Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mt. Ka'ala - Hiking

Mt. Ka'ala (4,025 ft)
Elevation Gain: 3,500 ft
Trail: Wai'anae-Ka'ala
Distance: 8 miles roundtrip
Duration: 7.75 hrs (includes stops for breaks along the trail and at the summit)
Difficulty: Moderate to Very Strenuous 
Danger: Medium to High (steep sections with loose rock, rock scrambling along trail)

My first attempt to summit Mount Ka'ala ended at 2,800 feet. It was winter in Hawaii and by the time we got up to the 3 poles it was raining lightly making for a slippery trail. I had brought my spikes and trekking poles with me from the east coast but had left them in my cousin's truck at the trailhead. It was too slippery to continue so Neil, my cousin Darrell and I turned back. Today was a different story. The weather was beautiful and it looked like I was going to be able to bag the highest peak on the island of O'ahu.

At the covered picnic table we took the trail to the right
marked with boulders and Macadamia Nut trees
Oahu, Hawaii, hiking

There were six of us at the trailhead but that changed at the junction of a gully. One of the hikers "D" had brought his iPod and earphones to listen to his music while hiking. He hiked ahead but instead of stopping at the junction at the gully, he kept going up the ridge following the yellow blazes. Knowing that for this hike it was "purple up, orange down" I told Neil and Mike to call out to him but was told that "D" wouldn't hear anything with his earplugs on. Darrell, Don and I continued on the trail while Neil and Mike texted and called "D". Shortly before we reached the 3 poles, Darrell got a text from Neil saying that although "D" had twisted his ankle, he was fine but just couldn't continue the hike. Neil and Mike had turned back with him. :(

Approximately between 2,900 and 3,600 feet (just past the 3 poles) is a tough push up the very steep ridge. There are ropes along the trail, but having spikes helped immensely, especially on the descent. There are a couple series of exposed boulders to negotiate, with cables/rope/cord to aid in climbing. 
Don looking up the final push to the summit

 Darrell scrambling up the first set of exposed boulders.

This last set of boulders is notorious and (dangerous) as you can see here, the left side didn't have many holds. There was no way I was smearing up the boulder, especially since I had spikes on.  So I took to the right side, and found fat foot and hand holds! This side of the boulders are also on the edge of the ridge and the drop is a 1000 feet or so. So take caution not to slip here. On the descent, I just downclimbed these boulder sections while holding onto the ropes! :)

**Caution: this section of the trail is very steep and one side is exposed to a steep dropoff.

 Enter the Ka'ala Natural Area Reserve

We spent 45 minutes at the summit eating snacks, hydrating and taking many photos of the FAA Radar Installation as well as the  North Shore and Leeward views. I think there's a benchmark at this summit, but I didn't find it. :(









We descended the same trail we came up on. 
Those exposed rock scrambles were easier going down than up. 

And I was glad that I was comfortable rappelling because it came in handy on all those roped sections of the trail. There's always a first time for everything, right? Well, for the very first time I heard it coming, and it sounded heavy. And in that instant my thought was, "Oh shit, a dislodged rock!"  I quickly looked above me and although the sun was in my eyes, I could make out a rock the size of my head, in mid air coming at me. I was still hanging onto my rope but was able to get out of the way and missed getting hit by the rock. It landed off the trail just below me. I cannot recall the words that came out of my mouth at that moment. But I do remember after calming down I told Don to try not to dislodge anything and if he did, to yell "rock" loudly and quickly.



For this hike (and most hikes on O'ahu), I referenced The Hikers Guide to O'ahu by Stuart M. Ball, Jr. I made a copy of the Wai'anae-Ka'ala hike and kept it in my pocket. Excellent trail descriptions that come in handy along the trail! Hillsound Trail Crampons are my choice of traction for the muddy terrain on this hike. Also, my First Aid kit is scaled down a bit from the kit I usually take with me when I solo hike. I took up 2.5 liters of fluids and consumed 1.5 liters. I also carried 24 feet of webbing and couple locking carabiners....just in case. And I really don't have any place on my backpack to secure my trekking pole so it was kinda a pain to carry up and down the steep sections. But my knees appreciated it on the descent.
Strawberry Guava galore!!
 Anyone missing a hat, or two?

Some things I learned on this hike:
- Don't assume that everyone has hiked the trail, much less hike, especially if you didn't invite them on the hike!


- At the start of the hike, before leaving the trailhead, make certain everyone in the group knows you can hike ahead of the group, but to stop and wait for the group at each trail junction. If you don't want to wait up at the trail junctions for your group, then don't hike with the group in the first place.

- Warn everyone in the group what they will encounter on the trail. 

- Don't assume everyone knows how to rock scramble.

- Don't assume that everyone knows NOT to dislodge a rocks, tree branches, dirt or any type of debris. And if they do dislodge debris, don't assume that they know to yell ROCK loudly so those below can get out of the way.

- I got lucky on this hike. I could've been hit by a rock and become a Rescue recipient. And you wouldn't be reading this blog, but be reading about me in the local Hawaii paper. 

3 comments:

Dee Tor said...

I learned a lot about this hike too, sorry about the rock.

Hawaii Girl said...

Thanks Dee Tor, I also hope you enjoyed the hike and congrats on bagging the tallest peak on the island of O'ahu.

purpleflowerseaurchin said...

Always serious fun Lovena. Nice pics.
MOre to come... cuz Kat