Making House on the Waianae Mountain Range (WST Thru Hike)

 

Oh, mountain of our eyes, we’re calling you
Will you hear our cries, what will the poor boy do?
What will the poor girl do?
We’re coming to you

~ Patti Smith

What follows is an account of a three-day backpacking trip of the Waianae Mountain Range, one of the two mountain ranges on Oahu spawned by volcanic activity that formed the island about 3.9 million years ago. The Waianae Summit Trail (WST) as I’ll call it here is not really a ‘trail’ in the typical sense, since it traverses over military and privately owned land, involves several dangerous climbs, and certain portions are not even maintained or generally hiked on at all. It’s possible that these factors together may account for the lack of documentation on the WST having previously been completed in a single trip.

Traversing the WST as a thru hike entailed carrying water and food that would sustain me for the entire trip. Although there are natural water sources on the summit bog, the generally dry nature of the WST terrain made carrying my own water the more obvious choice for me. The trip covered a total distance of about 30 miles, with a total elevation gain of approximately 15,000 ft. This journey started at sea level and traversed across the 3 highest summits on the island (Kaala, Kalena, and Kaua).

Preamble

Why?

Although the answer is pretty obvious for outdoors and adventure types, I think the motivation is not far from a common thread. By necessity our not so distant ancestors traveled solely by foot, and no matter what the destination, they would take as much time as needed to span that distance. Like breathing, walking is one of those things we were biologically engineered to do effectively (most of the local inhabitants of the Himalayan mountains, for instance, do what we would call ‘hikes’ just to get from one part of town to another on a daily basis). Hiking and backpacking is an activity that has it’s roots in hundred of thousands of years of practice.

What about taste for adventure? As a kid growing up in the hectic and polluted city of Bangkok, I found escape in reading fantasy novels and often schemed up epic adventures within natural scenes that were a complete antithesis to what the concrete jungle and endless grid of cars offered. Within its own proportions, this hike was a journey rivaling heavily brewed plots of magic, otherworldly landscapes, and missions of subterfuge. Indeed, overcoming the obstacles took me literally to the edge of the precipice and back. It was a hell of an adventure.

For technical details, it was upon reading Chase Norton’s excellent write-up of his Koolau Summit Trail thru hike earlier this year that I even thought such a trip would be possible for the WST. It led to planning, footing the bill for the ultra light gear (not so ultra light on the wallet) and fitting together as many jigsaw pieces of the WST puzzle as I could. Although I didn’t actually finish the entire WST before attempting the thru hike, I tried to do the key sections (as it turned out, the sections I never did ended up being major surprises). Eventually October rolled around and when there was finally a letup of rainy weather I thought to myself, “Hell, let’s do it”, and subsequently started heckling my friends for an early morning ride.

Western Bound

Much like the way epic adventures in fantasy novels are often preceded by an evening of revelry and merry-making, this journey similarly started with a feast the night before. Festivities occurred at local favorite Shokudo on a Friday evening where there was a memorable goodbye dinner for a friend. I ate a ton of food and did actually think to myself that if something happened on the hike, I at least had one really good meal in prior.

I woke up early on Saturday and after some breakfast and last minute packing, picked up some 7-11 delicacies that would be my source of energy for the next three days. My friends Coty and Joel jovially picked me up from town at around 5AM and we were then en route to the most western point of the island via Waianae. We got to the end of Farrington highway at 6AM and after a photo or two and a couple handshakes, I started walking towards Kaena Point. There was already a bit of sunlight and I was able to catch a photo of the black structural arch. The hike from sea level at Kaena point up to Satellite Road was a nice warm up. I was excited, and my mind was preoccupied with the upcoming details of the journey.

Then came my first apprehension: getting caught on Satellite Road. For all I knew this could have ended the hike right there at the beginning. This portion involved a fair amount of espionage and deftness. There is a cow path to the left and parallel to Satellite Road that I got on as soon as I could. This connects to other paths that run north of Satellite Road. At some points I had to get back on Satellite Road, since I was trying to make as straight a path as possible towards the ridge trail. I purposefully walked close to the side of the road so I could duck quickly if needed. In fact, at one point I saw a truck approaching in clear view, and immediately jumped into the side brush and laid flat on the ground while the truck passed by. Then there were sections where I had to walk in clear view of the facilities and buildings. Needless to say, it was a great relief when I finally got on the mountain trail at 9AM.

