One of the clearest days from the summit
Pu’u Ohulehule is a dominating peak in Hau’ula that sits in the back of Ka’a’awa and Kahana Valley. The peak can easily be seen when one is on the Windward side of Oahu, and it can be seen from as far as Pali lookout. The peak is also a prominent feature from the Poamoho summit. There are multiple ways to summit the pyramidal mountain. The Southeast and Northwest are the most common routes with NW being the most common and safest. The NW route is first covered in this post.
Kahana Valley Park
Directions: The trail begins once you enter Kahana Valley Park. From Stuart Ball’s The Hiker’s Guide to Oahu:
At Punchbowl St. get on Lunalilo Fwy (H-1) heading ‘ewa (west). Take Likelike Hwy (exit 20A, Rte 63 north) up Kalihi Valley through the Wilson Tunnel. The highway forks. Keep right for Kahekili Hwy (Rte 83 west). Kahekili becomes Kamehameha Hwy (still Rte 83), which continues up the windward coast. Drive through the villages of Kahalu‘u and Waiāhole to Ka‘a‘awa. Pass the Crouching Lion Inn on the left. The road curves left to go around Kahana Bay. Cross Kahana Stream on two bridges. By a large palm grove turn left into Kahana Valley State Park. Pass the green Orientation Center on the right. It has rest rooms and drinking water.
Ball, Stuart M., Jr. (2000-09-01). The Hikers Guide to the O’ahu, Rev. Ed. (Kindle Locations 3548-3560). Latitude 20. Kindle Edition.
There will be many parking spots available right before you enter the residential area. Walk through the residential area on the paved road while avoiding unneeded conflicts with residents or their dogs! You will soon find a hunter sign-in booth. Go left and you will find a gravel road on the left and the trailhead sign for the Nokoa trail on the right. Go left on the wide gravel/muddy road and soon you will find a dam reservoir to walk over.
Dam reservoir crossing
Walk slowly over the reservoir as the flow can be strong during flash flood times. Continue on the trail (you’re still on the Nokoa trail) until you see the following sign:
The Ohulehule trail
Don’t go either left or right as the sign suggests but go behind the sign into the forest in the narrow trail you see in the image. This will take you off the Nokoa trail and you will begin the trek towards Pu’u Ohulehule. As you continue on, the trail will be well marked. If you do find an unmarked junction, stay right. While many places are overgrown, the trail should always be obvious. If you venture for too long without an obvious trail, you may have made a wrong turn and should backtrack. From the junction of Nokoa trail it is a fairly straight line towards the top of Ohulehule.
Deep stream crossing
There will be a few more stream crossings on your journey. There is one deep one to note. This was belt high for me and could be much higher if it had rained recently. Be careful crossing this one as the flow may be very strong in the rainy season. The deep crossing will soon come after you are off the Nokoa trail. Stay right as you head this way, venturing left will lead you off the main path and can make it difficult to find a way back in the maze of bamboo.
Summiting Ohulehule requires a lot of climbing, particularly a couple of very steep sections towards the end. This includes gaining about 1600 feet in elevation in the last .75 miles and 600 feet in the final .25 miles. There are plenty of ropes that can be used for assistance, although many anchors are decaying so use caution. There are also many strong trees and clumps of grass that will aid you. While steep, there is no real danger until you get to the highest point as there will be some fairly narrow areas to cross. Take your time with the climbs as they will be tiring.
From the top, Chinaman’s Hat
The top offers a grand view of the Windward side. Manamana, Ka’a’awa valley, Kanehoalani and Chinaman’s Hat are prominent on the left side of the view while many valleys are observed on the right side if the weather cooperates. On my return trip, I also ran into Jeremy Kreis and Allegra Coleman as they passed me by. Small island!
The Ohulehule route and neighboring locations
Pu’u Ohulehule NW is an advanced trail that requires steep sections to be climbed. It is often not dangerous but one should be aware that the trail can be slippery and you may fall quite a bit on the trail if you lose your footing. Also be ready for the stream crossings. Reconsider if there are flash flood conditions and protect you electronics! The trail ends up being very fun and the adventure from Kahana Valley Park can take anywhere between 6 and 8 hours depending on your speed. The view at the top is one of the best on the island and my favorite.
Some people on the summit
Update: Since my original trek, I’ve made it up to the summit a few more times with various groups and different routes. The trail is currently cleared by HTMC occasionally and this helps keep the trail fairly wide until you reach the steep climbs. Although even after clearings, there are still many serrated leaves on the ground that warrant at least long socks to make the trek less painful.
O Kila to Ohulehule One not too common route to the summit is to go up O Kila in the same valley then to crossover to Ohulehule via the Kahana saddle. Once at the top of O Kila, elect to go right of the geocache/traditional ways down and you will find a trail leading to Koiele and Ohulehule. As you begin the saddle, the first and main obstacle appears almost right away. There will be a short but completely vertical muddy wall that you will need to descend. Ropes can be easily set up here but there will still be a problem with footing (especially for the shorter folks). Aside from just jumping down, an easy way to navigate this section is to look for the root going down the wall to use that to slide down.
Koiele is the peak that marks the half way point of the saddle, and it is also connected to the Ko’olaus via the Waikane saddle. The route to Koiele is narrow and sometimes crumbly. There will be a couple short notches that you will need to climb, although very crumbly, there are many holds. The trees on the saddle are very brittle, make sure to hold the bottom if you choose to use them. There will be a lot of contouring required as the trail is both narrow and overgrown. Once on Koiele, the remainder of the saddle is relatively simple. There will still be some steep drops but the trail is wider and less stupid.
Soon you’ll reach the Ohulehule NW ridge and you can finally summit. Coming down the NW ridge will finish the loop. Expect between 9 and 11 hours for this loop. Timing will largely depend on how clear both the saddle and the O Kila trail currently is.
Nani on Ohulehule
Ohulehule Southeast ridge
A more common alternate route is the Ohulehule SE ridge. While this generally takes around 3.5hrs to reach the summit, about the same time as NW ridge, it poses many more challenge and a much higher level of danger. Starting at the end of Haupoa St., make a right in the forest and you will be on the trail for SE ridge. The ridge is straightforward, it contains a number of rockfaces but many can be easily contoured if you choose to do so. The final area is the trickiest and cannot be contoured, however. The end of the hike has a long, steep and crumbly wall waiting for you. The ground is very crappy, and the climbing aides here are weathered and weak. Bring your own ropes for this final section. The area even before the final section will be very crumbly and narrow and a lot of caution is needed. With the increased number of hikers on this ridge over the last couple of years, the overgrowth is not as terrible as previously reported. Some of the areas will only get worse as traffic increases.
The traditional route to Ohulehule is enjoyable and provides one of the best hiking rewards on a clear day. If you find the NW ridge too boring, consider one of the more difficult routes to the top of this summit.
All pictures and write up created by: Marvin