Today, Steve Poor and I reached the floor of Halawa Valley from Aiea Ridge by way of a route we christened "The Ridge Upland of the Sharkfin," or, as indicated in the subject line of this post, Mano La Uka. Wing, the main proponent of negotiating this ridge from top to bottom (he's tried several times), couldn't join us because of the workload demands of law school, where he's scheduled to graduate next December.
So it was just Mr. Poor and I this morning. We started at the upper parking lot of Keaiwa State Park at just past 8, noting that ours were the first vehicles to arrive there today. It was slightly gusty and drizzly when we set off up the Loop trail, but the weather improved over the next couple hours to the point where the day turned out to be a fine one for hiking.
As we hiked leisurely up the Loop Trail, we chatted about a variety of topics, mostly hike-related, of course. One thing we determined is that next Saturday (4/29), we'll hike up Aiea Ridge and cross over on the summit to get to Halawa Ridge. This outing will be a preparatory hike for the 5/6 HTMC hike which I'll coordinate. Anyone interested in joining us can email me for details.
In about half an hour, we reached the junction on the Loop where the Ridge trail commences. At that point, a trail climbs off to the right to reach a little clearing. From that clearing, a fairly distinct trail heads down a spur toward Halawa Valley. Attempting to work his way to the bottom, Wing has gone down this ridge four times, the most recent on February 6 of this year.
The ridge is a beautiful one, with an array of native flora populating it. Among the natives we saw were alahe'e, ho'awa, moa, lama, koa, maile, ohia, and some good-sized sandalwood. Of course, if I were more flora-adept, I'm sure I could name many more. The ground underfoot was never muddy, and we were always under a canopy of vegetation, making for cool, pleasant hiking. About halfway down our ridge, we could see on the spur to our right a distinct outcropping that looked like the fin of a shark. Steve expressed interest in trying to climb up that ridge once we had found our way down the one we were on. Hearing that, I reminded him that finding our way down might not be easy and that we'd better wait until we'd succeeded before making plans.
In the interim, Steve insisted that we come up with a name for the ridge we were descending. His suggestion was "Alahe'e Ridge" since that particular plant seemed to flourish more than any other along the trail. I suggested "The Ridge Mauka of Sharkfin," to which Steve took a liking. Of course, we had to come up with a Hawaiian translation. We both had a grasp of enough Hawaiian vocabulary to know that "mano" = "shark" and "uka" = "upland of". We didn't know the translation for "fin," but I was able to look it up in a Hawaiian dictionary at home to determine that "fin" = "la" (with a macron [kahakou] over the 'a'), hence the translation "Mano La Uka." Hawaiian language experts, please feel free to correct me.
Just as Wing reported, the ridge gets messed up with hau at the 700-foot level. However, based on reconnaissance from daily commutes on H3 through Halawa while driving to and from work, I noted that a way to avoid the mass of hau might be to veer left through a swath of ti. So when we reached the hau mess that Wing began pounding through on 2/6, we opted to veer off the top of the spur to head left through ti.
As we did, we encountered some older orange ribbons, which boosted our optimism that we'd find a manageable route down. Steve, meanwhile, put up orange ribbons of our own, for future reference in case others plan to descend/ascend the route. The machete that had been tucked away in my pack was now unsheathed and whacking away at lantana, guava, and ti. We made steady progress on our leftward descent. The most difficult part of the descent, which turned out to be not that difficult at all, was sliding down a short, steep slope under a small tangle of hau.
That done, we contoured left across the slope to avoid a huge hau tangle. Continuing to contour cross-slope for maybe 30-40 meters, we reached a distinct pig trail heading downward. We followed the pua'a path, clearing overhanging branches as we proceeded. The old orange ribbons were non-existent at this point; however, we were confident of success nonetheless since we were already below the level of the H-3 viaduct and we appeared to have avoided the hau.
Continuing to push downslope through ti, guava, and lantana, Steve and I came upon some very fresh pig scat, with little flies buzzing about the pile. "How fresh do you think it is?" asked Steve. I said I wasn't sure, but I indicated I'd stop short of picking it up with my hands to assess its temperature and content, something a pig hunter told me he'd do.
Not far past the dung, we saw that we were adjacent to a bridge on the H3 access road. After hopping over a wire fence, we climbed up a grassy embankment and hopped onto the access road on the mauka end of Bridge 13 (apparently, all the bridges along the access road are numbered). Steve and I congratulated ourselves for completing the descent without mishap, and we talked about using Mano La Uka Ridge as part of a club hike in the future. We'll see what the club's schedule committee thinks of the idea.
Instead of heading back up the ridge, we walked makai on the access road, intending to use the spur up to Aiea Ridge that Jay Feldman, Bill Gorst, Wing, and I had come down in January from the lower part of the Aiea Loop. On the way down the access road, we skirted around a locked gate and almost immediately came upon a Hawaiian cultural site in the forest on the left. Steve and I spent some time exploring the site, making sure not to disturb anything. The area has rock walls and terraces, and we speculated that this was the women's heiau that was much talked about when the H3 controversy was at its peak.
Finished with our exploration, we continued down the access road until reaching the ribboned point where we left the road to begin the climb up to Aiea Ridge. All the ribbons from the last time I was there were still up, and the trail up the spur is still easily passable and is ready for the 5/6 hike. Taking our time, Steve and I needed about 30 minutes to reach the Loop Trail from Halawa Valley. Once on the loop, we followed it back to the park grounds and then to our cars.