Time: 8+ HOURS
Distance: 5 MILES / 8 KILOMETERS (Lateral, Estimated)
Elevation Gain: 2700 FEET / 823 METERS
Foot Traffic: VERY LOW
Challenges: Finding trails, Overgrown, Extreme rock scrambling, Narrow ridges, Crumbling rock, Free climbing
Sights: Mount Ka'ala, Waianae Mountain Range, Makaha Valley
Stuff to Bring: Lots of water, Good Hiking Shoes, Long sleeves/pants, 8+ hours of food, Someone who knows the trail, Flashlight
A challenging, point to point trek along some of the most untouched and sketchy portions of the Waianae Mountain Range. With steep dropoffs and crumbly ridges accompanying tricky free climbs, your heart is sure to skip a beat or two on this journey. But the absolutely brutal physical and technical challenges make finishing this hike that much more rewarding. The views of the west side and Waianae Range are spectacular and some of the rock formations you must climb over are unlike anything else on Oahu. If you have experience with technical climbing, have enough physical endurance, and are an adrenaline junkie who is willing to risk some serious injury or death, then this may be the ride for you.
This is still to this day one of the most physically difficult and technically dangerous hikes I've done in Hawaii. There was more than one instance where I thought this might be my last hike. But this hike will always have a special place in my heart. It's the hike that started it all. I credit this hike (and Peter) with the founding of this blog. After what would be a grueling 10+ hour journey, getting lost multiple times, and one near death experience it's hard not to want to share that story. And so I decided that's exactly what I would do.
This is the route we planned to take, starting at the Ka'ala lot (right) and ending at the Makaha Towers (left). I staged my car on the road near the Makaha Towers (they won't let you actually park there) and then rode with my hiking partner Peter, the 15 minutes to the lot at the end of Waianae Valley Road commonly referred to as the Mount Ka'ala Lot.
This is the paved road that leads to the Mount Ka'ala hike. We took it up a ways before cutting into the forest to get to Kawiwi ridge. Looking at the range, that front ridge that comes down towards us is Kawiwi Ridge. We ascended that first. We then headed left along the Kamaile'unu Ridge to reach that summit (the left most peak). Knife's Edge ridge behind Kamaile'unu is not visible.
This is the area we cut in to head to Kawiwi Ridge. After making a few subsequent ascents up Kawiwi (both of which were cut short by weather) I have decided this is NOT THE PATH you should take to the ridge. There is a much more direct path to get there that I recommend.
Because if you do take the above "path", you will be forced to contend with this--a lot of bushwacking. Because there really weren't any trail markers, we got lost a few times while trying to find the ridge. We had to rely on our geographic bearing and our gut to know where to go.
This was near the base of the ridge. We are almost above the treeline and already sweating profusely.
We eventually reached what was the base of Kawiwi. It was pretty obvious that there was only one way to go... up. It's hard to gauge exactly how much time we added with that indirect route, but if I had to guess, I'd say it was anywhere between 1 and 2 hours.
So if you instead take this path (which is now also marked on AllTrails), follow the road.
After 10ish minutes you will reach this power pole with this flattened section of grass.
Just beyond the grass and a bit downhill is a poll.
And past the poll is this relatively obvious trail, with several markers guiding you. From here it's a pretty easy path to follow.
And you will even get a few vantage points of the ridge itself just to reaffirm you are on course.
Eventually you will reach this burned section which actually serves as a firebreak. I'm fairly certain this section didn't exist when I did this hike in 2017. But it's extremely helpful, because it leads you right to the base of Kawiwi.
Rewind to 2017. And so begins our climb.
There was a ton of loose rock while ascending this ridge, so we had to make sure we were grabbing on to something sturdy before each step.
We had to get a little creative in some places to keep going up.
You can almost see the peak, but we still had a long way to go. Climbing over this rocky ridge was not easy.
Flexibility and upper body strength were key.
Luckily you could bring down your heart rate with breaks, soaking in the views of those neighboring ridges.
It was shortly after this photo that near disaster struck. I continued on the spine of the ridge while Peter decided to try to ascend along a lower dirt path. As I hauled myself up another level I heard a yell coupled with the sound of shoes sliding along dirt and rocks tumbling off the steep ridge.
"Pete!" I shouted. "Are you okay?!" After several seconds which felt like an eternity, he replied. "Yea I'm okay. That was a close one."