This next section was the only portion of the whole trip where I ran into other people. It was a wide and pleasant trail that turned into more of a dirt road at several points and eventually connected up to the ridgeline heading towards Three Corners. The sun was out most of the time and the weather was clear. The road meandered and gave occasional views of dry Makua valley to the right. My feet were developing some rashes already, which may have been due to the extra weight of the pack. Having been on this part of the trail before, my mind wandered a bit. I often think about the history of the surroundings and how along these paths ancient Hawaiians must have traveled. The self-sufficiency of ancient civilizations serves as a personal reminder that not all that is modern is better or often necessary.

I’ve learned some Hawaiian folklore from Joel, that the Waianae mountain range was thought to be the body of a woman giving birth to the ocean, with the pregnant stomach being Mount Kaala, and the nipple being Kalena (and where’s the other nipple??). As I was soon to find out, entering Kaala would be akin to entering the belly of the whale.

After strolling on the mountain road for a while, a path eventually split to the right from the main dirt road, and connected upwards to the ridgeline. Upon gaining the ridgeline, the path proceeded in an up and down manner following the contours of the mountains. The roller coaster ride eventually ended in an upward climb that dropped me off at three corners around 2PM.

Entering Kaala

From Three corners, I made my way towards Kaala Road via the overgrown connecting ridge. I am not aware of any path that connects the ridge to Kaala road. I tried to take the ridge above Kaala as far as it would go, but as it turned out this made things more difficult than they had to be. With the weight of the pack on my mind, I decided to descend on an eroded section towards the end, which was quite the brilliant idea. I basically got stuck in a tree and realized I couldn’t get down or climb up with my pack, so I lowered my backpack from the ridge down to the road using some 50 feet paracord. Now there was my pack sitting on the side of Kaala road in clear view of passerbys, while I was stuck in a tree with eroded red dirt and rock as obstacle. Great. After a moment of deliberation, I decided it was too sketchy and decided to climb back up on to the ridge and head backwards to try descending down to the road via the overgrown section. I was hauling ass thinking that if anyone drove past and took my pack, I’d be screwed. I eventually got down to Kaala road after a healthy dose of sliding.

While reclaiming my pack and trying to pull the rest of the paracord down, I discovered it was caught in some sort of snag up above, and would have to stay behind. Although it was a huge moment of relief reclaiming the pack, I was concerned about having to leave the paracord behind, as this now eliminated my option of being able to lift up and lower my pack during any upcoming climbing sections. It was 3:30 and I was way behind schedule, considering that I had actually planned on doing the whole hike in two days (seriously?). At this point I realized it was definitely going to take 3 days. All I had to do now was make it up to the summit before sunset and find a camp spot. Of course, not getting caught while doing this would be great. Before beginning my trek up to the highest point on the island, I decided to take a short break on the side of the road. At this point two trucks drove by, and luckily I was already on the side, so I ducked down and made myself as parallel to the earth as possible. Neither truck seemed to have noticed me, and shortly after I began the rest of the day’s trek.

The trek up Kaala road took less than 3 hours. It was more drudgery than anything else, with one foot in front of the other, right left right left.. I alternated between walking forward and backwards. Although I heard intermittent sounds that could have been approaching vehicles, I passed no other vehicles that day and assumed it was the howling wind. As I gained elevation, the air got thicker and thicker with moisture and I could tell that the vegetation was also changing. I made a stop at one of the broadcasting towers and took a short break. When I finally reached the summit at 6:10PM, I made sure to remain vigilant for any signs of human life. Given that day light was dwindling, I immediately began search for a suitable campsite.

After some scouting around, I decided to try my luck on the wooden platform next to the metal gate where the bog conservation area began. It took a little longer than usual to get the campsite set up, as the ground was really just a wet sponge and securing the tent guy lines to the wires on the platform also proved to be tricky. As I settled into the tent, I felt tired, but also felt a sense of accomplishment at having made it this far and successfully dodging several bullets. Although I accepted that the trip would take 3 days, little did I know what surprises were looming ahead within the summit bog.

