Chase Norton’s Koolau Summit 8 Day Thru Hike: Part 3 (Chapter 4 – Day 3, 4 and 5)

This is Part 3 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 and Part 2 can be found here.

Day 3 (03/27/12)

Poamoho-Kipapa Sugi Pines
5 miles
5 hr

Total Pack Weight: 30.6125 lb.

Enjoy today! This is one of the quicker days so I would suggest the trip’s only warm breakfast. Enjoy yourself and make sure you refill all water containers. Leave by 9 a.m. after cleaning up, signing the log, and boarding the place up. I did not find any water after the cabin to Kipapa. If you find it, take it. You will arrive at the Pauao terminus within 30 minutes of leaving the cabin. Enjoy the beauty around you! This is the most enjoyable section of the KST. Around you is Kahana Valley. The S/W junction comes too soon as you know a long leeward stretch is coming up from Waikane to Waiahole Uka. Don’t forget to look for the pink ribbon rusty pole on the right. If you ever look up and see a contour, turn around and find the junction. Remember the set up on the side ridge to the right. Reach sugi pines and decide if want to continue 20 minutes up the landslide to reach true Kipapa terminus. Ascend landslide and look below you on the right for the contour. Supposedly, one can turn down Kipapa trail and campsite ~45min down near a possible waterfall. I tried this and found the overgrowth on Kipapa to be too much of a deterrent. I see this as a waste of 1hr 30min. Remember last camp spot sucked but the new one is amazing  it is located about 5 minutes before the summit right off the trail on the right.

To Pauao.
  • Poamoho-S/W 2hr 1/2min-3hr
  • S/W-Waikane junction 30min
  • Waikane – Kaaumakua 30min
  • Kaaumakua-Waiahole Uka 2hr 15min-3 hr
  • Waiahole Uka-Sugi Pines 15min
  • Sugi Pines to Kipapa Trail Terminus 20min

Camp near wind protected Sugi Pines, at old cabin structure or off Kipapa trail.

Bail S/W, Waikane, Waiahole Uka

Woke up early today around 6 am to the sound of rain tapping away on the roof of the cabin. I rolled off the top bunk with an enthusiasm for the start of a great day. This day is hands down my favorite section of the entire trip with the long stretches of windward contouring. On one side is a tall carved out wall in the mountain and on the other is the vast expanse of the hiker playground known as Kahana valley. I was eager to get on the trail but knew that I did not want to arrive at Kipapa too early. So a warm breakfast and cup of coffee were enjoyed watching the rising sun. A very soothing morning as the rain began to settle down, the birds came out chirping and the sun began to show itself above the horizon. This place is and hopefully will always be a place I enjoy to come and find the peace and calm lacking in other areas of my life. It is amazing to live in a cabin with no electricity and disconnected from society as every problem fades and activities are planned around the rising and setting of the sun. I question if we really are progressing as society and the praises of certain innovations. With my soul in check, I packed and cleaned up, signed the log and said my good byes as I hit the trail by 8:30am.

The trail seemed almost magical as clouds were covering most of the sun and the smell of wet tropical plant life was all around me. Pauao came up quickly and I took notice of the well cleared trail that wasn’t there a little over a year ago. It is amazing what some of these hiking groups can create. Along the Pauao to Waikane section, little tiny waterfalls were flowing down the wall making perfect natural water fountains and keeping me well hydrated not to mention smiling. Looking down into the valleys every stream bed was full and it seemed as though water was in plenty. It was not raining during my hiking hours but I questioned how long that luck would last. Some of these sections of carved out windward trail really are just breath taking and make for quick and easy going. At times I would just sit down; legs hanging over the edge, lay back and take in my surroundings knowing where I can find true happiness.

In the far distance I can see the Waikane trail contour and as I get closer I begin to do random checks by looking up for any trail. It is easy to bypass the rusty ribboned pole to mistakenly continue down the Waikane trail. I’ve had to learn from my own errors that if I look up and see another trail, backtracking is needed until the pole is found. Thankfully, this trip I was cautious enough to find the pole and made the turn to contour high and continue along the KST to the lookout about 5 minutes up trail.

