pinnacle rock formations. While edging, I had to move extra carefully because of my wide and heavy bulk ("walk lightly" was my mantra). 

Many of the rocks along the ridge, some boulder-sized, were rotten and ready to dislodge under the weight or tug of an unwary hiker. Fortunately, Jason and I are experienced enough to know what and how much to grab, lean on, and put weight on to avoid a big plunge. We passed to the left of a large ironwood tree and the ridge narrowed right after it. We crept along the thin, rocky ridge and then jumped down on the right. In the process, I dislodged a piece of the mountain. Looking at the ridge I'd destroyed, Jason said, "I hope we'll be able to climb back up." I hoped so, too. 

Not far after that, we arrived at a place where the main ridge narrowed and veered to the left and a broader side spur split off down to the right, with a broad, vegetated ravine between the two. The main ridge dropped to a vertical rockface of 8 to 10 feet. On the other hand, the right spur could be descended without aids. While I watched from above, Jason descended the right spur ten feet then did a left slabbing contour to get over to the main ridge, bypassing the 8-10 foot rockface. 

While I continued to watch (I'd decided not to go any further), Jason went down the main ridge a bit more then came back, saying he felt a little nervous. In a way, it was good to hear him say this because I was plenty nervous. Nervousness loves company, it seems. 

Jason, having decided to descend the main ridge no further, reslabbed back to the righthand side spur, descended that for a bit, then came back up to where I was. From this position, we were at the ~1800 ft level (altimeter watch check) and about 100 meters mauka of the ironwood grove that marks the point where the two claws of the ridge split steeply downward to the Waimanalo foothills below. It was around noon and time for lunch, but we both agreed not to eat until we had returned to the summit since somehow food would probably be unenjoyable with thoughts in our heads of the dicey climb still looming.

Moreover, clouds started massing along the summit ridge, an indicator that rain might soon follow. Precipitation plus steep eroded slopes equal bad news, so even moreso were we motivated to return to the summit without delay. After discussing crossing over the ravine to our left to ascend a spur on that side, we decided to stick with the main ridge, which we carefully made our way up. When we reached the narrow section by the ironwood tree, Jason slabbed left past the tree while I used its branches like a ladder to regain the ridgetop (thank heaven for strong branches), bypassing the narrow neck we'd hopped down (and I damaged) earlier. 

We then ascended the steep, eroded hill we'd come down earlier, did a twister contortionist routine thru a thicket of christmas berry (I did a bit of chopping there), then climbed steeply and carefully up a narrow hogback to the summit. Safety. Yes. Breathing proverbial sighs of relief, we turned south to hike along the summit to the clearing at the top of the state trail, pausing on occasion to look back at profiles of Bear Claw. 

We ate lunch at the top of the state trail with Peter and Ed, who waited for us there. After lunch, we headed down the state trail, admiring the new stairs we'd worked on last Saturday, and eventually arrived back on Kalaau Place. 

Notes: We found no ribbons or old cuts on Bear Claw today. It seems that no one has done this recently. We also left no ribbons. On my way home, I drove the Waimanalo backroads to take a good look at Bear Claw from below. Both claws appear do-able. In fact, we know that Al Miller, John Hall, Fred Durst, and others have done Bear Claw. John, who was in attendance today, told me he last did it about 30 years ago but can't recall if he went up on the left or right. He did remember that the climb required no cables/ropes and that access in Waimanalo wasn't problem. In typical HTM fashion, he described the climb as "not too bad." Miller, who has done it more recently, says the right claw is THE WAY to go and that cables are required in several spots. Will it be right or left? Hmmm... 

A week ago Monday, Ed and Roger Breton completed the section between the Moanalua Saddle and Keahiakahoe. This was a daring, dangerous undertaking since it involved an ascent of a very narrow ridgeline much of it over rotten rock. Nice job to those two.