Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Kuliouou Ridge -- By LastKoho

From the Oahu Hiking Enthusiasts Archives
Date: Fri, 19 Jan 2001 21:08:41 -1000
From: LastKoho (lastkoho@yahoo.com)
Subject: This Way to Kuliouou


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Thursday, though a work deadline looms, I decide to head out for a hike. My wife, who has the day off, agrees to join me.

After a drive through mostly flowing traffic, we park near the end of Kala'au Place and hop out of the car and sling on our packs. Across the street a couple of rottweilers stare at us from behind a fence as we cut through the cul de sac and then move down a paved road. After not-too-many paces we take a right turn at a brown and yellow sign that marks the beginning of both the Kuliouou Valley and Ridge Trails. Continuing along the path, we soon reach another sign marking the split between valley and ridge. We follow the arrow that points to the ridge route.

As a passing note, there are more signs per mile on the Kuliouou Ridge Trail than any other in Oahu that I've been on in recent memory: There are signs warning hikers to stay on path rather than use shortcuts between switchbacks because this, the use of shortcuts, facilitates erosion; there's a sign directly above two yellow bristle brushes that requests hikers wipe their boots at the end of the trek; there's at least one well-placed yellow-arrow directional sign; and there's even a sign of a petroglyph sketch pinned on a huge Cook pine. None of the signs bothers me (mostly informative and simple and unobtrusive in a yellow and brown kind of way); they're just a mildly curious feature of this trail. I suppose too this is the telltale sign of most well-traveled hikes, a proliferation of signs.

Meanwhile, back on the trail, we begin switching back and forth up the side of the hill. Soon enough, coming around a bend, we cross paths with a woman who has a frown on her face and three small children on her hands. One of the children is actually a baby, a baby that's strapped-in heavily on the woman's back and sleeping. Another child is about four years old and she stands shyly behind her mother. The last child, about two years old, has stopped dead in her tracks and is crying, crying because she is scared of a small drop-off in front of her.

We say hello and move around them. A minute later, out of earshot, I half turn to my wife and say, "Heights are relative."

My wife says, "Funny."

The trail is wide, dry, and sure-footed. But it's nothing but uphill; and it's generally steeper than either my wife or I anticipated. More than that, along various stretches there is not much, if any, breeze, so that at times it feels like we're hiking in the trunk of a car.

Still, up we go, passing guava and noni, hearing a white rumped shama, spotting a pair of Japanese white eyes and not-too-few bulbils. Then, fifteen or twenty minutes later, we see a shirtless man bounding zestfully down the grade. I say hi as he passes. This fellow, I speculate to my wife a few moments later, is the father of the family battling it out down the hill.

My wife, unimpressed with my deductive reasoning, responds with a dull "Yeah."

We press on and, finishing-off the switch backs, follow a directional sign and turn left on a padded path (the arrow actually points toward where we came from, intended more for the returning hiker). Within five minutes or so we are in sight of two picnic tables under a shelter. It has taken us a little under an hour to get this far from the trailhead and, as we sit at the tables and drink healthy gulps of water, I speculate that we are no more than halfway, if even that, to the summit.

But I was wrong.

After a five-minute break, we continue on, traipsing under big Cook pines, ironwoods, a few swamp mahoganies, and a banyan tree or two. We follow the arch of the trail and emerge into the sun among ohia and lama trees with mucho uluhe root-side. There is one grade with a gratuitous rope, and then we reach erosion-guard stairs. We climb, and just over thirty minutes after leaving the picnic tables, sooner than I had expected, arrive at the summit, where, of course, a sign says, "End of Kuliouou Ridge Trail." Below this sign is yet another sign, a yellow triangle with a black silhouette of a stick figure falling off a cliff (at least that's my wife's interpretation; I think it looks like two bears admiring the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel).

Clear, no summit clouds or overwhelming gusts of wind, we take a few pictures and then sit on the bare hill and dangle our legs and drink water and eat chips and salsa (a first for us, Mexican at the Koolau summit). Waimanalo crows and moos below and I look longingly at the ridge trail heading off Makapuu way. In the other direction, left, my wife spots a pink ribbon tied to a shrub on a dusty knob. What do things look like from over there? After lunch, we decide to find out. We take binoculars and camera and head left and down and across a section of the trail that should have (but doesn't have) a sign that says, "Whatever you do, don't fall here."

At the other end of this little stretch, stopping to soak in the view, my wife announces she has the heebie-jeebies. I know exactly what she means because I look over the ledge and get that light-headed falling sensation. I actually feel a little tug toward cliff side. But I shake it off and keep my mouth shut, only saying that it's best just to concentrate on the trail when walking and to only consider the view after you've positively stopped moving. I say this as much for myself as for my wife -- and then I ask if she wants to turn back. She responds that she'll continue for now, see how it goes. It goes OK, with one mildly tricky spot, relatively speaking, crumbly earth, no terrific handholds. We soon reach the pink ribbon and look left and right and up and down and snap a picture and then start back, again crossing safely through heebie-jeebie lane.

Back at the Kuliouou summit, my wife says, "Heights are relative."

I say, "Funny."

She says, absently, "Do you think anyone's ever fallen off the crest?"

I say, "Is the bear Catholic?"

We pack up and pound down the mountain, passing two pairs of other hikers on their way to the top. In a little over an hour (certainly the quickest hike to and from the Koolau summit we've been on), we sign out at the trailhead mailbox. We then stroll up the paved road, jump into the car, and, with me behind the wheel, roll toward home.