The trail at this point changes dramatically to leeward overgrown contouring and wraps up the final segment of the KST. Most hikers go between S/W and Poamoho, but few venture on to Kipapa. Over the years this has resulted in this section being lost to the vegetation. I joined a group that opened up a good portion of it during our Waiahole uka to Waikane hike, but many sections were left overgrown. Pat and Rainbow man had come through and opened up the remaining sections a few months after our trip which allowed for the entire Waikane to Kipapa segment to be done with a backpack. Hiking through it now is somewhat of a grind, but much more enjoyable than in the past. As I stated in my email to folks that night, “Waikane to Kipapa is good initially then gets bad then gets worse then gets ok.” The main area to watch out for is the switchbacks, but someone has placed very nice ribbons to mark the turns so keep ones eye open. The day seemed to be flying by as it was only noon at this point and I knew I was coming up on Kipapa within the next couple of hours. I passed the weather station on the leeward ridge. I’ve always wanted to descend down to get a closer look but knew it would have to wait for another time. The switchbacks arrived along with the views of Kipapa trail in the distance and Sugi pines. I’ve been told that camping can be had at the Sugi Pines, but after much searching, the terrain is simply not flat enough for my liking. I figure they meant it is a good emergency camping area as the Pines and terrain block most wind and rain. Next to the pines are the old remains of the Kipapa cabin with rusty metal spread out all over the ground. Thoughts of camping at the flat old cabin spot went through my head but I knew that I was not at the true Kipapa trail terminus and a large landslide was about 10 minutes ahead on the trail that had to be negotiated. Continuing on I did some of the last contouring before reaching the large landslide.

In the past, I’ve climbed the landslide briefly, contoured right slightly and then climbed near vertical vegetation to summit right near the Kipapa terminus. With so much time left in the day (it was 1:15pm!) I was determined to find the correct way around this obstacle. I noticed some pink ribbons descending down from the landslide and seemed to be following a dry stream bed. I followed the pink ribbons down until the descent became steeper with some drops requiring climbing. After my 20 minute time limit had passed, I knew this could not be the correct way and decided that even if it were I would rather climb steeply up a route I’ve done then descend down dry waterfall chutes into the unknown. Climbing back up to the landslide I proceeded and contoured slightly right as I had done in the past. Then I looked down and noticed a faint line about 20 ft below me and decided to give it a shot. BINGO! Found the correct contour trail that intersects the Kipapa trail very near to the summit. I was ecstatic!

It was now 2:00 pm and somehow I had arrived 2 hours earlier than my last attempt. To go forward would mean a deviation from my plan. When each days water is already determined based on location, deviation can become a problem. So I decided to find camp and enjoy myself. This is supposed to be fun, right? According to old reports of previous attempts by Pat and Gene there was a nice camp spot down the Kipapa trail about 45 minutes. Off I went to discover the condition of the trail and see what I could find.

The trail from the summit down is in really nice condition for approximately 25 minutes and gave me good hope of getting to the camp site early. However, soon the vegetation began closing in and the conditions worsened. After about 45 minutes I could see no visible camp spot nor trail and decided to listen to my gut and head back to the summit. I really did not want to stay at the spot I camped at last time, but I still had hope of finding a different spot with a lot of time left in the day. As I came upon the intersection of the Kipapa and KST I noticed a little hump to my right. Two minutes of heavy vegetation walking got me to the top of a little gem of a site. Set back from the summit enough to block all wind but high enough for incredible 360 views and a large flat open spot big enough for my shelter. It was probably my favorite camp site of the entire trip and one I will return to many more times in the future – I hope.

I set up my shelter and sleep system then did my preparations for the following day. With so much time left in the day I went exploring off a side ridge from Kipapa and revisited my old camping area at the summit behind a mound. What was I thinking! Holes everywhere on slanted terrain and a nice drop off. Chase Chase Chase.

Day 3 Completed.

Around 4:15 I got out my Kindle and sat down next to my shelter to read. As time went on and I had not moved for a while, summit life started to come back around me and before I knew it the birds were chatting up a storm, insects were flying around, and bugs were crawling all over me. I loved it.

As the evening started rolling in I got my warmer clothes on and set out to make dinner of hot spam. Sitting in complete isolation on a spot just big enough for me, eating a warm dinner I had made, drinking water I had collected, and watching the setting sun turn the sky amazing shades of pink and purple – this will be a memory that sticks with me forever. My sleep cycle seemed to quickly change on this trip to the rising and setting of the sun with a late night being 8:30 pm and a late morning being 7:30 am. With the sun setting, I climbed into my bivy, read and responded to emails and then laid still with the sounds of nature drifting me off into a wonderful dream.

