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 would have sucked for the less experienced.  Ignorance "could" be bliss though.  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 needs to at least include this as an alternate. His revised edition is in serious need of revising because its 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.

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

Koko Crater Rim (Extended)

Destination: Somewhere
DATE: September 4, 2010
PARTICIPANTS: “Rambo” Jeremy, “Bloody” Jean, “FOB” Hope, Me

I’ve done the crater rim twice before, both with different approaches. I decided to see if it was possible to navigate the terrain to the stone arch bridge from the Lanai lava tube without using the road, so this was an experiment, much to the dismay of our group’s brand new addition, Hope, from Montana. Welcome to 173Hiking! Congratulations, you’re an involuntary guinea pig.

Instead of donning his usual sombrero today to shade his hairless beacon, Jeremy brought along a very obnoxious wig. One that looked like it was scalped from Little Ritchie in the later years, or Adam Sandler in the “Wedding Singer.” It would just freaking crush Donald Trump’s unwieldy hairdo in a Rogaine audition. Very nice.

Left to right:  Hope, Me, Jean, Jeremy
Little Ritchie called; he wants his hair back
I won’t talk much about the rim as I’ve already done so for the previous editions. The “unknown” portion from the lava tube to the natural bridge was … interesting … to say the least. Actually, it was extremely annoying and was more technically difficult than the straightforward approach from the Haluna Blowhole. Hence, the “medium” rating. There was no path. As far as terrain navigation was concerned, it was a case of pure dead reckoning. My lab rats were pissed.

We had to find our way over four crumbly spurs, facing pretty steep terrain all the way. We did find another cave of some sort tucked away in the side of one spur, but our priority was to get to the natural bridge. I have to give mad props to Hope for making this her first hike with us as it would be pretty hairy to any newcomer, especially one who had only just moved here five days prior. I’m just spreading some Aloha. E komo mai.

Lots of crumbly and lots of steep
Making a trail through dry and arid
In strict terms of completion, this extended version of Koko Crater Rim was a success… to the extent that I’ll probably never do it again. There was no real sense of accomplishment, unless you’re Hope (good job!). The consensus feeling after making it to the natural bridge was a lot of “thank God that’s over!” or “what was the point of that?” or my favorite, “there better be hot chicks on the top of Kokohead.” Surprise, surprise, there WERE good looking women at the top. VERY good looking women. Lots of them. And a bunch of USC fans (Fight On!). Of course, in true Bang Daddy fashion, I took an extended break up top to, um, “network.” Pretty productive day.

Over the bridge
Nothing is impossible
The world is for the taking
Caution and concentration
Within the sandbox