A short trip along the Koolau Summit Trail (KST) would be how Exploration: Hawaii would kick off the recent Memorial Day Weekend. The previous week, fellow hiker, Allison, suggested that we do a short non-grinder type hike. I like non-grinders. I mentioned Hahaione, a little known trail in Hawaii Kai that quickly leads to the eastern portion of the KST. Waianae Ahnate, as he has been nicknamed, thought that it would be a good idea to use this hike as a meet and greet for the group of people that would be joining the usual Exploration: Hawaii suspects on an upcoming backpacking trip to Haleakala. New hike and new hikers. I was in.
The day started off cloudy and with light showers. As my silver Toyota Celica made its way on to Kalanianaole Highway, I turned left to look at the Koolau’s. Clouds covered the lush and green mountaintops of the Koolau’s. The Koolau’s were socked in. I began thinking of whether or not it would be a good idea to hike on this particular Saturday. I passed by the peaks of Wiliwilinui, Hawaii Loa (also see this post), Kulepeamoa, and then Kuliouou. All socked in. However, I did notice that the clouds began to clear as I passed Kuliouou and made my way onto Hawaii Kai Drive. I continued to drive up and to the end of Hahaione Street, where our group would be meeting.
Joining us on this hike would be Michael, Ngoc, Bin, and I-Ting. Both Michael and Ngoc work with Ahnate at the University of Hawaii Neuroscience and MRI Research Program. When I worked at the MRI lab, I would often talk to Michael about his hiking experiences. This would be our first time hiking together, though. Both Bin and I-Ting are budding astronomers. Bin is a post-doc at the University of Hawaii, and does fieldwork at Mauna Kea on the Big Island.
The Hahaione trailhead is located at the very end of Hahaione Street. Although not a state trail, you’ll notice that Hahaione is actually fairly well maintained. It’s probably very well trodden amongst Hawaii Kai and Kahala residents, but doesn’t see much action from anyone else. Initially, you’ll work your way through some very tall grass. Some of our hikers wished that they had worn long pants.
Beyond the tall grass, you will notice that the trail will begin to steeply climb up the ridge, toward the KST. The trail leading up to the KST is fairly easy to follow. There were noticeable orange and pink ribbons scattered throughout the trail. Eventually, we reached a tree that had two arrows, one arrow pointing straight and the other arrow pointing right. We decided to go right here and continued to follow the trail. The trail will continue to gain elevation quickly. There will be a few sections with rope installed. Most won’t need to use them, but they are in case you do.
Within an hour, you should reach the KST. The initial lookout was blocked by vegetation, however, walk a few fet beyond that initial point and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the Windward Coast. Ahnate and I took our time taking photos as we made our way across the KST. The rest of the group travelled at warp speed, and in no time, we could see them at the summit of Kuliouou. The KST portion of this particular loop trail is fairly easy going. There is one portion in which you will be exposed to a sheer cliff on your right. This is a nice place to take photos, but be sure to watch you step! Beyond this point, you will encounter noticeable portions of erosion on the KST. Past the erosion was the summit of the Kuliouou ridge trail.
After a quick break at the Kuliouou summit, our group quickly made our way down the state maintained Kuliouou trail. From the summit to the Kuliouou picnic table, it was almost like a driving on the H-1 during morning rush hour traffic. Kuliouou was seeing heavy use on this particular day. Quickly, we reached the picnic table, which marked the junction point that would take us back to our start point. Just past the picnic table, we hooked a left into the woods. The people at the picnic table looked at us weird, probably thinking that we were headed in the wrong direction.
After the junction, the trail begins to lose elevation very quickly. This initial section was very slippery, because of the fallen pine leaves. Many of us found ourselves on our butt at one point. Eventually, we reached a junction in which we could turn left or right. Directly in front of us was a tree, again with two arrows. Ignoring the tree, we turned left from the point in which we exited. We followed the trail, which eventually had us going down some switchbacks and then to a dry stream crossing. Eventually, we found our way back on the initial Hahaione trail. Within an hour of leaving the Kuliouou summit, we had found our way back at the end of Hahaione Street.
The total distance of this loop trail was roughly 3.5 miles. The first part of this trail, up Hahaione, will be the most cardio intensive. The middle portion will be an easy stroll along the KST. And the final portion will be a slippery downhill climb back to the start of the trail. We expected to spend between four to five hours on the trail, however, it only took our group a quick three hours. A good estimate would be roughly an hour on each of the three section described above. The Hahaione to Kuliouou loop trail offers a nice introduction to ridge hiking on the KST, and is definitely worth checking out.
Explorers: Allison Baird, Coty Gonzales, Ahnate Lim, Michael, Ngoc, Bin, and I-Ting.