Time: 6-8 HOURS
Distance: ~8 MILES
Elevation Gain: 2200 FEET
Foot Traffic: LOW
Challenges: Very Overgrown, River Crossings, Steep Scrambles on Narrow and Grassy Ridges
Sights: Kualoa Ranch, Kahana Valley, Windward Coastline
What to Bring: Water (>2L), Snack/Lunch, Long Sleeves/Pants, Gloves
One of Oahu's few standalone peaks, summiting the pyramid shaped Pu'u Ohulehule is no easy task. It requires multiple river crossings and bushwacking simply to get to the ridge. You will then be tasked with climbing an extremely overgrown ridge with very steep scrambles up grass and mud, all while being surrounded with sharp drop offs. For those that do reach the summit, you will be rewarded with a unique and beautiful perspective of the area, including the famous Kualoa Ranch, Sandbar, and the surrounding Ko'olau Range. You will probably be glad when this hike is over, but if you are up for a challenge, you will look back on this trek with a sense of proud satisfaction.
After hiking so many different trails on Oahu, I've developed an ever growing appreciation for the subtle differences between the ridges and the landscape as a whole. It is no surprise that the prominent Pu'u Ohulehule has routinely caught my eye. Despite the mountainous nature of Oahu, there are very few peaks that I consider "standalone." Most of the peaks are part of the Ko'olau Summit Trail (KST) which runs the entirety of Oahu's windward side from the North to the South shore. From my own assessment, other than the well-known Mount Olomana ("Three Peaks") and maybe Pu'u Manamana, Pu'u Ohulehule is the only other peak that I feel meets that definition. So when I finally convinced my friend Carly to join me, I was excited to knock this long-awaited peak off my list.
The hike from the northwest side has two parts. The first part is through the valley where you make multiple stream crossings to reach the ridge. The second is the tough climb up the grassy ridge to reach the summit. Note, this ridge is also hikeable from the southeast ridge, although that is considered even more challenging.
Carly and I got a 9am start. From what I read, there's some variance in how long this hike takes, but generally between 6 and 8 hours. We decided to park at the visitor center at Ahupua'a O Kahana State Park and walk from there. We discovered that we could have driven a bit farther and parked just off the road near this hunting sign. Not a huge deal, but after a long hike, every little bit of distance gets you that much closer to your post hike poke bowl.
We followed the road through a neighborhood until we reached these signs. This area is part of the Ahupua'a O Kahana State Park and has a few hiking trails. We will be on the Nakoa Trail for a little bit. Head left along the trail.
And follow it downhill until we arrive at our first river crossing! There are actually 4 crossings in total, but this is the longest. Luckily there's a rope to help as you traverse a partially submerged wall, because that thing is slick! My personal recommendation is to just ford this thing with your shoes on. They will inevitably get wet and muddy on this hike.
Not long after the first crossing, be on the lookout for this junction. This is where we will take a left and leave the Nakoa Trail and head towards Pu'u Ohulehule. Carly and I made the easy mistake of walking right by it and having to backtrack.
And after the turn you are soon treated with another river crossing.
And then another. Feel free to ring out your socks now.
Because there's a bit of a break before the last river crossing. The trail ascends for a little and opens up a bit. The good news is there's plenty of markers throughout this trail, so it isn't too hard to follow. At some point you will hit a somewhat open "field." Here you should follow the ribbons to the left.
So much green! I love that mountain backdrop in front of Carly. That jagged ridgeline is True Manamana, one of the most extreme hikes on all of Oahu. Some day I'll get up there...
Final crossing! Well at least until we have to do it all over again on our return trip...
Now it's time to begin the ascent. That cloud covered peak is the summit, so we still have some distance to cover. It starts somewhat gradually, but gets much steeper the closer you get to the summit. This is also the point of the hike where I recommend putting on long pants/long sleeves and even gloves. That's right gloves! This was maybe the most overgrown ridge I've ever hiked on Oahu (Pu'u Kalena would give it a run for its money). As I write this post a month later, I still have some cuts/irritations from those extremely sharp plants that got stuck in my skin.
But it's those challenges that make climbing these peaks that much more rewarding when it's all said and done.
Nearly two hours in, we've made some good progress. We started all the way back there at the beginning of the valley.
But this last part is definitely the hardest. We are now climbing up a straight up grass ridge. Some sections of it were nearly vertical. Luckily, there were several ropes on the ridge helping with the steeper sections, which we gladly used.
There were some sections where we could barely see the ridge beneath our feet. Sometimes we had to test the footing first to make sure it was actually ridge, and not just trees.
Oh yea... and a rain storm was chasing us...
Hopefully it holds off for a bit! (It got us on the return trip). Luckily some of those ascent views were just spectacular. Takes the edge off a bit. Right now we're looking into the famous Kualoa Ranch, a privately owned nature reserve full of activities ranging ATVing to Tough Mudders to weddings. It's also often used as a set for many Hollywood movies and shows. This is one of the only spots on the island you can get a glimpse of it without paying some sort of entry fee...
Anybody see where Carly went?
This seriously was one of the tougher climbs I've done. On top of how overgrown it was, it actually required some upper body strength to get over some of the steep sections. Without those ropes, I'm not sure I would have been able to get up this thing. Eventually the ridge levels off near the summit. Just a bit more bushwacking and...
Aloha Pu'u Ohulehule! A bit of cloud cover, but the views were still epic. If you do enough hikes on Oahu, the views can sometimes blend together. But not up here. This is a very unique perspectives of this part of the island.
A nice clean view of Kualoa Ranch.
A shot down the southeast ridge and a view towards the southern coastline.
And of course a look out towards the ocean and Mokoli'i Island. Carly and I took some time to soak in the views and have a quick Spam Musubi before beginning the long trek back down.
Even though this trail left me completely soaked and full of cuts, I still look back at it fondly. There was something about being up on top of the pyramid peak that made me feel so small. But feeling small helps me feel that I am part of something larger. And that something larger is the connection to this planet. And sometimes it just takes a little pain and awe to remind me of that.
Enjoy this post? Leave a comment below!
Also Check Out:
- Unreal Hawaii's writeup of Pu'u Ohulehule
- KenjiSaito's post about hiking from the southeast ridge