Pali Puka - Lanihuli (Failed Attempt)

Dusk settles in over the Pali Highway
DATE: October 10, 2010
DIFFICULTY: Hard - Mental
PARTICIPANTS: “The Optimist” Jeremy, “MP3” Stefanie, Me

Okay, so after last week’s “scouting mission,” I was bound and determined to conquer what I initially considered as the “easiest” of my superhikes. Of course, if you read my blog from a week ago, “easy” wasn’t exactly … correct.

Just to recap our last attempt … er … (ahem) scouting mission. My thought process went something like this. “Looks easy … Pali Puka is cool … oooh, high winds and narrow ridge … we got time, we’ll finish it in no time … (snap) taking pictures (snap) … narrower ridge … impossible looking nub … crap, we ain’t got time … turn around … shortcut? … following trail tape … trail tape leads nowhere … oooh let’s follow a stream … oh (looking down a 300 ft waterfall), not this way … wish we didn’t take shortcut … where are we going … swing from tree to tree … trail tape again, should we follow? … we follow … get to road and walked to lookout … woohoo! Successful scouting mission! Freaking epic fail.

Not this time, said I. I would not be denied this day. Well, at least that’s what I told myself anyway.

Kaneohe and beyond
Take two
Not BS-ing around, we reached our original turnaround point in about an hour and took a break. Getting past the nub proved extremely easy, but for anyone attempting this hike, I left a ridiculous display of rope, reminiscent of a retard’s crayon designs. Not pretty, but effective.

The crumbly nature of the ridge made Bear Claw and Piliwale ridges feel like stable concrete sidewalks in comparison. Even “The Optimist” Jeremy noted that the route was more technically difficult and dangerous overall than True Manamana, which he conquered BY HIMSELF!!! Of course, being 173Hiking, we pride ourselves in conducting insane hikes with minimal equipment. Oh, and saving the chopper only for death and dismemberment. Heard it was more of a challenge…or something.

Ah yes... the fun begins
Walk in the park

Nature's tight-rope
We were blasting the trail, trucking uphill like there was a tsunami on our asses. No way were we turning around … until we discovered, what we’ve since dubbed, the REAL Pali Notches. I personally call it “Donkey Kong.”

You know the famous notches on the south side of the lookout supposedly used during the battle of Nu’uanu? Yeah, those were dents. It was 1100 hrs. What lay before us was a suicidal series of vertical, three foot wide notches ranging anywhere from 20 to 50 feet in height. Loose dirt, crumbly rock. Honestly, the Pali Notches is where you drop your kids off to play. Donkey Kong is for the big boys. Stefanie’s constant “This is !#@$%& crazy!” chant didn’t really help either. A hundred feet of rope was all we had. After much debate, we headed back the way we came. To add insult to injury, the gods pulled down their pants and started to piss on us. We were defeated once again…

City and out to sea
Obstacle course from hell
Live to fight another day
Again we tried another “shortcut” down the leeward side of the ridge in an effort to avoid the treacherous ridgeline and a dike Jeremy called “Pu’u Suicido.” It was a long, long, loooong descent. More like detour. Somehow we found the blue rope we came across during the scouting mission. At 5pm! Time was not on our side as the sun began to clock out and head towards happy hour. So, up the rope we went, back on the ridge, back towards the puka, and eventually back to the parking lot around 7pm.

I’m sure Jeremy would like me to mention that I was crying like a little bitch while climbing up the blue rope. Took me about 20 minutes to climb 30 feet. You happy now, Jeremy? He always wanted to get me back for the whole reverse Olomana incident. Double fail.

Assume the break posture

Climbing down Pu'u Suicido

Rain gods show no mercy as we trespassed over their domain
Navigating terrain as the fog rolls in

Pretty much sums up the hike

Serenity amidst chaos

Pali Puka (Extended)

Another day, another challenge
DATE: October 3, 2010
DIFFICULTY: Hard - Mental
PARTICIPANTS: “The Optimist” Jeremy, “MP3” Stephanie, Me

To be completely honest, my plan was to hike from the Pali Lookout up to Lanihuli and down into the Kalihi Valley. We wasted so much time on the hike that I realized we wouldn’t make it on time. So, it became a “scouting mission” and we bailed out a side ridge into the Nu’uanu Valley.

Monolith of a wall in the background

Stephanie and me at the puka
Getting to the puka was the usual affair. 20 minutes of hard, fast paced hiking in fun hurricane type winds. We took a few minutes admiring the Godek wall, wondering if Chuck really did scale and descend the rock face all those years ago. I thought about it… briefly, and followed it up with a big fat no thank you!

Gaining the ridge was less work than I had expected. There was a trail around the rock face which eventually led to a series of rope. So yes, I was disappointed I didn’t get to find my own route, but also glad because I’m a lazy bastard. We decided to make a right to the top of the Godek wall and that’s where everything turned to shit. Time was ticking, and Jeremy lost his brand spanking new camera. Since the ridge dropped straight down on both sides, attempting the search would have been … um … not smart.

