Gene Robinson and I have accomplished some pretty challenging backpacking trips together during the past few years (i.e. La'ie to Waimano in '98, Mauna Loa via the Ainapo Trail in '99). This past weekend (January 6, 7) the two of us got together to attempt another tough outing - an overnight stay on the Ko'olau summit at the terminus of the Waimalu middle ridge, followed the next day by a rollercoaster tramp along the Ko'olau crest, eventually dropping down into and exiting Moanalua Valley. Roger Breton also received an invitation, but he had a commitment on Saturday. Instead, Roger decided to meet us at the top of Aiea Ridge at noon on Sunday. The weather on both days? Almost completely clear skies and bright sunshine due to light winds until mid afternoon when thick clouds engulfed the Ko'olau summit.
Gene is a medical doctor and has two 8th grade children so he had some loose ends to take care of before we could commence the trek. As a result, the two of us didn't hit the trail (Waimalu Ditch - the first leg of our journey) until 11:15 a.m. Nevertheless, we made good time to the floor of Waimalu Valley via the ditch trail despite a hau tangle nuisance, arriving at the normal terminus of the HTM hike (elev. 657 ft) at 1:15 p.m.
After obtaining four liters of water from a nearby pool (the stream was not flowing, and Gene had never seen it so dry), I followed Dr. Robinson to the base of the middle ridge. Due to a lack of trade winds (steamy!), the initial steep climb through thick uluhe took quite a physical toll, every shady spot serving as an oasis. Fortunately, the ridge leveled off and the thick open uluhe section transitioned to forest, the home of a few native birds. Gene, an avid birder, paused frequently to listen to their calls and attempted to identify the species. Meanwhile, I spocked the surrounding flora. Farther ahead, we recognized dormant "Angel Falls" (a sheer rocky cliff on Waiau Ridge shaped like an angel), gained pleasure from the excellent view of Waimalu Valley stretched out before us toward Pearl Harbor, and enjoyed "the process of getting there", esp. over a particularly narrow stretch, as we continued the birder/botanical pace. Eventually, Gene and I commenced the final spectacular open grassy ascent to the summit, halting on atleast one occasion to gaze at a lovely copse of tall loulu palms to the left of the ridge. During the final climb, Gene sang a line from the movie "Sound of Music"..."The hills are alive with the sound of music!"and proclaimed the section "The Ramp to Heaven".
At 5:21 p.m. the two of us reached the Ko'olau summit (elev. 2,570 ft) in the fog and immediately began erecting our canvas coverings on the broad essentially tree-less peak, Dr. Robinson his four season tent and myself a slumberjack bivy (we decided against an exploratory jaunt down windward facing Kalahaku Ridge because of the fog and a shortage of daylight). Once our tents were pitched, Gene and I put on warm clothes, ate dinner and relaxed near the campsite. When darkess set in, a rare break in the mist revealed the nearly full moon high in the eastern sky and the Pearl City/Aiea city lights far below in the distance to leeward. A gentle breeze also existed in stark contrast to the gusty trades that normally pound the region.
Anticipating an arduous day of hiking along the summit ridge, Gene retired for the evening inside his humble abode around 8 p.m., and I entered my temporary shelter half an hour later upon giving up hope that the clouds would significantly dissipate.
== Sunday, January 7 "The Long Haul to Moanalua Valley"
A few minutes prior to 6 a.m. I emerged from my slumberjack bivy to a dark, chilly morning (57 degrees fahrenheit) but was amazed at the wonderful sights. At long last, the fog had lifted revealing windward suburban/city lights from Kahalu'u to Waimanalo, and to leeward, the lights of Salt Lake, Aiea, Pearl City, Waipi'o and Mililani/Wahiawa. The heavens were filled with many stars/constellations, including Leo almost directly overhead, the Big Dipper, the North Star, Hokulea, Spica, the Southern Cross and Gemini. I encouraged Gene to come out of his tent and soon he joined me in star gazing mode. As the glow of the golden hue of the rising sun filled the eastern horizon above Moloka'i and Lana'i, the silhouette of the Aiea Ridge terminus appeared to the south. Then we witnessed a gorgeous sunrise, and while the sun moved higher and higher above the horizon, its rays reflected beautifully off the surface of the Pacific Ocean and illuminated the impressive sheer fluted cliffs in back of Waihe'e Valley, as well as Mount Ohulehule and Pu'u Kanehoalani.