Day 4 (03/28/12)

10 hr
5.5 miles

Total Pack Weight: 28.6125 lb.

If moving fast one can reach Waimano by 2pm. Leave Kipapa as early as possible. Ups and Downs, Ups and Downs. Hopefully, it will be clear skies to motivate you. Remember at the gap to descend right for water. Also, bring your pack because the side ridge gives better access to gain the summit ridge. The gap to the corner involves the use of side ridges or annoying moss climbing and with a heavy pack I suggest the right side ridges. There was water down where I camped that time. From the corner turn right and head to the Manana terminus which feels longer than it takes. Relax, snack, chill at the terminus, you have about 1 1/2 – 2 hrs ahead of you to get to Waimano. You will know when you are getting close, namely because you start to see it in the distance. It is the flat section before the first major ascent. The last section to Waimano always makes me feel like the Konahuanui to Olympus stretch, not sure why.

  • Kipapa-Ravine 30 min-1hr
  • Ravine-Metal pipe (Possible camp for Day 3) 30 min
  • Metal pipe – Waiawa Gap 1hr- 1hr 30min
  • Waiawa Gap-Corner 3hr
  • Corner to Manana Terminus 30min
  • Manana-Waimano 2hr-2hr 30 min

Determine wind strength and if is mild, camp at a lower point at the Waimano terminus. If the wind is strong, high camp back on Waimano trail ~2 minutes.

Bail Manana, Waimano

Woke up around 6:45 am from a great night of sleep that involved very light winds and zero rain. I have been averaging 10 hours of sleep every night and it feels amazing on my body. I would had thought by now that my body would be fighting me, but every aspect of this trip so far seemed to be working with me and encouraging a safe and happy trip.

With smiles on my face I made up a warm cup of coffee and enjoyed my breakfast again to the rising sun. I prepared myself for the hike of that day as in the past it had put serious strain on my body and mind. With my pack, belly and mind ready I stepped off of the KST and onto the Koolau summit towards Waimano at 8 am. Off of the KST, the trail disappears requiring one to wade through leg high vegetation up and down every peak. I knew my first goal was to hit the Waiawa Gap where I should find water and where lunch was planned. The weather was perfect. Not too hot nor too cold, not too wet nor too dry. I had never seen the summit so clear and it made the going very smooth.

Day 4 face.
End of Manana Ridge Trail.

Since I’ve done this section many times in the past I was expecting a 2-3 hour descent to the gap and was shocked when I reached it by 9:45 am!! I credit this to the weather, proper footwear and now a clear (to me) swath. It seems every time I come up here swaths are getting better which is motivating as it lets me know these sections are getting more use. Even a year ago there were zero swaths or signs of any activity. Also, it seems that people are creating leeward contours on some thin ridge portions and these contours are getting use! Gotta love what a small group of people can do. Not hungry at all, I dropped down the lee side of the gap and reached my water source. All water was stagnate and had dead bugs floating around in it but you do what you have to do and I collected 3 liters from various small puddles then filtered through my bandana and dropped the tablets.

Climbing out of the gap involves three major peaks and can be very taxing under wet and muddy conditions. I was fortunate for the dry and sunny conditions. Under any conditions, the climb out of the gap is easiest for me: side ridge, main ridge, side ridge. This bypasses the steep mossy sections that will pointlessly drain energy. Just had to remember to contour windward early to connect back up with the main ridge. Before I knew it, I was looking down on the three challenges and straight ahead at the Corner. I laid down and relaxed with clear skies overhead knowing that the worst of the day was behind me and it wasn’t even 11am yet!

About this time a helicopter came by and I had to do that awkward non-action that means,I can’t wave or look at you because I don’t want you to think I need help. The moment passed and I pressed onwards to the beautiful wind swept Corner. Reached it by noon and now was playing a game with myself to see how quickly I could get to Waimano as I had never moved this fast, this smoothly and with this big of a smile across my face. I reached Manana by 12:25pm and took a short five minute break before pressing on to Waimano. The trail to Waimano is wide open these days and after being on non-trails, this might as well have been paved. To Eleao is quick and the windswept area of it is absolutely beautiful. I always loved that name Eleao for some reason.