The platform where I decided to make house

“Wait, is that the silhouette of a guy with a machete who’s about to relentlessly hack down on me tent?”

 

Secret Kaala Mansion

 

Enjoy Intermission Music

~~~

Day 2

Labyrinthian Bogg

The highest summit on the island blessed me with reasonably good sleep. Although there was constant spray and rain that night, the interior managed to stay 77% dry. The combination of mist and rain seemed to blow from both the front and rear of the tent at different times. Sunrise didn’t bring too much light, and my sleeping bag was comfy enough to have me sleeping in “late” and enjoying breakfast in bed until about 7am. I was dilly dallying more than I should have, and I knew it.

After packing up camp it was now time to wander around the bog and find my way towards the southeastern ridge that would be my exit from Kaala. I had never done this portion of the hike before. I walked along the nature conservation boardwalk and searched for a suitable location to make a left turn inward towards the bog. Due to the constant misting, I had my poncho on and was either wearing the huaraches or going barefoot.

I probably made the left turn a little early. Had I done this section before, it would have saved myself a good deal of strife. The bog was an otherworldly maze that looked the same from all directions. I had to get my bearings via compass and phone to determine which direction to be heading towards. Time was of the essence, and it was slipping away much faster than I had anticipated.

After a bit of ribbon-scouting and a bit of bushwhacking, I eventually met up with one of the gulches. It wasn’t clear in my mind how this would lead me out of Kaala, but I thought I would see where it lead anyways. So I followed this rocky streambed, which consisted of huge mossy boulders, until I reached a 5 foot drop onto some other mossy boulders. It was an impasse. Towards the left of the drop was a dark chute that went vertically downward. It looked deep. To the right was also a gap that led downwards into the dark, but it didn’t seem as deep. I had to get from the top of the shelf where I was sitting, down onto that boulder in the middle. After looking around trying to find footholds, I couldn’t find anything that looked suitable. Being pressed for time and agitated by my own disorientation, I thought, “Hell, I’ll just jump.” Well, it really doesn’t take a scientist to figure out what happens when you jump and land on a slippery surface does it? So I jumped and landed on the mossy boulder, and lo-and-behold in a completely fluid motion my foot slid off the rock to the left. Then in the same smooth motion my upper body fell down towards the dark crevice to the right. I experienced about a second of complete free fall hurling downward in the dark chute. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to fall, and whether one could in fact prepare themself for the impact. The truth was I was completely helpless. Yet in that split second there was just enough time for the neurons in my brain to fire off that one distinct thought, “I’m fucked.”

This was the dark chute I fell down. It’s hard to get the perspective from the stitched photos, as the bottom of the image wasn’t level to me, but was actually me looking upwards.

~ ~ ~

When I landed, the wind was knocked out of me. My first realization was that I was still conscious and lying on my back in darkness. The second realization after sitting up was mostly disbelief that I was ok and didn’t seem to have broken anything (how did I manage to not hit my head against anything?). The adrenaline was flowing and my sympathetic nervous system was on overdrive, so I only realized a while later that I had actually stubbed my index finger (still a little stubby right now) and cut two fingers on the other hand. No idea how it happened. I must have fallen about 10ft. Eventually, I found a shelf that I used to climb out of that pit. I had to take my pack and sandals off and do a bit of contorting to get up and out.

I was lucky for two reasons. 1) Had I not fallen on my back with the pack to cushion the fall, I probably would have broken something. 2) Had I fallen on the other side, which was deeper and pitch black, not only would I definitely have gotten injured, but it was unlikely I could have climbed out. Stuck in a wet and dark pit in the Kaala bog, injured, with no one knowing your whereabouts and without cellphone signal: less than optimal.

There was a sincere feeling of thankfulness after climbing out of the pit. The realization that I may never again have tasted shaved-ice, or see the face of the girl I have a crush on were some of the thoughts that flashed through my mind. My guardian angel had saved me again. I never expect her to be there, but am always grateful when she does get my back. Maybe she was hiding inside my pack the whole time.