At 7:46 a.m. packed and psyched, Gene began the traverse to Aiea Ridge along the Ko'olau crest. I had spent too much time delighting in the marvelous panorama and required an additional half hour to get my act together. Nevertheless, I departed the peak at 8:20 a.m. bound for a rendezvous with Roger Breton.
Regarding Ko'olau summit trekking, every step usually finds terra firma under a mask of uluhe but stumbling or slipping is fairly common. Because the leeward side of the ridge tends to be choked with vegetation, travel is easiest on the extreme windward edge. However, it is similar to walking on a tight rope, one wrong step, esp. if burdened with a 45 pound pack, can send the hiker over the windward pali to a potentially catastrophic injury or even death!
It didn't take long for me to catch and pass Gene, and following the first serious climb to the top of the next prominent pu'u, I had to wait for my hiking partner (not a good sign). After a couple more significant ups and downs, Gene confessed that his legs just weren't in shape for the rigors of summit travel (he would bail down Aiea Ridge). Although steamy conditions prevailed and the journey proved laborious, the two of us enjoyed looking down on lines of loulu palms clinging to the sheer windward pali and the fluted cliffs/precipitous ridges to windward. Furthermore, the presence of native plants, such as lapalapa trees, bolstered our spirits.
Once Aiea Ridge came into view, I spotted Roger completing the final stretch to the summit. When he turned toward me, I signaled him with my mirror. Unexpectedly, Breton interpreted my act as a gesture of distress and descended along the Ko'olau crest, closing the gap between himself and Gene and I. Later, when I realized what Roger was doing, I yelled for him to stop, which he did. Dr. Robinson and I got together one last time and agreed to keep in touch via walkie-talkies. While Gene rested, I proceeded south along the summit and rendezvoused with Breton. I radioed Gene that a bottle of gatorade and Roger's truck keys lay in a clearing where he could find them. Suddenly, Dayle Turner chimed in on the radio, and he and Gene spoke briefly to each other.
Pressing on, Breton and I accomplished the tough climb to the Aiea Ridge terminus (elev. 2,805 ft) at 12:45 p.m. then took a much needed water break. Roger provided a 20 oz. Dr. Pepper to quench my thirst, and I also consumed the contents of a 12 oz. can of Dr. P! Talk about a sugar/caffine jolt! :-)
Leaving Aiea Ridge behind, Roger and I continued on the Ko'olau crest toward the Haiku Valley overlook between 1/1:15 p.m. During the cross over, the two of us recognized a tour helicopter parked on one of the concrete platforms once used by the Coast Guard to secure the former Omega Station wires, but the chopper flew away before we reached it. Upon arriving at the overlook at 2:43 p.m., I radioed Dayle and found out that he and his Red Hill Ridge gang (masochists?) were reclining at the Moanalua Valley saddle. En route to the Halawa Ridge Trail terminus, Breton twisted his ankle and doubled over due to heat exhaustion. As if right on cue, a thick cooling mist engulfed the Ko'olau crest, allowing Roger to partially recover. Nevertheless, Breton stripped off his shirt and hiked ala "Big" John Darrah style despite the scratches he knew he would suffer.
We reached the Halawa Ridge Trail terminus, but did not pause for a breather/rehydration. From Halawa Ridge, Roger and I ascended to the Ko'olau summit/Red Hill Ridge junction, successfully negotiated the Henry Davis rope sections, and used the steep eroded swath created by the Red Hill Ridge masochists to drop down to the Moanalua Valley saddle. Upon tramping through Thomas Yoza's superb clearing job, Roger and I attained the normal terminus of the Moanalua Valley Trail (elev. 1,680 ft) at approx. 5 p.m. I immediately contacted Dayle (now residing at the Moanalua Valley Park with those remaining from the trail clearing effort) via walkie-talkie that Breton and myself were at the saddle safe and sound.
After gazing at the sheer fluted cliffs of Haiku Valley for a short duration, Roger and I commenced the final leg of the day - a 5.5 mile stroll by way of the well cleared valley trail and long dirt/gravel road. Prior to exiting the valley, night fell but the pale moon light of the nearly full moon illuminated the thoroughfare nicely.
At 7:07 p.m. the two of us emerged from the woods onto Ala Aolani Street where our vehicles were parked (Gene had dropped off Roger's truck subsequent to reaching the Aiea Loop trailhead at the top of Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area), and bid each other "Aloha".