Time: 4-5 HOURS
Distance: 4 MILES
Elevation Gain: 1500 FEET
Foot Traffic: LOW
Challenges: Rock Scrambling with Steep Dropoffs, Narrow Ridges, Overgrown, Steep Inclines
Sights: Central Oahu, West Oahu, Kolekole Pass, Mount Ka'ala, Waianae Range, Honolulu
What to Bring: Water, Shoes with Good Grip, Snack, Long Sleeves/Pants, Sunscreen
An awesome hike located in the center of Oahu on the Schofield Barracks military installation, the trek to Pu’u Hapapa begins gradually with a short stroll to a beautiful lookout of the West Side of Oahu and the historic Kolekole Road. When you continue from this point, the hike will quickly get more intense, forcing you to climb some steep slopes, scramble up and down two notches, and traverse a narrow ridge. The risk will all be worth it because once you reach Pu'u Hapapa and its elevation of 2900 feet, you will be rewarded with amazing views of the West Side, the rest of the Waianae Range, and even glimpses of Honolulu.
Independence Day in the United States is typically celebrated with cookouts, parades, and fireworks. Don't get me wrong, I love this type of 4th of July celebration just as much as the next guy, but out here on this little island of Oahu, it is much easier to do things a little off the beaten path. My good hiking buddy Peter and I decided we wanted to celebrate our holiday by making a return trip to what Peter claims is his favorite hike on the island, Pu'u Hapapa. After returning to this place a second time, I now understand why.
Here's what we are about to accomplish. Pu'u Hapapa, with its elevation of ~2900 feet is no walk in the park.
The hike begins at the Kolekole Pass Trailhead. This trailhead is located on Schofield Barracks, a military installation in Central Oahu. Access to this trail is limited due to the Army doing training. Check out this Facebook page for more information. From what I've seen, it is typically open about 2 weekends a month. The trailhead is located right next to an obvious dirt parking lot.
And we're off!
Surprisingly, this is not the first time I've seen this sign while hiking on Oahu. We will just stay on the trail then.
The trail is pretty obvious to get to the Kolekole Pass lookout, but I did see a few forks. Go LEFT here.
And LEFT again here. I didn't actually test out the forks, but it's possible they would still lead you to the correct place.
And within no time, you will arrive at what I call the Kolekole Pass Lookout. If you look closely, you can see a road cutting around this mountain. That is Kolekole Pass, a road with both historical and practical significance. It is now closed, but you can read more about its history in this blog post. Many people will use this lookout as a turnaround point for their hike.
But not us! That is the ridge we will be hiking. You can just make out the two notches we will have to navigate.
To continue on, just follow the obvious beaten down path leading away from the lookout and towards the ridge.
You will follow this path for a bit through the trees and around this dirt wall.
Eventually, the path will lead you here, a climb up the tree roots to lead you to the ridge. The first time I did this, I took an earlier and more direct path to get to the ridge. However, it was a very steep climb up some loose dirt. I think this is the easiest path to get up there. While it is easier, it is still steep. You will be huffing and puffing once you reach the ridge.
But that effort is worth it! Here we have another great shot of Kolekole.
And looking down, you can see dropoff and the first notch. Don't worry you don't have to climb down here. There's a much easier path to the left of the notch.
A shot in between the first notch.
And another in between of the second. While notch has an intimidating sound to it, these ones aren't anything like the notorious Pali Notches. Pali is basically free climbing, Pu'u Hapapa is really just a steep rock scramble. It's still plenty dangerous as a slip would send you plummeting into the valley below.
So just be careful and take your time like these guys. Peter and I waited on the peak after the first notch as these guys navigated their way down.
Our turn! Here's a shot of Peter coming up the second notch. As you can see it's steep, but there's plenty of room and lots of good holds to work with.
After making it up the second notch, you will begin the ridge hike to the summit. It starts out pretty open with some good 360 views. There are a few narrow portions, however, like this one.
But then you will head back into the brush. I should warn you, this is the least exciting part of the hike. It's overgrown, scratchy, and there are no views. It also feels like it takes a long time to get from here to the summit. That may be because we were starting to get tired, but still...
With some persistence you will begin to break through the trees. Just have to navigate around this rock.
And this steep dirt dropoff.
And eventually you will reach this fence. The summit is near!
Just a bit more. The summit is a flat platform just up these stairs.
Voila! Pu'u Hapapa Summit, Elevation ~ 2900 Feet. This is a shot looking north that shows what we just accomplished. That flat peak in the center of the photo is Mount Ka'ala, the highest peak on Oahu at just over 4000 Feet.
And here's a shot looking south to some of the other Waianae Ridges. All the way to the right is Pu'u Heleakala, home to the Hawaiian Pyramid.
And that little hill all by its lonesome is Pu'u O Hulu, the popular west side pillbox hike.
And even a shot that just barely captures Honolulu.
And of course one more shot of the beautiful Kolekole Pass. We took in the views for a few minutes and snapped some pictures. I could have stayed up there for hours, but, it being the 4th of July, we did have to be patriotic and watch fireworks. It was time to head home.
But we decided we did have enough time for a short photo shoot at the second notch. Here's Peter taking the hard way up.
And a shot on top, looking out into the beautiful colors of the west side. I think Peter will agree with me when I say, it's places like these where I truly feel free.
Check out my video of this fun and tough hike!
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Also Check Out:
- Unreal Hawaii's write up about this hike