After climbing down more boulders (much more carefully now) along the green and mossy gulch, I was surprised when I looked up and saw a drop off directly ahead. The volume of water had come to an increase and was flowing right off the cliff down the side of Kaala. Hmm.. wrong way? Time to backtrack. Whatever I just came down I now had the pleasure of going back up. And let’s just spend the whole day walking around Kaala shall we?

So I headed back the way I came until I reached a junction with ribbons, where I hanged a left. That was the general direction I knew I wanted to head towards. The path led upwards and more towards the ridge area. It wasn’t long before I knew I was on the right track. The path meandered for a while, and the vegetation started to change and get less bog like. I eventually found the ridge line, and started heading downwards and out of the bog. I reached the vertical rope section at around 12:30pm and found a spot to rest and have lunch before climbing down. I took my time for lunch, knowing I would need the energy up ahead. Unfortunately and a little surprisingly, there wasn’t any shaved ice for dessert.

The Descent

After finishing lunch, I put my shoes on and descended the rope section at 1PM. I had to lower my pack down with the rope first, as there was a chimney towards the top that required me squeezing in between, and the pack wasn’t going to fit.

Heading down from the highest point on the island took much longer than I had expected. This was also my first time doing Kaala to Kalena, and it wasn’t exactly cakewalk. There was some fairly new erected fence along the whole ridge line. Although they may be useful for keeping the mountain goats from ravaging native vegetation, they do seem to detract from a more au natural ridge hiking experience.

Verticle down up V section. Verticality somewhat lost in this half-baked panorama.

Biggest and sweetest thimbleberry I saw/tasted. Bush was right at the bottom of the V section.

After several strawberry-guava harvesting stops, I ended up reaching Kalena at 3PM. The weather was good in that although it was intermittently overcast, it never actually rained. I could see that it was raining elsewhere on the island though, as the Koolau range was engulfed in rain clouds. It seemed only a matter of time before the clouds blew over this way. So I pushed on at a steady pace, the main hindrance being soreness in my feet from the descent. When I finally reached Hapapa, I was well tired from the long day. After what I had gone through, I did give it a little thought (couple seconds) as to whether bailing at Kolekole Road might be a good option. I decided I would spend the night at Hapapa anyways and evaluate the situation again in the morning. Still glad that I was relatively unscathed, I had received confirmation that there’s really a lot of things to live for and didn’t want to push my luck when I had already used up a couple cat lives.

Similar to the previous day, I finished setting up camp just minutes before it got dark. It was a windy night by the telephone tower, and I was surprised that it never actually rained. Just the constant howl of the wind keeping me company throughout the night.

 

Day 3

Rise and Shine – Your Nemeses Awaits

Take a walk on the wild side.
~ Lou Reed

I woke up around 6AM and ate my last apple and a musubi. Breakfast in bed two days in a row? Glad to see someone’s living the dream. After a quick re-evaluation, the cuts on my fingers didn’t look like they were infected. The injuries might be a little distracting when climbing, but once adrenaline started flowing I knew I wouldn’t notice it. I was a bit fatigued from the last two days, but felt like I had enough energy. Besides, the Waianae Range isn’t so easy to get to from town (for someone that’s carfree) and I was already here, so if I was going to do it this was the chance. It was a go. After packing up, I left camp at 7am, headed upwards, and summited Hapapa in about an hour.

I had never done the section from Hapapa to Kaua before, but it started out with smooth sailing.

No Man’s Land

Hapapa to Kaneoha was straightforward and quite pleasant. Or maybe I was still riding on last night’s rest. Work really kicked in from Kaneoha to Kaua. This section was completely overgrown, and went by slowly. The bushwhacking and crawling kinda saps your energy after a while. In official hiking terminology (French origin), it was a couple of hours of straight up “Bullshit”. Branches were sticking out in my face the whole time and snagging my clothes and backpack. Some sections involved trying to find a path through densely growing tree stems. Even the ridge was overgrown and each step took at least 3 times more effort than what is needed on a cleared path. It was definitely and quite literally, a drag.