Ridge walking ... sadistically addicting
On the border of windward and leeward
The mood was sour as we turned around and carried on with our quest for Lanihuli. I thought I had seen what thin and crumbly looked like, but the truly knife edge nature of the ridge plus the lovely high winds had my spidey sense jacked up pretty high. At about 10am, we reached a nub on the ridge …. a very intimidating nub on the ridge.

There was no going around it, unless you’re freaking Spiderman. Now, I was on a strict timeline on this day and was in no mood to conduct any kind of terrain negotiation. I seriously underestimated the difficulty of this hike and the time it would take. I took another look at my watch and called it. No Lanihuli today.

You win today, nub
Even superheroes get pissed when they lose their camera
So we turned around. Home free right? WRONG! We passed a rope leading down the leeward side of the ridge earlier and figured it was a quick bailout route back down into the valley. We were right… and wrong. Right, because it was. Wrong, because if you’re not paying attention and just following trail tape (guilty as charged), it would be the loooooongest shortcut you’ll ever take.

I’m not going to go into detail because being exposed as one of the biggest epic fails in hiking history isn’t exactly a title I’m proud of. Just know that we went the wrong way … a few times. I take full responsibility. We did end up back at the lookout, completing the “loop,” but without Jeremy’s camera, and a huge feeling of dissatisfaction. Maybe next week…

Blue rope leading down the leeward side
Are we lost yet?
A great indication that we're going the wrong way
This is how horror movies begin
Green at the end

Bear Claw Ridge (Pu'u O Kona windward) - Kuli'ou'ou Ridge

DATE: September 12, 2010
DIFFICULTY: Hard - Mental
PARTICIPANTS: “Reef Shoes” Jason, “The Optimist” Jeremy, Me

HTMC vet Wing Ng put up a list on the internet called “Very Difficult Trails on Oahu” which catalogs a group of hikes rarely found in published circles, in ascending order of difficulty. You can read up on it here on

Bear Claw Ridge, also known as Pu’u O Kona Windward, ranks number two; one above Piliwale Ridge, and just one below the elusive True Manamana. It actually consists of three ridges rising up from Waimanolo and meeting at around 1900 ft elevation, creating an image of a “claw.” I’m not sure if it looked like a bear’s claw. We agreed it was more like a T-rex’s. Whatever. I didn’t name it.

Left to right:  Jason, Me, Jeremy.  Bear Claw in the background
Bear or T-rex?
Two are possible without the use of equipment. Getting to the right ridge (as you’re looking at it) either involved an hour of brush breaking or walking through someone’s back door. The left ridge was the only one with a direct open route. That’s the one I chose. Having already achieved Piliwale, I jumped at the chance to attack this supposed “very hard” hike, as always thinking, “How hard could it be?” It’s the 173Hiking motto. Sweet, a challenge.

Usually, ridge hikes on Oahu present a standard progression of events, as if by the numbers. First is a steep, exhausting climb to gain some ridge. Second is a choice of one or more of these options: good views, narrow ridges, or steep rock climbs. Third is overgrowth (pick your plant, but it’s usually those damn ulehe fern). Fourth is a great view from the summit, or a bunch of rain clouds. After all that, everything culminates in an anticlimactic descent wherever you decide to go. Pau.

On a rock overlooking Waimanolo
Ladybug keeping us company
Holy cow! Not this hike! Those rules went the way of disposable diapers. It began gently and ended with a red hot branding iron in our asses. As we progressed along the route, it upgraded difficulty levels like how a World of Warcraft power gamer upgrades their leotard-wearing fairy rank. Sane to off-your-rocker in two miles!

Where I turned around during my scouting mission (about 1300 ft) was about where serious climbing began. It wasn’t anything I haven’t done before, so I assumed that a steep climb through overgrowth was as bad as it got. WRONG! Granted, there was no trail, and I knew that brush breaking was a must. There was no fern, which I found interesting. Instead, there were plenty of little trees. Lots of little trees. A LOT of little trees with very, very strong branches. None of them would give way, making this portion (1300 – 1800 ft) a slow, methodical climb, weaving over and under tree limbs while swatting away the buzzing bees around my head. I knew that bees have collective intelligence, so when one knows where you are, THEY ALL KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. Needless to say, I had to move quickly to make it hard for them to pinpoint my location.

