Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wiliwilinui to Lanipo -- by LastKoho

From the Oahu Hiking Enthusiasts archives
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2001 19:59:07 -1000
From: LastKoho (
Subject: A Walk on the Spinal Side

The plan hatches when Mrs. Koho reads about a recent Sierra Club hike from Wiliwilinui to Lanipo. We decide to follow suit. That is, we'll hike to the end of the Wiliwilinui trail, turn left, hike on the Koolau crest to the end of the Lanipo trail and turn left again and trek back to civilization. We hope the path, given that it's only been a few weeks since the Sierra Club outing, will not be too badly overgrown or too treacherous on this, our first, Koolau summit jaunt.

And so it is that we find ourselves in separate cars heading up Sierra Drive to Mauanalani Heights, parking one vehicle at the Lanipo trailhead. Together, we then coast back down Sierra Drive and ultimately up into Waialae Iki where we park at the Wiliwilinui trailhead after obtaining a permit at a guard shack. It's mid-morning, a weekend, and, slinging on our packs, I note that quite a few other cars are already in the lot.

I say, "Hope there's not a lot of people up there."

My wife says, "Just expect it."

We walk on a sure-footed road past acacia confusa, guava, ironwoods, and a water tank. Farther up, curving left behind a hump there is dueling plant-life: non-native versus native. On the right there's botanically unpopular guava fringed with evil clidemia; on the left there's koa and ie'ie.

"Nice dichotomy," I say, waving my arm dramatically.

My wife says, "Yeah."

At the end of the wide road but not at the end of the Wiliwilinui hike, we reach yellow boot brushes under a brown sign that asks hikers to wipe their shoes so that they don't carry the seeds of pest plants -- like, no doubt, guava and clidemia -- farther on. We run our boots over the brushes and then walk up a hill and by a set of utility poles and on to another set of utility poles where we stop for a break as we watch a long line of hikers climb steeply to the radio relay station, gateway to the Wiliwilinui summit. We are in no hurry to join the hordes, so we drink some water before pushing up the dry and eroded mountain and past a bevy of boy scouts who have suddenly appeared, heading down, this a different crowd from the one we had seen going up. One of the scout leaders, a bit of a wiseacre, tells us that at least twenty people are currently on the summit lookout.

"Have fun," he says.

Hot and tired, we eventually reach the relay station and look toward the summit just ahead and see that the scout leader was not exaggerating: it's more crowded than Starbucks on Ward Avenue. So we sit exactly where we are, eat some cream crackers, look at the cigarette butts littered around the building, and, through the arches of utility wires curving over the valley, survey a slice of the Koolau spine heading west. While I can't make out the width of the crest or how overgrown it might be, the grade up to a set of six utility poles looks not too severe. After the six poles, however, there's a sharp rise. I say out loud, "I don't know how we are going to go up that."

My wife says, "What?"

I point and trace the route to the steep section. "See over there? Looks tough." I pause, shuffle my feet and add, "Of course you never know what it's like until you're there."

I turn back to Starbucks on the Hill. A fellow is violently thrashing a tree, essentially doing his best to uproot the thing. I figure that it is a guava and that he is shaking and pulling it down in the name of pest control. I wonder, however, if he plans to pull down all guavas on the island with his bare hands.

After twenty minutes, the crowd still occupying the lookout, we climb up and wade into the masses, -- spotting the brown and yellow "End of Wiliwilinui Trail" sign and seeing that the emasculated tree is indeed a guava -- then excusing ourselves two or three times as we baby-step through and exit left, descending carefully on the summit path, which is narrow with a seriously steep drop windward.

But it's not all that bad, not all that bad because there's also a wall of vegetation up to my knees -- at spots a little higher, at spots a little lower -- that provides a certain amount of security. And opposite, on the lee side, the drop off is generally not so steep in pitch and the ground is thick in uluhe and ie'ie and clidemia, plant life that, I calculate, will slow down, if not halt, a falling body.

About halfway down the slope from the Wiliwilinui lookout we stop and look and it becomes immediately apparent why someone might want to venture out to the crest: Not necessarily for the scare or the dare or the brag -- but for the view. Tremendous. Unspeakable. Some other modifier that would make sense coming in the wake of the previous adjective. It's a rare feeling, floating free-style over the island, the greenery clinging onto the near perpendicular pali and -- makai to the right, makai to the left -- the tropical blue ocean framing tiny, silly, and insignificant civilization within.

I say to Mrs. Koho: "Wow."

She responds: "Calm down, Last."

I now turn and scan the summit lookout -- empty -- and then look right and see a line of hikers marching down and by the relay station.

On the crest we walk to a saddle and then start back up, passing two clusters of lapalapa trees (three to a cluster in this instance) and six utility poles and then, not too much farther, I stop dead in my tracks. Ahead and above is the portion of the ridge I had viewed earlier. Up close it looks the same as it had from a distance: steep, overgrown, and narrow. I wonder if it's really something I want to climb and, too, if this represents what the remainder of the hike will be like. One other thing, there is a mildly tricky spot -- a windward step-around -- that initiates this sharp-angled segment.

I turn to my wife and point out the obvious. "You see this?"

She interpolates. "It looks scary."

I reiterate. "No kidding. It does look scary."