After about 2 hours or so of all that fun stuff, the ridge started to become more exposed. I was slowly approaching the obstacle I half affectionately know as the Kriangles, a pair of triangles between Kaneoha and Kaua (closer to Kaua). They’re really more like 1.5 triangles. The first triangle in the picture below (the one to the right) doesn’t really count, since it’s just an approach perch. The first Kriangle is the one to the left in the picture. The second Kriangle is more like a half triangle, since it doesn’t come back down but just keeps going upwards towards Kaua (two pictures below).

The Kriangles

This was my first time visiting this off-the-beaten-path attraction. My reaction after seeing the first Kriangle was, “you my dear are a little too crumbly and a little too vertical for my liking.” So I sat atop the approach perch for about 5 minutes just looking at it. I was trying to imagine what I would do if I slid or if the rocks crumbled under me. Obviously this didn’t happen, as I probably wouldn’t be here writing this. After the mental preparation, it was time to get up close and personal with Ms. Crumbly Face.

Getting to the top was a relief, and my reward was some strategically placed cacti with fairly developed thorns. My favorite part about descending down the first Kriangle was that it involved bear hugging a large boulder and slowly letting myself down. If you’re not in a hurry feel free to take in the views while you’re at it.

Next up was number two. Going up the second triangle was okay until I reached the large boulder and the random fence someone had stuck right in front of it. I couldn’t see a way up the steep boulder on any side, so I climbed over the fence to see if the grass would be greener on the other side. Well there was a contour (and some greener grass on it), but a very narrow one, too narrow for comfort. I had to pass on my pack first, then laid myself low and flat like a log and edge up along the contour. This led to a ledge that was just a little wider than the contour. So now I’m on a tight ledge, great. It was also really great seeing that lovely view of a completely vertical fall just inches away. Sneezing could have been perilous. My heart was pounding, my mouth hot and dry as a dessert. Captain Adrenaline had officially commandeered ship and declared Full On Survival Mode. I still had to get up on to the ridge. A concave boulder was the only thing between that ledge and the safety of the fenced ridge up above. First I stood up slowly, as there wasn’t a lot of room to maneuver. I seriously considered leaving my pack. Some paracord would have been … nice? Fortunately I was able to swing the pack outwards and upwards enough over the boulder that it didn’t slide back down. Then I hoisted myself up and over towards the oasis that was the fence. Dams open, flood of relief.

Once back on the ridge, next stop was Kaua. I thought I was almost there, but this section also took longer than I expected. Perhaps I was just tired. My internal battery level was going down fast and I still had good distance to cover with little food or water left for recharge. When I finally summited Kaua, I laid down and rested for 15 minutes and sent a text message update to Coty and Joel.

My next stop was now the Pohakea Pass. It was the last obstacle, the last checkbox I needed to tick off on my survival list. It was looming in my mind. The sun was out and the wind was billowing along the dry exposed ridge. There were bees buzzing around too. Water was low, and every sip was rationed. As I walked along, I consciously tweaked my berry-radar to it’s highest sensitivity setting. Luckily I found a strawberry guava tree on the way, and it was a bigger one too. Although the bugs had gotten to the fruit before me, I did manage to get a couple handful of tangy sweet sustenance. Once I reached the Pohakea pass, I proceeded down the overgrown section mostly by controlled sliding. I wondered if the ridge that continues to the left does in fact connect down below to the pass. I didn’t have time to explore it however, as I was on a time constraint and was more worried about the obstacle ahead. I had climbed the 80ft Knucklehead wall at the other end of the pass before so it wasn’t a surprise, but that didn’t make it any less daunting. Besides, my condition was markedly better last time. When I reached the bottom of the wall I decided to take one last rest to try and regain a bit of energy.