Jason, through the trees
Trees changed colors, but there are still so many of them!
I’m not going to go into too much detail, but I will say the words "ridge," "narrow," "steep," and, "crumbly" a lot.  From this point, the experience went something like this. The ridge leveled off, instilling the false sense of “home free.” Take pictures and enjoy yourself now. Last chance. Next, the ridge got narrow (literally one foot wide). Then the ridge remained narrow and became very crumbly. As if that wasn’t enough, narrow and crumbly became narrow, crumbly, steep, and steeper. After it leveled off again, the walk along the narrow ridge (still one foot wide) became a pay per view MMA battle against those damned trees making a huge comeback, ON THE ONE FOOT WIDE RIDGE!!! Finally, the Coup De Gras finale was a 50 foot climb up a fairly steep scramble on a “wider” ridge, which was nothing but loose soil, crumbly rock, and unstable vegetation.

Navigating tree infested rock dikes
Narrow to the extreme
Summiting Pu’u O Kona seemed to come at just the right time. Just in time to change my pants. While Piliwale was overall, more satisfying to complete due to its length, elevation and magnitude, the experience and exhilaration going up Bear Claw ridge easily outclassed anything I’ve ever done before. Jason felt that Piliwale was a more dangerous endeavor, and I agree. However, although not as “dangerous,” the scare factor on Bear Claw Ridge is insane. To its credit, it maintained a high level of sadistic excitement to the end, the view was fantastic, and it was as original and spontaneous as a trail can get. Great hike. Short and crazy. Oh, and no rope, just the way we like it.

NOTE:  There is NO trail beyond the power lines (500 ft elevation).  Stay true to the ridge, keep your center of gravity low, and test each step before taking them.  The plants on the 50 ft final push WILL NOT HOLD.  Inch your way up slowly and keep a cool head.

Satelite image of the ridges that make up Bear Claw Ridge
Hanging on to fight the vertigo
This is the EASY part
Final push to the summit of O Kona
Reflecting on a new lease on life

Kahekili - Manamana - Crouching Lion

Gazing at the ocean blue
DATE: September 5, 2010
DIFFICULTY: Medium - Hard
PARTICIPANTS: “The Optimist” Jeremy, “Mp3” Stefanie, Me

THIS is what I was expecting when I did Manamana a few months back. The traditional Manamana loop started off quickly and the initial climb was a whole lot of badass. Unfortunately, the initial experience was demolished when the rest of it consisted of breaking through 45 minutes worth of head high ulehe and a boring descent down a steep narrow ridge lined with strawberry guava trees, effectively blocking the excellent views and making it too easy.

Left to right:  Jeremy, Stefanie, Me
On the Kahekili trail
The Kahekili – Manamana – Crouching Lion loop fixed all of that. The initial scramble was a combination of the ascents up Mt. Ka’ala and traditional Manamana. It featured narrow ridges, excellent views, and a steep climb that just … went … on … forever. The Kahekili hike is also known as the Hidden Valley trail because the route ends in a small valley tucked away at high elevation. A stream rolls down the middle of it, creating a few cascading waterfalls and swimming holes, eventually leading downstream to a larger waterfall which flows down into the valley below.

Lately, my luck has been terrible when actually looking for flowing waterfalls. The ones I’ve sought out recently have either been dried up, or down to a leak. This time was no different. Water was down to a mere trickle and the pools, although filled, were stagnant. In case you’re wondering, my overall record to date (in Oahu) is in favor of success. I’m currently 9 – 5. Take that!

So it begins
"Narrow" is the operative word
No luck this day with the waterfall
Connecting to the Manamana trail did involve about 30 minutes worth of climbing through some overgrowth, but the difference was that I knew how this hike would end, and it was a blast. Rock dikes, steep descents, rock scrambles, and those oh-so-awesome narrow ridges with the “legendary” drop-offs. I noticed that the “safer bypass” sign was missing, which sucked because we were actually planning on taking it ourselves. Damn it. We actually bypassed the bypass anyway and the rope provided along the way was extremely unnecessary.

Down the Manamana trail
Woman versus wild
We absolutely had to check out this whole Crouching Lion rock formation this time around since we previously blew it off. All I can say is, wow. What a way to end the hike. For anyone going up or down Manamana, the crouching lion route is the WAY TO GO! Stuart Ball’s suggestion for the trailhead blows balls. His revised edition is in serious need of revising. It is just criminal to omit this experience from your itinerary. Lo and behold! It’s also a faster and less painful way to gain the ridge or go back down. That page in my “Hiker’s Guide to Oahu” had better be soft when I use it to wipe my ass.

Checking out the Crouching Lion rock formation
Atlas lost his day job
I cannot say enough about this hike. Anyone thinking of hiking the Manamana loop should just forget it and do this variation instead. Granted, you won’t get to the Kahana Valley overlook, but that’s like giving me a skateboard in exchange for my Ford Mustang. If you really have a hard-on for a view of Kahana Valley, go up Pu’u Piei, as it provides a more complete vantage point. After today, I truly feel that there’s a brand new entry in my overall top five favorite hikes on the island.

The world is our playground
Looking back from where we came
Rope is for pansies
Looking out as the end nears