Honolulu County Highpoint Trip Report
Wai'anae Ka'ala - The Oahu Island highpoint (4,025 ft)
Date: July 29, 2005
Author: Kevin Baker
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 6:15 am and met him near his place at 7. Bill made the
beautiful 1-hour drive around the west side of the island to the town of Waimea
on the northwest side of the island. From here, it is a short drive up Wai'anae
Valley Road to the trailhead at 580 feet. 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 8 am 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
that 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 feet, we made the wrong turn to the left at a fork which added about
a half 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 a
quarter 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 feet in less than a mile to the flat
summit bog. The width of the ridge varies from around 2-4 feet 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 pm, happy to have graced formidable
If you are ever in Oahu, this hike is rough but rewarding.
Climb statistics: 8.5 miles with 3,500 feet of elevation gain.