Chase Norton’s Koolau Summit 8 Day Thru Hike: Part 2 (Chapter 4 – Day 1 and 2)

This is Part 2 of Chase Norton’s Koolau Summit 8 Day Thru Hike Personal Recap, posted with his permission. Please be sure to read the warning at the bottom of this post before attempting such a hike. This 8 day journey is the result of years of preparation. Part 1 can be found here. 

Day 1 (03/25/12)

8 miles
7.5 hr

Total Pack Weight: 34.6125lb

It took me 7hrs from 9am-4pm the first time, 8 1/2 hrs the second time, and 7 the third time. Water is located at the falls windward of the camping area, but needs to be filtered because of the crap it is flows through (rusty metal and such). Be prepared for mud up to your knees when going down to the water hole. When it is raining, various small flows could allow collection of water instead of descending to the water hole. The cabin is still there, just try to get there before nightfall for the sunset. Remember the camp at Laie if ever needed.

  • Pupukea-Malaekahana 5-6hr
  • Malaekahana-Laie 30-1 hr
  • Laie-Kawailoa 30min-1hr

Camp at the leeward Kawailoa campground or in cabin.

Bail Malakahana, Laie.

I woke up around five in the morning too excited to sleep any longer and began working on the last couple of preparations. Took my last shower, ate my last big breakfast and drank my last latte for the next 8 days. As seems to happen with big events, my ride to the trailhead had troubles and thankfully Rasta was able to drive. He would park at the Laie ball field parking lot for his descent later in the day. I called a taxi to take us to the trailhead.

Koolau Summit Trail sign.

Everything went smoothly and we arrived at the trailhead around 9:00am ready to begin my second attempt at backpacking the entire summit of the Koolau mountains. The road walking went by quickly as Rasta and I caught up on each other’s lives and discussed plans for that day. Last time, we moved fairly slowly as Rasta did some much needed bushwhacking ahead of me. It had put me in Kawailoa around 5:30pm and him descending Laie trail well into the dark. We decided no bushwhacking this time and to make a point of moving fast. We hit the summit trail sign around 11am where pictures were had and pushed off for the club turnaround. After the turnaround the real hiking begins as the trail becomes significantly more overgrown.

Around this section an amazing feeling begins flooding my body when I mentally accept I will be backpacking in solitude for 8-9 days. It was a huge release of every worry and trouble back in my other non-hiking life and something that will keep me coming back.

I was really happy to see us reach the Malaekahana shortcut sign around 2:30 pm because I knew that Laie was only 2 hours away. I really wanted to make it to Kawailoa before sunset. It is just breathtaking up there. We put the hike speed into high gear and got to Laie around 4:15 pm with enough time to relax up in the foxhole and do some last minute chatting. Around 4:40 pm, Rasta wisely decided he needed to start descending and we said our farewells, “See you at Makapuu!” I yelled to him as he disappeared down the trail.

Chase Norton, Sunflower tattoo intact.

I am very grateful to him for driving and for his company while hiking. It is an amazing boost of morale and energy having a friend on trail to start this journey and I thank him for it. Watching him depart signified the true beginning of my trip as now I sat alone with nothing but the summit. I descended the foxhole and crossed over to Kawailoa in 20 minutes reaching the helipad and cabin by 5pm.

It really is an indescribable place when alone. Dropped all my gear in the cabin, put on my warmer clothes and grabbed my Kindle. The next 2 hours were spent sitting on the helipad overlooking the rolling ridges and convoluted terrain of the northern Koolau mountains and settling it for some reading while the sun moved slowly – then quickly – to set behind the Waianae mountains. Absolute peace.


