To cap off my first trip to Hawaii, I thought what better way to celebrate than taking a shot at the Oahu highpoint on my last day. My friend Dave Covill suggested I find a hiking partner for this rough climb which involves some considerable exposure. I surfed the Web and found a Hawaii hiking forum where I found a guy by the name of Bill who lived near Pearl Harbor who had climbed Ka’ala more than once and was game for the punishment. I left my hotel on Waikiki Beach at around 6:15am and met him near his place at 7. Bill made the beautiful 1 hr drive around the west side of the island to the town of Waimea on the n.w. side of the island. From here it is a short drive up Wai’anae Valley Rd to the trailhead at 580’. I was thinking I would smoke up the trail at such a low elevation, but the humidity would have its’ way with me.
We set out up the steep asphalt/concrete combination road at just after 8am and I quickly began to sweat like a dog with a long sleeve Underarmour shirt with pants on to protect me from the expected blackberry thorns and other assorted jungle shrubbery. We made quick time to the end of the road and it was apparent flatlander Bill was in much better shape than myself. I later found out that he is a regular adventure racer, so that made me feel a little better! At around 1800’, we made the wrong turn to the left at a fork which added about ½ mile to the climb, but it turned out to be a blessing as it was not as steep as the standard route. My new Garmen Vista C GPS quickly lost its signal in the dense jungle, but I knew we were going up quick! We hit the ridge about ¼ mile to the west of the telephone poles that mark the spot where the “official” trail crests. As Gerry Roach would say, the introduction is over.
With my limited experience with narrow ridge traversing, I didn’t know how I would react. How bad can a 4’er in Hawaii be? The ridge is highly overgrown with native aalii and pilo shrubs along with plenty of blackberry thorns to grab onto you. You then climb around 1300’ in less than a mile to the flat summit bog. The width of the ridge varies from around 2-4’ with 3 boulder scrambles as I recall, the second of which was pretty exposed and wet. The class 3 moves on these boulders have plenty of great handholds, but conditions were a little dicier because of the shower the night before. Bill blazed the way up the muddy trail, which is lined with an assortment of fixed cables of various types, most of which you wouldn’t want to test for too long. I made a slow, methodical ascent as I was not as sure footed as Bill, and we finally topped out on the bog where there is a boot brush to wipe off seeds as you enter the Ka’aala Natural Area Reserve. After a 13 minute walk across a boardwalk through a bog of interesting native plants, we crossed a helipad and came upon the road to the gated FAA facility. From here, we walked around the perimeter of the fence to the left and arrived at the benchmarked summit at 10:39. The summit as is often the case was enshrouded in clouds, so we had no views of the famed north shore of Oahu. The views on the ridge though were astounding with views down to the Wai’anae valley and the Pacific Ocean on one side and narrow ridgelines on the north side.
After about a 20 minute stay, we headed back down. I was not looking forward to this slick descent, so Bill graciously spotted me in the couple tricky areas of the ridge and we were past the difficulties without incident. We then took the more steep and shorter standard trail down where I took a hard fall on top of some slippery tree roots. I thought I was going to dislocate my knee as I fell, but somehow came out of it with just a few minutes of pain. A few slip-n-slides later we were back down to the more civilized road, where it started getting pretty hot for this CO wannabe jungle hiker. We were back down at 1:06, happy to have graced formidable Ka’ala’s slopes. If you are ever in Oahu, this hike is rough but rewarding.