Time: 6+ HOURS
Distance: ~5 MILES
Elevation Gain: 1900 FEET
Foot Traffic: VERY LOW
Challenges: Restricted Access, Finding Trail, Narrow Ridges, Steep Climbs, OVERGROWN!!!
Sights: Pu'u Hapapa, Mount Ka'ala, Western and Central Oahu, Honolulu
What to Bring: Lots of Water, Food/Lunch, Sunscreen, Long Sleeves and Long Pants
At just over 3500 feet, Pu'u Kalena is the second tallest peak on Oahu. Not only are you required to gain nearly 2000 Feet in elevation, but you will be required to traverse narrow ridges, scramble up some steep inclines, and do some heavy bushwacking in order to reach this summit. If you overcome these obstacles, you will set foot on one of the rarely visited peaks of Oahu.
I have a confession. This hike does not show the summit of Pu'u Kalena because my hiking partner, Peter and I did not reach the summit. It wasn't for lack of effort or reaching some impassable obstacle. It was simply because we weren't prepared for how ridiculously overgrown this hike was and how long it would take to bushwack all the way up the ridge. If you attempt this hike, I urge you to wear long sleeves and start early because the bushwacking really complicates this hike.
That caveat out of the way, this hike still has some amazing aspects to it, so I will share our adventure with you.
A Google Earth image of the hike. It leaves from Kolekole Pass, a hike located on the Schofield Barracks military installation, and only accessible a few weekends a month (check this Facebook page). It is also the same place you can hike to Pu'u Hapapa, a hike I did a few weeks back. As you can tell from this picture, it's a pretty long and strenuous hike.
The entry to this hike is a bit tricky. It's basically right across the street from the dirt lot where people park for Kolekole and Pu'u Hapapa. However, the entry is very overgrown. The only sort of "landmark" I saw was this metal stake.
As soon as you pass the brush and it opens up you should see this Danger sign and barbed wire. Despite the uninviting nature of this, you are on the right path... kind of...
The goal is to find this dirt "road" that will lead you to the ridge. Facing the barbed wire you want to head in roughly a 2'o clock direction to find this area. There's a few markers thrown about, but they weren't really helpful. Finding this is basically a guessing game.
Peter and I ended up climbing this fairly steep dirt/dead tree wall before finding that road. But hey we still found it! It just requires some persistence and maybe some trial and error.
That road will eventually leave to this, a steep climb full of dirt and crumbling rock. This part wasn't too bad on the way up, but coming down was a different story.
You will then head back into trees for more steep climbing in order to reach the first narrow ridge. Despite the fact that this hike doesn't get much foot traffic, this section was actually very well marked. As long as you follow the orange markers it will take you up to the ridge. Once you reach the ridge, head LEFT to begin the ridge ascent.
And this is what you're ascending. This photo was actually taken during the return trip, but it gives you a good idea of what you're dealing with. Some pretty narrow ridges right along a steep dropoff.
Those narrow ridges. I've seen worse, but these were narrow enough that you actually need to focus on where you put your hands and feet.
Proper foot placement was important given the uneven nature of this rocky ridge.
Looking back at what we've done, you can see half of Kolekole Road, the now closed, historic road that connects the Central and Western part of Oahu.
A better shot of Kolekole a little higher up the ridge. The views really are incredible on this hike. I'd argue some of my favorite views anywhere on the island. Here you can see two other awesome hikes, Pu'u O Hulu (that little mound on the right) and Pu'u Heleakala, the ridge immediately to it's left.
And once you reach the first "false peak" you can even see downtown Honolulu if it's clear enough. Pretty incredible.
And of course, some views of Pu'u Kalena itself. That flat peak just beyond Kalena is Mount Ka'ala, the highest peak on Oahu.
But getting to Pu'u Kalena is a little bit trickier than it looks. You actually have to follow the ridge to the left as it wraps all the way around before you can connect to Kalena on the right.
And that ridge is plenty challenging. It got somewhat narrow at points.
Eventually you will reach a fence that follows along the ridge. I'm pretty sure the fence is to keep the pigs in (or out?). Peter and I both got stuck in what I can only assume was some sort of pig trap. Don't worry, we escaped. You can basically follow this fence all the way to Pu'u Kalena.
You will be required to hop over it a few times in order to stay on the ridge and find the path of least resistance.
Crossing these fences is actually a bit of a challenge. They are pretty wobbly and it's easy to forget you are still on a narrow ridge. Then there's the risk of injury straddling it like Peter is doing... I recommend taking your time crossing this thing.
But really, this picture shows what sucks the most about this hike. It is EXTREMELY overgrown! I'm stubborn and never wear long pants, even on overgrown hikes. I regretted it BIG TIME during this hike. It was actually painful on the return trip because I had so many cuts all over my arms and legs. That post hike shower was NOT enjoyable.
Peter and I did push on until we reached this open dirt portion of the ridge, just before the final ascent to the summit. We were both tired (and me slightly hungover ;) ) and really just done with all the bushwacking. We also realized if it took more than an hour to summit, we ran the risk of getting our cars locked in because they close the gate to the road at 6:30. It was tough to swallow our pride, but we turned back.
But not all was lost on our return trip, we decided to take a quick stop at a ridge we had seen on the way out. It's a ridge that stems off shortly after the first "false peak" of the hike. While I couldn't find a name for it, we will call this ridge "Sexy Ridge" courtesy of this blog post by The HI Escapade.
Maybe "Dangerous Ridge" would be a good name, because this ridge was crazy narrow. No more than a few feet in some parts. I'm currently sitting on top of a small rock formation right in the center of the ridge, thousand foot dropoffs on both sides.
But this is why it's sexy, a beautiful and narrow ridge overlooking the magnificent west side. Simply amazing. Maybe I'll modify the name to "Dangerously Sexy Ridge?" I don't know. Maybe no name is better. Regardless, it's finding amazing spots like these that make the struggles and disappointment we faced earlier seem as though they never happened.
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Also Check Out
- The HI Escapade's post about this hike
- KenjiSaito's write up of their adventure
- Not So Great Hiking Blog's post about Pu'u Kalena