When we finally had a chance to regroup he told me that the ridge had broken out from underneath him and he had slid 10 or so feet down the ridge. Luckily, there was a lower section of ridge he was able to catch himself on to prevent from falling hundreds of feet to what very likely would have been his death. He then was able to haul himself up back up to the main ridge.
A scary moment and still to this day the closest call I've ever had hiking in Hawaii. And all Pete had to show for it was a little cut on his face and an attitude of "let's keep going."
Several hours and one near death experience later we had reach the summit of Kawiwi Ridge. Pete was all smiles though, ready to tackle the next ridge.
But first we gotta soak in a bit of those summit views. This shot looks east towards No Name Ridge (left) and Mount Ka'ala (right).
The valley looking so green thanks to all that winter rain.
But our adventure was only just beginning.
Now on to Kamaile'unu Ridge where the real fun begins.
This was the first vertical rock face we had to descend down. It may not look like much from here...
But I assure you, this was not easy.
Now it's my turn. The lack of good grabs and footholds made me quite uneasy.
Really the only thing between you and several broken bones was this flimsy electrical chord type rope. I never recommend putting your entire body weight on a rope, but for this descent there just weren't any other options. I am glad the music in my video drowns out the audio. I'm sure there were just a few swear words said.
Somehow we made it with no serious injuries, but the fun wasn't over. We had to climb over a few boulders along this narrow ridge...
And navigate around them as well...
All to reach yet another vertical rock face, this one even bigger!
Like the good friend that I am, I let Peter go first again. I mean I do have the better cell phone reception...
And now it's my turn. You can tell Peter is really concerned about whether or not I can make it down safely.
Clearly he was just getting a better vantage point for some photo ops. I don't blame him.
Doesn't look quite so scary from over here. This climb didn't make me nearly as nervous as the first one even though it was taller. The rope was much sturdier and easier to grip and there was just more cracks to grab on to as you descended.
Looks a bit more impressive from back here. That rock is quite photogenic.
Really this entire ridgeline was full of these cool looking rock formations. It really is amazing the beautiful shapes that nature seems to always create.
Now it's that last push up to Kamaile'unu's summit.
And alas we reached the peak of the Kamaile-unu Ridge. Elevation ~ 3200 feet (975 meters).
Time for another break and some views.. Here we are looking west on the other side of the peak towards Makaha Valley.
And now for the descent down Knife's Edge ridge. You can see the Makaha towers up in the top left where my car is parked. We would be going to the right of this valley down the ridge to reach the forest at the top of the picture. There we would take the trail back to the Makaha towers... or at least that was the plan.
Down we go.
. While still a crumbly ridge, there weren't any intense free climbs on Knife's Edge like the other two ridges. This shot was taken right before we got lost. There are trail markers that will lead you all the way down to the forested trail that leads back to the Makaha towers. Unfortunately, we didn't trust the markers at the time as they were leading away from the direction of the Towers. Instead we went directly down the rest of the ridge which required some serious bushwacking. If you follow the markers that veer to the right down Knife's Edge ridge, they should loop back around in the correct direction (but don't take this as gospel).
And somehow we ended up here, a preserved heiau (rock temple). This one is called the Kane'aki Heiau and is actually closed, so we were trespassing. This picture was taken right before a security guard caught us. Peter decided to make a dart for the woods, but I was too tired to do anything. The guard politely told as we weren't allowed here and to get back on the trail. We crossed a small stream in order to find the correct trail and continued on our way.
Unfortunately, we never did find the correct trail. I think you need to stay as close to the mountain range (the range closest to Makaha Towers) as possible in order to stay on the trail that takes you back to the Makaha towers. We ended up in someone's backyard and on a private road at some point. Luckily, no one seemed particularly upset we were there. And if they did, neither of us cared too much because of how exhausted we were. This was the road near the golf course that we took to get back to my car. After 10 hours of hiking, the sun was beginning to set. Peter and I were exhausted, but satisfied. We had conquered one of the most challenging and untouched hikes on Oahu, and we lived to tell the tale. Now it was time to eat!
Check out my video of this crazy climb!
Did you enjoy this insane hike? Leave a comment below!
Also Check Out:
- Kenji Saito's experience with this hike
- Peakbagger's list of Oahu's highest peaks