I examine the trail and, confidant that I can ascend farther and, too, if need be, descend back, I lean into the cliff and hoist myself safely up and beyond the tricky spot. With the aid of some clidemia, I then continue up a bit more, wiggling into a snug place and sitting. I look back down at my wife who has, in the meantime, moved forward and is now face-to-face with the same little step-around obstacle. Behind and below her is nothing but air.

She says, "I can't move."

I say, "You can't move?"

She says, "No, I'm frozen."

It's a rather common scenario -- frozen hiker syndrome -- and one that I dread for myself or anyone else, including my wife -- my wife who is, at least for the moment, wide-eyed and paralyzed.
I say, "OK, relax. Not a problem." She half-nods. I explain that if she wants to head back, now would probably be the time, no need to come up. I simultaneously consider just how to negotiate the death step on the way down since I expect her to say, "Yes, let's call it off."

But she doesn't say that. She doesn't say anything -- she just looks at me.

I start to speak: "Just---"

"What's it like above you?"

I turn and look and then give her the straight dope: It's steep, there's a lot of brush obscuring the trail so I have no idea what's afoot, and I can't see the top.

The wind comes up, gusting pretty hard, and now she says, "I don't know about this."

"OK, then, that's--"

"I don't want to go back." She points. "What's up there?"

I pause, caught off guard, somewhat happy that she wants to carry on but now adjusting to the task at hand, namely, me climbing into the unknown rather than her falling into the abyss. I say, "Hang on," and take a deep breath and turn and head up, clinging tightly onto clidemia with one hand, -- lovely, remarkable, beautiful clidemia -- and keeping the other hand on or near the ground, hunched over in my own little cocoon of uluhe and ie'ie before soon discovering that a few makeshift steps -- lovely, remarkable, beautiful makeshift steps -- have been cut into the cliff. I report the good news to my wife and next thing, just like that, she climbs past the point of almost-no return (maybe it isn't an incredibly tough spot as much as it is unforgiving -- long way down -- and made more imposing by the steep ridge above). I shout out something vague in as peppy a tone as I can muster, something like, "All right," and then turn back to the incline. We inch our way carefully up, without incident, to the top of the puu where we stop and catch our breaths.

And soon enough we continue on, descending ewa and finding that the trail is again OK, sometimes steep and almost always narrow, yes, requiring a certain amount of concentration to safely cross, yes, but not so terrible that we can't stop and take a picture or two and stare in wonder up and down and left and right amid the fanned ridges.

Negotiating our third summit smile -- the irregular curve between knolls -- we are joined by a red-vented bulbul that's snacking on the orange fruit of the ie'ie, the bird fluttering away as we approach and thereby loosely foreshadowing the hiker who we now see descending from ahead. She's alone, wearing shorts, no gaiters, a t-shirt, just a small fanny-pack. Meeting up, we say hello and learn that she's already come up Lanipo and is now heading over to Wiliwilinui.

She looks down at our gaiters and says, "I wish I had worn long pants."

I look at her cut, red-streaked legs and say, "Yeah, well, I can see that."

Soon enough, wishing her luck, we part company. And not too much later, ascending and descending, we finally reach the grassy area at the end of the Mauumae Trail. We are more than mildly pleased to have made the crossover. I'm not in the least bit hungry but we break out lunch (3-minute eggs with salt and pepper, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, oranges, trail mix) and continue to drink in the views for nearly forty-five minutes. And then we pack up and head down the mountain.

We've trekked Lanipo (Mauumae ridge) a couple of times previously and the trail is no less enjoyable than before, starting with the stern descent from the summit lookout and on to the semi-serious ups and downs through a mostly native forest of koa and ohia. We're not in any hurry and we stop and sit and I peer through binoculars across the Palolo Valley at the Kaau Crater and the water cascading down the cliff.

My wife says, "See any pigs over there?"

I say, "Nope."

Afterward, standing and moving again, we walk through my favorite part of the Lanipo hike as the hills round off and the forest folds in and embraces. On the kokohead side, below, large patches of green -- koa and ohia foliage -- sway in the wind and host a fair amount of birds that we clearly hear chirping away, including an unseen apapane's throaty hee-hee-hee. Soon the area becomes a little drier and the flora becomes a little more mixed: a koa tree and a strawberry guava tree, a lama tree and a eucalyptus tree, some clidemia (lovely, remarkable, beautiful clidemia) and some ie'ie.

We eventually reach a large knob that sports three Cook pines -- a Lanipo landmark, one my wife noted from the crest. We sit for a little while and drink water and then, packs again slung on, move down the path and spot an artful arrangement of naupaka and pukiawe, an occasional ilima blossom -- dust now kicking up -- more and more guava trees, stick-like vervains with their little purple flowers, my wife falling, more pukiawe, she's all right, ulei, no broken bones and she eventually gets up and moves along as we pass a telephone pole and I now trip and almost bite the dust.

We're tired.

But in time we are climbing up boulders and, afterward, strolling by an autograph tree and through a grove of ironwoods and then walking along a narrow, fenced corridor running between a big house and a big water tank. A minute later, we arrive at the trailhead and sit and relax in the shade of our car. We drink a little more water, change out of our boots, then drive back down to H1 and over and up to the Wiliwilinui trailhead. I get out of one car and get into another, and, finally, respectively, we roll toward home.