The Knucklehead

One of my dad’s favorite names for Darwin-Award nominees is “knuckleheads.” Even though I contextually knew what it meant, I’ve always had a hard time imagining such a head. To me, the 80ft wall at the Pohakea pass comes close to embodying a knucklehead since it’s rocky and knuckly, and the shape resembles a cranky screwed-up face. Plus, my dad would claim that only a real knucklehead would actually try and climb this wall. Point proven. Twice.

After a little bit of rest, it was time to rock and roll (well, let’s skip the rolling for now). Although my favorite hat had served me well throughout this trip, it had taken quite a beating, and I decided to leave it behind as a token offering to the Knucklehead. I’m quite certain this ensured my subsequent success. Devoid of any food and scant water, my pack was about as light as it would get. I strapped it down close to my torso, and started heading up the last obstacle that would be my exit from the pass. The fact that it all came down to this last climb made me more nervous than the first time around. At some point the adrenaline kicked in, I got the focus and tunnel vision I needed, and the 99% bonobo pretty much took over.

Once I reached the crumbly top, relief was already crowding in. It was the biggest load off my mind. This was it. I had done it. I had finished the last obstacle, and I knew I was going home alive prize in hand. It was sweetness without the sugar or cavities. But not quite there yet. I still had to get across the rest of the mountain range, and the countdown to sunset had already started. I sure did not want to get caught in the chest high fern forest after dark. Time to haul ass.

Piggy, Palikea, Palehua, and P.I.T.A.

As I was heading up the overgrown fern section towards Palikea, I was suddenly startled by a scurrying sound up ahead. When I reached the source of the sound, lo and behold there was a black pig right there in the middle of the path! It was scurrying like a madman who had been evilly transfigured into a pig. It’s head was trapped in some metal contraption. When I tried to get closer the pig suddenly stopped trying to escape, turned towards me and gave me a really intense stare. It was getting ready to charge. Now even though it was trapped, who’s to say it couldn’t suddenly break free? Since I wasn’t in the mood of getting charged by a wild beast, I immediately went sideways off the trail into the fern jungle and contoured around the pig. I was too tired and too much in a hurry to even snap a picture! No epic hike is complete without a surprise face-to-face pig encounter though right?

As I reached Palikea summit the sun was just about setting. I ended up having to use my headlamp for most of the Palehua trail. Having done this section before, there was little guess work or incidence. When I finally reached Palehua Road after 7pm it was already dark and the rest of the trek down the road was dimly lit by my headlamp.

Behold the beautiful sunset. You’ve earned it. Now enjoy your hike in darkness.

This last portion down Palehua Rd felt like one of the longest walks ever. I was too tired to even think. My human brain had somehow morphed into a slug’s brain. It was one foot in front of the other, “Right Left, Mountain Dew, Right Left, Mountain Dew”. You know I don’t even drink much soda, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. I had finished my last drop of water hours ago and was weak and hungry. Several cars past by. None of them acknowledge my existence, which was fine with me. I climbed over the first gate without ceremony and trudged along. After what seemed like an eternal zombie march, I reached the second gate a little before 10pm.

Coty and Joel had already been waiting by the gate for over an hour. The hike was officially over. The waiting was over. I had a bigass cup of soda in my hand and it was amazingness redefined. I was riding in the lap of luxury with friends back to civilization after an epic DIY adventure on one of the most beautiful islands on the planet. Talk about joy.

As always,

May the road rise to you.

 

Aloha Ia O Waianae

Love for Waianae
The peaceful shady
Famous coconut grove of Pokai Bay
I see the beauty

Majestic Kaala
The glorious mountain
Where the small leaf maile grows in profusion
With its penetrating fragrance

The wind named Kaiaulu
Blows gently
Brings the fragrance of ginger
The sweet smelling flower

Tell the refrain
Of my home at Waianae
The home that we love
The unforgettable home

by Abigail Pililaau & Rachael Kaleiwahea

(hawaiian lyrics)

~ ~ ~

 

Details for the Detail Oriented

 

Ideas are one thing and what happens is another.
~ John Cage

