I’ve been wanting to do Pu’u Heleakala for some time now, however, directions to the trailhead always eluded me. So when I saw that the Oahu Hikers & Adventurers Meetup Group had an excursion planned to the top of Heleakala I decided to jump on this opportunity to complete this elusive Waianae trail. And no, this is not a post about Haleakala (that attraction is located in Maui).
This was my first Meetup with the Oahu Hikers & Adventures, so I was a bit apprehensive at first. I’m not the biggest fan of hiking in large groups. However, I could not resist this opportunity for the reason stated above and because this would be a chance to hike with the very colorful Laredo Muredo, a Hawaii hiking legend. The plan was to meet at the Nanakuli McDonalds and then shuttle down to the trailhead in groups. A total of twelve people showed up for this hike (the most that I’ve ever hiked with at one time). Two cars were used to shuttle the group to the trailhead while the rest of the vehicles were left at the Nanakuli Shopping Center. If you do decide to park here then you should do so very discretely. The last thing that you want is to come back to find your car towed away.
There are two routes that you can take to reach the summit of Pu’u Heleakala. The traditional route involves a gradual 1.5 mile climb up the southwest ridge of Heleakala. To access the trailhead to the southwest route you will need to navigate through residential area (see directions below). In the dry and hot Waianae weather, those 1.5 miles can become very harsh, very quickly. Our meetup group opted instead to hike Heleakala via the 1 mile trek up the much steeper northwest ridge. To access this trailhead, we turned right after the Nanakuli McDonalds and drove about 2 miles down Lualualei Naval Road. We stopped and parked our cars on the dirt road next to the West-Side Pavilion. I’m not exactly sure what the West-Side Pavillion is. I initially thought it was a church and then a plant nursery. The trailhead is located just across the street. You will need to hop over the concrete wall. There were no ribbons in sight at the start of the hike so we simply blazed our way up, initially crossing paths with what looked liked an old heiau.
The initial climb is quite steep and very rocky. Work your way up the trail carefully as the rocks are very loose and crumbly. On this day I chose to wear my Vibram FiveFingers KSO Trek Sports. However, if I do this trail again, I might instead choose to go with my Merrell Barefoot Run Trail Gloves because I constantly found dry weeds stuck between my toes.
As you work your way up Heleakala, you will pass two false peaks. Dayle Turner describes this portion of the hike best:
“The ridge is situated such that we couldn’t see the summit of Heleakala until we were almost upon it. Instead, as we climbed, a prominent pu’u always loomed above us. “The top is in sight,” I grunted gleefully to the folks in my vicinity. But when we had gained the high point of the pu’u, we discovered another pu’u beyond the one we had just ascended.”
As you pass the second false peak and work your way up the true peak, be sure to turn left to catch a glimpse of what our Meetup leader of the day, Udom, called the “Hawaiian Pyramid.” The climb up the third peak will be the most tiring as it seemingly never ends. Rest assured that the trail does eventually end. You’ll know that you’ve reached the top when you see a small, yet very distinct, statue of what looks like Buddha in the lotus position. It took me approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach Buddha and the peak of Heleakala (elevation ~1900 feet).
Once at the top, take in the grand views of Nanakuli Valley and the Waianae Coast. As we looked beyond the coastline toward the depths of the Pacific Ocean, Udom noted that she saw a Humpback Whale. Just beyond the coast on your right will be Pu’u O Hulu. Turn your head and look mauka (toward the mountains) and you will see the flat peak of Mount Ka’ala in the not too far distance.
After a short break at the top, we all made the trek down the southwest ridge as a group. I had a great time chatting with Laredo Muredo, known in the Hawaii hiking circles as the Da Rainbow Man. He actually has a couple of nicknames that I’ve seen online, one of them being LeRambo. I tried to find a reference for the LeRambo moniker but I could not seem to locate it. I thought that I had seen it on one of Dayle Turner’s hiking sites, but my Google search came up empty handed. Maybe I made it up. Either way, the nickname fits, because Laredo is a hiking machine. At [nearly] 70 years old, Laredo has completed the entire Koolau Summit Trail (KST), including the most treacherous sections. When asked about the gnarliest Hawaii hike that he’s been on, he told me without hesitation, the Kalihi Saddle and the journey from the Pali Puka to the summit of Lanihuli.
Now, you might be wondering why they call him Da Rainbow Man. It’s because of his ever changing hair color(s). While I was chatting with Da Rainbow Man, I asked him “So, Laredo, who does your hair?” He quickly replied, “moi.” I was shocked! You mean, he created those intricate designs all by himself? I told him that he must have a crazy mirror setup to get the job done. He said, “yeah,” and “I have years of experience practicing.”
The journey to the top of Pu’u Heleakala was an exhausting, but colorful one (Laredo’s hair stood out against the dry landscape). The early morning climb up the steep northwest ridge was worth it since we were able to avoid the sun pounding down us. Of course, it was also a pleasure to meet such an eclectic group of Hawaii hikers.