Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kealia Big Loop 2/17/2001

Yesterday morning (2/17), I hiked up the Kealia Trail to meet friends
backpacking their way from the Kaena tracking station to Peacock Flats
and/or the Mokuleia campsite. I figured to get a workout out of the
deal. I got that plus some unanticipated adventure.

I launched from the parking lot by the Dillingham airfield control tower
at 9:30, feeling relaxed and energetic after the hour drive from
Kaneohe. The switchbacks up the pali were overgrown, perhaps a
consequence of the budget/personnel shortcomings of Na Ala Hele.

Once I reached the ridgeline, I kept moving up the dirt road, a steady
unrelenting, and at times steep climb up to the rim of Makua Valley. With
a nice view into the controversial valley, I paused to rest and scan the
rim trail for any signs of my friends. Heading away from me to the left
appeared to be Pat Rorie.

I continued alone along the Mokuleia firebreak road toward Peacock Flats
and after fifteen minutes I came upon other hikers at a
junction with a lesser used road that descends a ridge to connect to a
lower 4x4 road.

I continued ahead of the three and ten minutes later came upon other hikers resting at a junction with a road that climbed a
slope to the right. The righthand road ascended to an overlook above the
abandoned Nike Tracking Station and connected with the Makua Rim
Trail. The Mokuleia firebreak road, the other option at the junction,
winds in and out of a series of gulches to eventually connect
with the paved road leading to Peacock Flats and up to the abandoned Nike
Site.

I headed up the righthand road and took a short rest at the overlook, and then hiked
along the rim trail, bound for the Mokuleia campsite. When I reached the
switchback section of the rim trail, I noticed lobelia plantings some folks
had done during a recent service trip.

At a beautiful overlook of Makua, we came upon Nathan and Justin, both
lugging heavy packs (Justin's was VERY heavy). I hiked with them, still
bound for the Mokuleia campsite. We passed sections of trail cleared very
nicely by Pat last weekend and later stopped to examine the twin pines
that mark the junction with the Piko Trail. Nathan and I looked
for a sign affixed to the tree but found none.

We stopped for lunch at the final hilltop before the junction with the
trail leading down to the campsite, and I happily and hungrily chowed down
on vienna sausage and a powerbar and glugged down a liter of
water. During lunch, Nathan and I chatted about techniques for cleaning and drying
camelback bladders, an undertaking I usually neglect and that Nathan
regularly tends to.

A bit before 1, I said goodbye to my friends and headed
off. After descending, I passed through the campsite and headed down the
trail toward Peacock Flats.

A few minutes later, I arrived at the Flats and spent time resting there.

Just past 2:00, I headed out of the Flats. Initially, my plan was to climb the paved road up to the old Nike
site, then drop back down to the fire break road and continue on to
Kealia. However, not enthused about the ascent up to the Nike site, I
opted for Plan B, which was to follow the fire break road and then veer
makai down an old jeep road which eventually would hook up with Kealia
just mauka of the top of the switchbacks.

After ten minutes of hiking along the firebreak road, I arrived at what I
thought was the junction with the old jeep road heading makai. So
makai-ward I headed. After a minute or so, I realized that what I was
descending was a trail rather than an old road but, using an
all-roads-lead-to-Rome analogy, I figured that all makai-heading trails in
this area lead to the lower jeep road complex.

How wrong I was.

I kept descending the non-road, spurred on by the presence of a well-used
path and an occasional old ribbon or cut branch. "Hunters must use this
trail," I reasoned, and as such they surely must have found a way to
connect with the old road and/or an adjacent ridge that will lead to the
old road.

After a half mile of descending, what had been a trail became less
distinct. In fact, the trail all but ended when I reached a 30-foot
dropoff. I found a way on the right to skirt the dropoff and continued
down the grassy, trail-less ridge. Further down was another dropoff which
I again skirted to the right.

The prudent thing to have done was to end the charade that this ridge was
going to lead me to the old road or a connecting trail. But stubborness,
ego, and a sense of adventure egged me on. Plus it would make for a good
story to write about.

Off in the distance, I could see that the ridge would eventually level out
in a broad expense of rolling hills and then flatten out at a large
banana farm. Already in my mind I was preparing my verbal defense when
confronted by owners/workers of the farm. "I'm a poor lost hiker," was
one possible spew. "I parachuted from a plane and was blown by the wind
into the mountain," was spew two.

Also as I was descending, thoughts of falling, hurting myself, and waiting
for rescue popped into my head. I visualized Tom Yoza meticulously
scouring the every ravine in the area weekend after weekend until finding
just the tatters of my red shirt and the blue lanyard with assorted
doo-dads I wear around my neck. I also had visions of a pack of huge
pua'a grinding my body as I lay helpless and injured (go see the movie
*Hannibal* and you may have similar visions).

Well, I didn't fall nor was I devoured, but I did have to spend a good
hour wading and swimming through thick buffalo grass until I caught a
break and came upon an ancient road that runs across the base of the
mountain (a review of the Kaena quad topo indicates that I was on
what is labeled as the "Peacock Flats Trail"). Now overgrown with
chest-high grass, the road was still apparent and I moved much more easily
by following its tread. Finding this meant was that I wouldn't have to
cut through the banana farm and if I was lucky, I'd be able to make it all
the way back to the Dillingham Airfield without having to pass through a
farm or ranch or homestead.

The old road/PFT eventually ended its traverse along the base of the
mountain and began climbing up along the side of a ravine toward the top
of the pali. No, I certainly didn't want to go back up again, so I hopped
over a barbed-wire fence and waded through high grass to make my way
toward lower ground.

I weaved through waist-high grass in a forest of haole koa and then
happened upon another old jeep road. This road soon ended at a
barbed-wire fenceline, which I hopped to continue my wade and weave. My
next objective was to make my way under a string of powerlines, thinking a
swath or road of some sort would be under it. I made it to the powerlines
okay but found nada swath or road.

Still determined to find my way out of the mess, I continued to angle
toward lower ground and in the general direction of the airfield until,
voila, I stood on a slope looking down on a large paved expanse that
probably once was an old landing strip for planes. I made my way down to
the old strip and followed it toward Dillingham Airfield.

The old air strip led to a well-used (military?) jeep road that led me to
the road that runs along the mauka side of the current airfield. I
followed the road to the hangars adjacent to the control tower and then
arrived at my car. It was 4:30, 2.5 hours after I'd left Peacock Flats
and only a half hour longer than I thought I'd need if I had hiked the
route I'd had planned in my mind.

The adventure was a nice tradeoff for the extra 30 minutes. In
retrospect, if I had a map with me I'd not have turned off the fire break
road to head down the ridge when I did. That being the case, I wouldn't
have stumbled (literally) upon the old Peacock Flats trail and hike back
to the airfield as I did. This adventure, it seems, was born out of being
mapless. And by the end of the day I had completed a loop of about ten
miles, never once having to retrace my steps. A nice hike.