Timeline

(All distances and elevations estimated via Google Earth)

DAY 1 (~15 miles, elevation gain 7,200ft)

6:00AM – 7:30AM. End of Farrington to Satellite Rd: 2.75 miles. End point elevation, 900 ft
7:30AM – 9:00AM. Satellite Road to Kuaokala Trail: 2.5 miles. End point elevation, 1,400 ft
9:00AM-12:15PM. Kuaokala to End of Trail Sign: 5.1 miles. End point elevation, 2,400 ft
12:15PM-2:10PM. End of Trail Sign to Three Corners: 1.4 miles. End point elevation, 2,830 ft
2:10PM. Three Corners to Kaala Road: 0.5 miles
3:15PM – 6:10PM. Kaala Road to Kaala summit, 2.5 miles. End point elevation, 4,026 ft

DAY 2 (~4 miles,elevation gain 1,800ft)

8:00AM – 12:30PM. Navigating Kaala Bog, 0.75 miles. End point elevation, 3,500 ft
1:00PM – 3PM. Kaala to Kalena, 1.1 miles. End point elevation, 3,504 ft
3:00PM – 6:10PM. Kalena to Hapapa camp, 2.25 miles. End point elevation, 1,700 ft

DAY 3 (~12 miles, elevation gain 5,900ft)

7:00AM – 8:15AM. Camp to Hapapa summit, 1.1 miles. End point elevation, 2,880 ft
8:15AM – 10ish. Hapapa to Kaneoha, 1.2 miles. End point elevation, 2,700 ft
10ish – 1:45PM. Kaneoha to Kaua, 1.1 miles. End point elevation, 3,127 ft
2:00PM – 4:10PM. Kaua to Pohakea pass, 1.2 miles. End point elevation, 2,150 ft
4:10PM – 6:10PM. Pohakea pass to Palikea, 1.5 miles. End point elevation, 3,090 ft
6:10 – 7:10PM. Palikea to Palehua Rd, 1.3 miles. End point elevation, 2,550 ft
7:10 – 9:50PM. Palehua to Second Gate, 4.5 miles. End point elevation, 1,100 ft

Food

3 spam musubis, 2 breakfast bentos, 2 mochiko chicken rolls, 4 clif bars, and 3 apples. 6 litres of water, including a can of coconut juice (got crunched during the fall). They say that eating an apple has the same effect as brushing your teeth. So although I didn’t pack a toothbrush, I ended up brushing my teeth 3 times during the hike. Booyah.

Gear

Here I will refer you directly to Chase Norton’s write up, as that is where my research and shopping list started. The gear he used was right on point, so I have to thank him for saving me considerable time and money. As a believer in simplicity and minimalism, the ultralight approach makes good common sense.

I took all the photos in this post with an iPhone 4S and tracked the GPS using the Gaia navigation app. I did not track the entire trip, but only turned it on periodically in order to save battery.

I used a combination of huaraches (6mm vibram soles from invisibleshoe.com) and hiking shoes (inov-8 Roclite 295).

My tent, groundsheet (which doubled up as a poncho), front pouch, and custom-made backpack were all from zpacks.com. I used the NeoAir sleeping pad, and wrapped my shoes in a plastic bag and put a folded shirt on top as a pillow.

If you have any questions please feel free to ask them below.

The blue line was the GPS track I recorded. I only recorded periodically, and you can see that towards the end it was less frequent due to having other things on my mind and just being tired. The white line is the path I actually took.

This is the GPS (blue) track I recorded through Kaala, and the approximate path I took (white). My gulch detour is not marked here. I’ve heard there is another path along a fence, and I’m guessing I made the left turn too early.

Side view of Kaala. The gulch I was in was probably the first one on the left. Looks like there’s at least 3 other gulches. This warrants a follow up investigation!

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Coty and Joel for giving me rides and for being my “ground” support team. Thanks to Chase Norton for sharing his experiences in the write up of his KST thru hike. Thanks to the hikers who cleared sections of the ridge, and for those who setup the ropes where they were needed and for maintaining the trails. We all benefit from each other’s participation, and my success on this journey was only made possible by the contribution of countless others. Thanks to the Marvinator for his lengthy monologues and toothy grins. Last but not least, biggie up to my guardian angel.

Every silver lining has it’s cloud. I need to mention the fact that while I was out camping on the Waianae mountains for fun, there were thousands of homeless people, many native-Hawaiians, camping in Waianae out of necessity. They’re the real survivors. The rate of lost human potential continually rises. That’s no eyesore, it’s heartsore. And there’s no reason to think we can’t do better.

Bonus Disclaimer

I don’t personally endorse suicide as a way out. Unless you’re an expert climber (and even then..), attempting some of the climbs on this hike without aide or rope can be suicidal. I know my limit and know that I am plain lucky to have made it out mostly unscathed. During this journey I received jolting reinforcements of my preference for life over death. I wish to pass on this preference and convey that these perils are real. Please be safe.

 