As darkness began to set in I started dinner which involved heating spam to add to a split pea soup plus chocolate for dessert. I sat for a while in the metal box of a cabin listening to the sounds of the wind howling outside. A nightly chore involves laying out all my gear, packing what I can that night and planning the packing of the rest of the gear for the morning. This chore will become especially important as I moved into the nights without a cabin. Another chore was filling the next day’s drinking water containers from my 96oz Nalgene. I soon learned the importance of doing all preparation for the next day that night as it makes the morning go by stress and worry free. These chores would become routine and soon performed without really any thought as they had to occur. I formed a mental checklist of the tasks needed to be done before I felt that “Ah, lets read from my Kindle” feeling. With my sleep system set up I climbed into bed and turned on my iPhone for my nightly update to my ground crew. Within minutes of finishing the email I was fast asleep with dreams of the next day knee deep in mud.

Day 2 (03/26/12)

Kawailoa-Poamoho Cabin
6 miles
6.5 hr

Total Pack Weight: 28.2125lb

This is the section with the Poamoho Cabin! Water will be located at the stream near the Cabin and the catchment. The day begins almost immediately following an army made fence for ~15 minutes. There are often 6ft wide clear swaths. The ground is rocky and slippery care is required. The fence will end and the KST nature will return for another 20-30 minutes until coming upon the Kahuku/Koloa Cabin now being rebuilt. You will see the wood structure and supplies all over the site. Continue around it and then turn right to contour correctly. Remember the pig trail. The KST will continue as it does until you reach the Castle trail marked with a metal pole. Got here by 11:30am last time and had lunch. You will reach the cabin fairly early so an early lunch is a good idea. After Castle you will reach the fenced bog, KST signs and army built fences (do not take the steps over the fences unless an obvious path is on the other side or at the wide open windswept area you have to walk across.) When you reach the neon trail marker on the root you are within an hour of the Poamoho cabin. Reaching the metal sheet fence (Snail Jail), you can climb the small hill to look down on the cabin and Cline memorial. Off to the right you will see the two ponds and a waterfall in the back left of one. Climb back down and head to the Cline memorial. I always give it a big hug and head to the cabin. Once you arrive, open up all windows and doors to air the place out while sweeping up the rat poop. Remember the rat poop. Remember the valve at the water catchment near the tank itself needs to also be opened. Do not leave any food laying out especially after nightfall. Remember the trail down to the ponds past the first trail on the left.

  • Kawailoa-Kahuku Cabin 1hr 20min
  • Kahuku Cabin-Castle Trail 1hr 45min-2hr
  • Castle Trail-Peahinaia Trail 1hr 30min-2hr
  • Peahinaia Trail-Castle 1hr

Sleep in cabin unless taken then go to stream camp

Bail Castle, Poamoho

7:30am!!!!WAKE UP!!! YOUVE OVERSLEPT!!!!! Somehow, with all comforts provided by the cabin I had over slept by 45 minutes and was very grateful that I had done all the preparations the night before. Even with the late start I told myself to not stress and knew I could get to the Poamoho cabin way before sunset if I left by 8:30 am. Made myself coffee and enjoyed a quick breakfast before packing up and heading out. The morning was overcast and slightly chilly, but I had read the night before that weather should be good today so I expected things to improve. Up to and along the first fence it is wide open. It lasts only about 20 minutes and then shortly afterward the old Kahuku cabin was reached. Almost immediately, I started to hear the sound of a helicopter overhead. I looked to find the helicopter dropping people off at the Kawailoa cabin and proceeded to fly around for the next hour or so. Needless to say, I was glad to have gotten out of the cabin before anyone showed up. At the old Kahuku cabin there was really no work done on it since my last attempt, which I was sad to see. For some reason, I was hoping to see a fully built cabin but knew better.

Fence on the KST.

During a 3 night trip including this section I became horribly lost at this location. The reason being that as I walked around the cabin area I should have contoured right but instead continued straight ahead following a pig trail. This pig trail then led to an area the army has set up blue trail markers and rat poison. I mistook the blue trail markers as KST markers and searched for over an hour and a half until I finally discovered my mistake. Knowing the correct route now I contoured right and continued on my way. I reached castle by 11:45 am, which was only 15 minutes past my last attempt so I knew I was doing well on time.

