Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dupont/DePonte Trail on Oahu



[photo credit -- Tom Yoza]


"Honesty's the best policy" is a saying we're all familiar with.
Dr. Wing Ng calls Kamaileunu an "honest trail" because from start to terminus there is no concealed agenda: one climbs steadily with no appreciable drops. The antithesis of Kamaileunu is Manana, which taunts hikers with as many downs as ups. Like Manana, Schofield falls in the "dishonest" category, for its rollercoaster progression will kick one's tail ascending or descending.


Back in 2002, Pat Rorie and I, not in the mood for treachery, hiked what may be the most honest trail on Oahu: De Ponte (also referred to as Dupont). The route begins on a cane field road adjacent to Waialua High School and ends after a 4,000-foot vertical ascent gain at the summit of Mount Kaala, the apex of Oahu.


Stuart Ball tells us that Dupont (or De Ponte--recall a recent post quoting a *Honolulu Magazine* article) is a classic climb. He also says that the horror stories about the dangers of the trail are overstated. On both counts, he's correct.


Although not a cupcake, De Ponte isn't overly perilous. Previous hikers have strung an array of cables at steep and rocky sections of the trail (in some cases, the cables are overkill). And yes there are dike sections to traverse but these aren't of the Kalena- or Manamana-esque ilk. I suppose my view may be colored somewhat because De Ponte was dry and relatively windless today. Throw in some brisk trades on the dikes and some mud on the steeper sections and the hike would have been much tougher and tiring and potentially more dangerous.


Photo credit -- Jason Sunada
And it was plenty rugged and tiring as is, primarily because of its "honest" nature that had us climbing from the get-go to the end. We needed 3.5 hours to hike the 5.5 miles from our parking spot along Farrington Highway near the high school to the lookout spot by one of the huge soccer balls (FAA radar site) at Kaala's summit.


I can't say I enjoyed the ascent (sweating like a melting popsicle and listening to one's heart racing like a snare drum gets old after a while), but the miles and time moved by with reasonable quickness. We also were fortunate not to be stopped by anyone from Waialua Sugar or the macadamia farm or the horse ranch while going up or down. And although we saw scat of wild goats and pigs, we saw no signs of the scat makers. Further down, we did pass penned up goats, some wild pea fowl and later some horses resting under a copse of java plum. And the scratchy blackberry was present but not in huge quantities so we did not suffer any major flora abuse.


Thee trail passes through some lovely dryland forest and some exquisite native Hawaiian cloud forest near the summit. As inept as Pat and I are at identifying plantlife, we were able to recognize some trailside lobelia, lapalapa, and the more common koa and ohia. Hopefully, someone like Brandon Stone, Ken Suzuki, or Kost Pankiwskyj will hike the trail and provide a more detailed flora report.


Weather-wise, Pat and I had good fortune because a socked-in summit became a cloudless summit when we reached it, and during our one-hour lunch break we were treated to excellent views of the Oahu central plain and the distant Koolaus, the latter pelted by rain from dark gray clouds.


For me, the descent went much quicker and with less pain than I anticipated. Usually, a dry trail means a hard trail and a hard trail means pounding on feet and knees which means ouch to the 100th degree. But padded insoles, a pair of surprisingly comfortable Nike Sharks cleated shoes, and three aspirins popped down after lunch made the 5.5-mile descent quite nice. We left the summit at 1:30 and reached my vehicle at 4:00, ending an interesting day in the Waianae range.


For the record, this was Pat's third trip up DePonte and my first. And despite the long, tiring ascent, I'll do it again someday.


Honest, I will. :-)


--DKT