In the past it has been easy to descend the wrong ridge at this point when socked in but with clear skies and knowledge of the area it made the descent heading towards Waimano easy to find. I felt like I was running to Waimano and could point out the terminus making going even faster. I made it a mission to arrive by 2 pm and would dance around with joy. Then before I knew it after a few ups and downs I arrived at the last uphill contour and knew I had reached it. On the last attempt, I had two friends meet me at Waimano, camped out and crossed over to Aiea with me. The morale boost that was provided allowed me to continue on that trip. This time my morale boast came from the ridiculous time I was making, the beautiful weather I was experiencing and the natural high I was getting from it all.

At 1:58pm I tagged the trail sign and let out a huge yell. I considered moving on to Waimalu middle where there was a camp site I had stayed at on a previous overnighter but the camp at Waimano is really nice. I’ve learned how important a good night’s sleep is on every aspect of the trail and some of my camp decisions were based on this key point. Waimalu middle summit is about 2 hours from Waimano so I told myself just make it an early night and early morning which a good night of sleep would allow.

Living quarters at end of Waimano Ridge trail.

I love the terminus of Waimano where 6 inches means the difference of wind that could blow you down and slight wind that eases you into sleep. Did my normal evening camp chores (at 2pm!) and went exploring down the small valley behind the camp site until overgrowth got more annoying than fun and headed back up to the camp to get my Kindle. Finding a spot to read was not too difficult at that camp site especially on a day like that.

I have been saying in my emails to some people how this trip is the first time I feel like the summit wants me to be here and that it feels more like fun than work. From previous experiences, I’e equated this section with misery and struggle. To find myself with 3+ hrs of spare relaxation time boggles my mind to this day. The open time was therapeutic, allowing my soul and mind to focus on the tasks ahead of me instead of the continually feeling of minute to minute survival.

As the sun began to set I put on my evening clothes, made dinner and got ready for the next day’s hike. I was getting into my book and for the first time stayed awake long enough to see the moon come out. It seemed to light up my entire surroundings. If Kipapa was my favorite night, this had to be my second. I took down my tarp and laid under the light of the moon in my bivy. Looking up into the stars trying to find the constellations kept me mesmerized until I fell into a deep sleep.

Day 5 (03/29/12)

Waimano – N. Haiku
8.5 hrs
5.3 miles

Total Pack Weight: 26.6125 lb.

Get up early regardless. If you move fast enough you can reach N. Haiku Stairs. At the end of the day the feeling of how far we have truly gone will start to kick in. Water source at Waimalu Middle. There is camping at both Aiea and N. Haiku. If arrive at Aiea past 3:30 then camp there. I prefer under the power lines due to wind blockage. If the winds are gentle enough, the summit offers amazing camping and sunsets/rises. It will result in a push the next day from Aiea to South Haiku stairs and on to Bowman.

  • Waimano – Waimalu Middle 2hr-2hr 30min
  • Waimalu Middle – Aiea 4hr-4hr 30min
  • Aiea to Hidden Haiku 2 hr

Camp near in building to block wind

Bail Waimalu Middle, Aiea

Pulling myself out of a deep sleep I woke up to clear skies and calm winds. This was the first comfortable and planned night sleeping without a tarp in just a bivy and I loved every minute of it. I felt very rested and ready to take on the day ahead of me. This section would involve a steep climb immediately and continual ups and downs until reaching Aiea and if not prepared can be similar to the previous day.

I did morning chores, made breakfast and hit the trail by 7:30 expecting a 3pm arrival in Aiea based on last experiences. Climbed out of the Waimano and passed the old remains of a hiker who spent the night unplanned out on the trail. Broken headlamp, water bottles and emergency blanket have all been here for over a year. So sad as whoever stayed at this spot was very close to the Waimano trail. Pressed on up and over two more peaks and towards Waimalu middle. Reached it by 8:30! Then dropped down to the wind swept area where there is a puddle I have collected water at in the past and seems to be fairly constant. After collecting and tableting, I crossed over to the side ridge that makes ascent easier and summited by 9 am.

Day 5 face.

Not a single cloud in the sky gave me views unlike any other time I’ve been up there. I could look out and see the power lines of Aiea in the distance. Anytime you can see your destination the going is somehow easier. Sat up there for some time before making the descent from Waimalu middle heading towards Aiea. The descent has some thin regions and I dropped down in elevation fairly quickly. I think the descent is easier on the body then ascending it. To be honest, this whole section just flew by without much thought.