About Ahnate

I grew up in Thailand and climbed water towers for fun. My right leg is slightly shorter than the left. I'm an activist (sometimes inactivist) and enjoy discussing participatory visions for a future society. While hiking!

12 comments

  1. What an adventure! Thanks for the wonderful write up!
    Facing such dangers and surviving….. The part at the Ka’ala bog made me the most worried. But, at least you’re okay. Congrats on the Waianae Range transverse! (:

  2. Please email me; I want your email address and to ask you some questions.

    BTW, I’ve been “camping” on the island of Hawaii for most of the last thirteen years; I’m income and housing impaired—just like those, uh, locals at Waianae. Seriously.

    But, I am happy. I live almost every moment of my life (not quite always, yet) “in the moment” and appreciative of anything I happen to be mindful of—like each breath and gulp of coffee!

    And being able read and enjoy accounts of epic adventures like yours.

    Thank you and … thank you.

    Aloha.

    The Homeless Guy

    • Punynari & Hawaii Girl – Thanks for your comments, I enjoyed your blogs too, btw. Hope to see you on the trails one of these days!

      Coty – What can I say, Kaala stole my heart away!

      Brian – Wow, 13 years is a long time. I saw one of my friends become homeless, and realized it could happen to any of us. I really think society is responsible for homelessness and we’re only as good as how we treat those in the lowest ranks. Although many will argue that individuals are responsible for their own fate, we have to ask why homelessness is not a problem in other countries (e.g. Scandinavia)? Are they doing something different? Surely can we. There’s a large gap between the rich and poor in the US and in Hawaii. Unfortunately for those like you in poverty, a lot of people are satisfied as long as they get their small share of paradise handed down by the ‘owners’ who hold capital, ‘own’ land and lobby our institutions. So the status quo has remained. I’d rather shake it up. Thanks for sharing, my email is ahnate AT gmail DOT com : )

  3. Ahnate…great write up and breakdown of your trek. I have been planning on doing this trip (except starting from kealia trail) for some time and am pulling the trigger this coming week. Wanted to ask a few questions: If you hadnt gotten side tracked you think you would have finished in the daylight on the 3rd day? Was 6 litres enough? What was the temp like at Kaala summit? Were you able to find a site that had any maps of the trek? It has been difficult to find anything. I have done sections of the trail and have a general sense of where to go but it would be nice to have something to reference. And finally would slip on spikes for your shoes been helpful during any of the sections? Thanks in advance for your help….getting psyched for the trip. Mahalo!!

    • Matt,

      Yes, I’m guessing that without the bog detour I would have finished in daylight on the 3rd day. Instead of camping down by Kolekole I would’ve camped up on Hapapa. 6 liters got me through, but just barely by the end. There is the possibility of collecting water from the Kaala bog, although one would want to know exactly where the water is located and I would personally do a reconnaissance trip just for this purpose. If I had to do it again, I would probably collect water at the bog instead of carrying the 6 liters from the start.

      The two most dangerous sections are the Kriangles and the Knucklehead, and I would not recommend doing them for the first time on a thru hike. Of course I am guilty of suggesting to “do as I say and not as I do” here, but neither are there ropes nor any forgiving margins of error on these climbs. If reconning, doing it in a group of strong climbers would be wise. I didn’t use microspikes, but anything that provides extra traction on the climbs is a plus.

      The USGS topographic maps are excellent sources of information for the terrain, and many actually have the trails labeled on there as well. These are open source and free for download. The temperature on the summit wasn’t as bad as I expected. I’m guessing mid to low 60s, although staying dry(er) becomes priority.

      I was without doubt foolish in not completing the whole WST in sections first. I really don’t recommend doing this thru hike, but if I had to do it again I would have taken the effort to complete all of the remaining sections first.

      Happy and safe trails!

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