Time: 8+ HOURS
Distance: 4.5 MILES Lateral
Elevation Gain: 2700 FEET
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
This is without a doubt the most physically difficult and technically dangerous hike I've done on the island. There was more than one instance where I thought this might be my last hike. That being said, it is also one of my favorites. The absolutely brutal physical and technical challenges finishing this hike that much more rewarding. The views of the west side and Waianae Range were spectacular and some of the rock formations we were forced to climb over were unlike anything I have seen on the island. 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 the route we planned to take, starting at the Ka'ala lot and ending at the Makaha Towers. 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 in to 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. You can really cut in anywhere as long as you can get to the base of the ridge.
There was a lot of bushwacking to get to the ridge. There really weren't any trail markers, so we got lost a few times while trying to find the ridge. I recommend just keeping your geographic bearing and going with your gut in terms of which direction to go.
This was near the base of the ridge. We are almost above the treeline and already sweating profusely.
Had to take a quick stop to soak in the view before our ascent up Kawiwi Ridge.
And so begins the 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 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.
Not an uncommon view during the climb.
After several hours, we reached the summit of Kawiwi Ridge. Elevation ~ 2900 Feet.
Definitely a good spot for lunch.
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 no cake walk.
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 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 around 50 feet!
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.
The reward of a making it down safely was one of those beautiful rock formations that nature seems to always create.
And alas we reached the peak of the Kamaile-unu Ridge. Elevation ~ 3200 feet
A view of the other side of the peak and 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.
I really never get tired of these shots.
This is our descent down Knife's edge... 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 or 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 find 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 technically 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