On April 1, Georgia born Chase Norton completed an amazing feat of fortitude, strength, and bravery. Norton became the first person to hike the entire length of the Koolau Mountain Range on a single try. His journey began on March 25 as he embarked from Pupukea and ended on, of most days, April 1 when he descended the Makapuu end of the Koolau mountains. It often takes people months, years, or even decades to complete what Norton did. Impressively, he was able to do it in seven days with minimal gear.
The announcement of Norton’s accomplishment was first announced by Nate Yuen on the popular Facebook group, Oahu Weekend Hikers. Immediately, the Hawaii hiking community cheered on Norton’s efforts. Jay Feldman, president of the Hawaii Trail & Mountain Club, exclaimed “Congratulations!! That’s an amazing and intrepid feat.” Jeremy Kreis, someone who has also completed the KST (in segments), was simply amazed by how lightly Norton packed for his 8 day trip, “Wow, you packed light.”
In 1979, Hawaii hiking pioneer Silver Piliwale attempted the same trail. The then 78 year old Piliwale stopped short of completing the entire KST when he exited Moanalua Valley on the 5th day of his trek. Thirty-three years later, Norton was able to complete what the agile Piliwale could not. Norton was nice enough to allow me to share his experience in his own words.
Below is Part 1 (Chapters 1-3) of Chase Norton’s personal report posted with his permission.
Chapter 1: The Motivation
It all began in 2009 while in a pub with a discussion I was having with a good friend and hiking buddy, Chappy. I wanted to do more backpacking around Oahu, both for the experience and to make use of all the new gear I had recently purchased from REI. After a couple of beers the talked turned to an argument about hiking the entire Koolau summit in a single trip. I was ignorant, reckless and far too confident in my hiking abilities but was adamant it could be done. Of course, this was before I had ever hiked on Oahu. He rightfully laughed at my desires and let me know that even in sections it could not be completed let alone in a full backpacking trip.
This was the time the seed was planted especially for the section hiking of the Koolau summit. As I was doing some of those northern portions or the saddles the motivation transitioned from proving a friend wrong to my own desire to find and push my limits. From that day forward both consciously and unconsciously I began making the necessary changes in myself to prepare and execute a thru hike of the Koolau summit. I hiked more and started to learn and understand the mountains on Oahu. Through these hikes I would meet other hikers who seemed to share the same opinions as Chappy, which simply furthered my desire to take on the impossible. We all want to make our mark in this world.
From that initial argument, I started with the southern portions from Makapuu to Konahuanui. Actually, it took over a year to hike those sections. Some sections I would repeat until I knew them very well. Still, I am not sure why it took so long and now that I’ve done it all in one day, it is even more comical. Regardless, it took me a year to section hike it.
After the southern portion, I turned my focus to the saddles. These were the sections most people argued were undoable. For a long time I was working on the Pali Notches but continually failed in my attempts. I went up many times, perhaps six or seven attempts, but always got stuck at the nub and/or chimney. Then I got distracted by the Piliwale ridge and making route on that ridge. Honestly, after some time I had begun to just let the whole dream go. I guess this is where the drive to prove a friend wrong started to diminish and I started to consider the entire section hike undoable. It wasn’t until I was camping at a bluegrass festival in the Botanical Gardens in Kaneohe that I started to look at the saddles in profile and the gears started turning in my head.
One fateful day, I called up a good friend, Matthew, to see if he would join me up Lanihuli and descend down the Kalihi saddle. If that didn’t look good then we could descend down to the Pali. I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into, but he agreed. The following Sunday we headed up and after some time scouting we agreed to attempt bottom up approach from the Pali as soon as we could get the time.
The following weekend Matt and I decided to first attempt the Notches on Saturday. After all those months of failure, we were able to complete and get past all the obstacles I had previously failed to conquer. Having someone else there to discuss a problem with, share in the fear and the reward, can sometimes change what might seem impossible. The next day Matt had contacted a friend, Duc, and his hiking friends Rasta and Laredo…people who I have now come to both call friends and highly respect. We asked them to join us for a Pali to Lanihuli attempt. Long story short, we made it up and I got to see what hiking with a solid team was really like much different than most of my solo missions.
With the Pali saddle completed in one weekend, the passion of a full section hike was reignited, but now had become a personal obsession void of any outside influences. I still did not know what the northern sections were like or the two other saddles, but soon I would find out.