At castle I enjoyed a spam wrap, veggie chips and some candy and was moving again by noon. Knowing the bog was coming up and then the fence I was getting excited. The bog came up quickly and I dropped down to the stream, which was flowing faster than I’d ever seen. The second fence appeared in the distance and knew there was easy going for the next hour or two. I really love certain areas of the fence section. From the notch you descend to walk out on top of a waterfall. It is just incredible and the views from the edge are unrivaled. The views of Kahana valley as you finally begin to turn right onto the rim are a must see for anyone. It is during this section that I finally get that glimpse of what is in store for the next 7 days. The entire mountain range is laid out in front of me. Importantly, this is finally when the convoluted terrain disappears and rim walking begins.

At the windswept area there is now a boot on the KST sign making it easier to see the cross for first timers – as long as the weather is good. In this case it was incredible 100% visibility weather. I will just say it now, the weather on this trip was unlike anything I have ever experienced up there. It felt like for the first time the summit welcomed my presence and allowed me to see its true beauty. The mud seemed worse this trip but it is always horrible so not really a huge difference.

By 3 pm I was coming upon the snail jail, which was now completely annihilated by the summit elements with sheets of metal laying everywhere. I found it somewhat satisfying to see the fragility of man-made structures against nature’s force. Last time, I ascended the small hill next to the jail and got an incredible view of the ponds, cabin and memorial. Wanting to get to the cabin and take care of chores I pressed on and reached the cabin by 3:30 pm to discover that a group of hunters had occupied it the night before – meaning? Clean floors!

Poamoho Cabin.
Poamoho Cabin.

I dropped all my gear and proceeded to do small cleaning of the cabin and aired it out. Checked on the water level of the catchment and it was practically full so I filled up my containers. Took off all my clothes and hung up everything with the hopes of drying it out. Normally, I wouldn’t bother but with clear skies I gave it a chance and turned out to work well. After Poamoho, the mud situation becomes significantly better and I wanted to try and go into it with dry gear. Also, I washed out my shoes and socks. I have learned from previous trips that the Kawailoa to Poamoho section is the worst at putting little objects in your shoes – which lead to blisters later on if untreated. Behind the cabin is a really nice spot that I enjoy meditating and relaxing at so I grabbed my Kindle and headed up there for the next couple of hours. It is cold up there as the hours get closer to nightfall, but it was much warmer this trip then the one in November. I was very grateful for that. Sitting there in the peaceful quiet I realized how much I want a home tucked away deep in the Koolau away from everything. For now, at least I have this amazing place.

As night set in, I went down and made dinner similar to the night before and climbed into bed with a full belly and sent out the nightly email. Throughout the night, I was woken by the little critters playing in the walls but for some reason I never mind them. As the winds and rain picked up I was grateful for the four walls and a roof I had over me.


Continue Reading Part 3 of Norton’s Koolau Summit 8 Day Thru Hike….

Read Part 1 | Part 2

Warning and Disclaimer: This trip has been put together from years of solo backpacking trips on the summit of the Koolau Mountains. I do not encourage anyone to repeat this hike as the dangers and risk level are very high. I am providing a very detailed account of my trip, but do not take it as a guide. Information on water locations, cabins, weather and trail conditions can all change in the blink of an eye. The gear list provided is what I have learned to work for me in the environment I enjoy backpacking in. As you will read, it has taken me years to learn how to get to a sub 10lb pack while maintain comfort, functionally and safety. This list represents a philosophy and mindset that one must understand in order to best use this gear. Also, most all the gear listed has been modified after purchase or been custom built for my needs. You must have a complete understanding of the hiking environment and conditions for which your gear will be used in. All times and miles are approximate and can vary wildly depending on conditions and skill level.

By Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

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