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


  1. Wow that picture before entering the tree snag zone is pretty awesome. I did not realize that the left side (my pov) was steep as I leaned that way while stepping on the trees because the right side had no chance of recovery in the event of a fall. Jeremy literally hopped on the branches while I tried to slither through like a snake (fail). That "final push" where you were coaching me had to be the worse moment ever on that ridge for me--arm strength was quickly dissipating as my two little clumps of grass began to be uprooted, so I had to leap forward and hope I stabilize on the grassier portion just a few feet up ahead. As I sat there contemplating the what-ifs and figuring out where the hell did my safety glasses go, my triceps locked for a long while after that encounter too close to the edge. My description of Bear Claw redefined: a seemingly enjoyable 2/3rds of climbing yet death awaits you mere feet from its summit. Last 30 feet is where it can all go wrong.

  2. crazy!!! i'm guessing true manamana is next?