I lifted my head and staring me in the face were the Aiea power lines. Without stopping I kept climbing until I laid upon the wide flat region of Aiea summit where I had camped at in November. Looking aver 3 hours. Unpacked and sat down to clear skies and a spam hot mustard wrap for lunch. I could look back on Kahana valley and see the route I came from and the route I would be going. Ahead of me were the saddles, challenges that I’d been trying to not think about to allow for good sleep and calm nerves. I decided that noon was far too soon to set up camp and while I absolutely love the camp at Aiea summit I knew I could find good camp in the N. Haiku shack or possibly descend half of the Moanalua saddle and camp by the creek.


Packed back up, said my good byes and continued on around 12:20 pm. There are two climbs one must do between Aiea and the N. Haiku shack and then a major descent next to a land slide. These were all negotiated and I appeared in the shack doorway by 1 pm! This is where I made one of a few mistakes of the trek. Hard to look back on a successful trip and find mistakes but this is one. I decided to wait and spend the night in the shack instead of pushing on to descend half of the saddle to creek camping. Next time, creek camping will be had!

I arrived at the shack and dropped my gear off. First thing was to make sure I could sleep here. Had to brush the rusty metal into one corner. Moved a concrete block over a hole where possible rodents seemed to be entering from. Cleared the millions of spiders that have come to call the shack home. Set up my sleep system and tied out guy lines to make an almost torture looking device (which I would find later it was). After making it livable, I tried to find good spots for relaxing and immediately started to notice my problem. No where to sit that was sheltered from the elements and did not have rust every where. Finally I found a spot on the steps in front of the shack and brought my sitting pad over to it with my Kindle. Unable to focus because of how early it was I looked at the cloud free S. Haiku and the saddle for probably around two hours playing a mind game of continuing onwards but deciding I would tackle each saddle on a fresh night of sleep and I wanted to sort through all my gear and discard every bit of unnecessary item.

Day 5 completed and Skittles?

North of the shack in a small valley is what looks like the remains of a crashed plane. I stared at it for a while and sent some messages to people I thought might know of it but no one had any information. It is clearly unnatural and unlike anything I’ve seen before. I still have no information on it but will do a scouting mission to see if I can get over there. It looked like one could contour to it.

I shuffled around camp as the saddle sat under perfect weather laughing at me and I felt very restless. It was not until the sun started to set that I could convince myself going further was not an option and I had to accept my decision. Pulled out the cooking gear and heated up some spam while I went through all of my gear and food pulling out what I had learned to live without over the past 5 days and putting it into a pile in the corner. The majority of my excess items came from food. Other UL backpackers have told me that often we pack our fears and it is clear from my pack reduction that I fear being hungry. I dropped every piece of food that I had brought as snacks or comfort consisting mainly of trail mixes, candy and cliff bars. The gear dropped were my gaiters which had failed me miserably, my knee strap in case of knee injury, and an extra pair of injinji socks. Combined with the decreasing water, my pack was feeling really good for the saddles the following days.

I chowed down on dinner and wrote out an email before slipping into my bed of hell. I had been down for a few minutes when I realized my guy line setup restricted my movement and was tightening around my stomach making sleeping difficult. Of course, I did not fix the problem immediately but instead thought I would just fall asleep. I think stopping at 1pm also made for sleep being difficult as I had just sat on a step for 6 hours. I rolled around until about 10:30pm when I realized that my groundsheet protecting me from the metal underneath my bivy and inflatable pad had slipped out from under me. This left my pad exposed and with all my restless tossing and turning I was worried I could pop my pad and leave me in a worse situation. So I got out of bed and tried to fix everything but never could figure out the correct solution. Then the guy line attached to my bivy face netting broke and the netting fell on my face making things even more annoying. To add on to this my sunburn was making me burn up and the shack has zero air flow with a very hard ground. I ended up stripping down to nothing and laying on top of my sleeping bag on pad and rigged up a fix to get the netting off my face. By this point it was 1am and, of course, somehow I was 100% awake. I went through many periods of trying to sleep but failing however finally I was granted some slack and remember last looking at my watch around 3:27.

Continue Reading Part 4 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.

3 replies on “Chase Norton’s Koolau Summit 8 Day Thru Hike: Part 3 (Chapter 4 – Day 3, 4 and 5)”

The plane crash near North Haiku is from WW2. Joint POW/MIA accounting command did a recovery mission around 2008 to search for remains.

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