Ko’olau Summit Trail Backpack
This past Memorial Day weekend five HURT runners had a three day backpack of a lifetime! The group included Fish (Fishman) Ernest (ET) Larry, Jim M and me, Gordon Lau (Jr). We would be backpacking the Ko’olau Summit Trail (KST) from the Pupukea Boys Scout camp to California Ave via Schofield-Waikane trail. This trail was built in the early 1930s to access the remote areas of the Ko’olau mt range to control the wild pig population. We saw a lot of pig signs but no pigs(bummer!) After months of preparations and getting the permits to cross thru military lands we were dropped off at the Pupukea trailhead by my son Robert. After unloading our gear and taking a farewell pic I told Robert bye and we would see him in a few days. " Yeah maybe" was his reply as he knows from backpacking with me that Hawaii trails can be pretty rough to say the least. After seeing our only means of transportation head down the road we started our three day journey.
I am an ultralight backpacker and have my pack weight with gear, food and water in the sub 30 pound range. Backpacking the KST is all about a light pack. Jim’s pack came in a close second with a 30 lb or so load then Larry, Ernest and finally Fishman with a pack that must have weighed 60 lbs! Yikes-too heavy! He was carrying an air mattress, food enough for an army, water enough for everyone to take a bath with and even his precious "blankie"!
After an easy road hike we reached the actual trailhead for the KST. It was about 9:30 am and I told the guys we would make the first leg to Malaekahana-KST junction by noon. The going was good for the first 4 miles since we had come up a few weeks before to help clear the trail with my friends of the Hawaii Trail and Mountain Club. We also had stashed water and goodies on the trail. The trail was so easy we laughed and joked all the way to the stash and to the end of our previous clearing. It was no joking from here on. A bad omen was when I saw my stash scattered all over the place. Evidently rats had discovered my stash and ate all my oatmeal cookies and even ate thru my 2 liter water bladder. Thank goodness they couldn’t open my can of Amp! Dirty rats!
After a brief rest we plunged head-on on the overgrown trail of the KST. With me in the lead and Jim relieving me when I was exhausted we plowed our way for the next 2 1/2 hours thru thick Uluhe fern and clidemia. By the time we reached the terminus of Malaekahana we were spent and Ernest’s arms were mince meat since he was the only one not wearing a long sleeve shirt. It was a little after 12:00 noon.
Our final leg for the day would be to our campsite at Kawailoa. We plunged on ahead and passed the Laie trail and reached Kawailoa at about 4:45 pm. Later then I had hoped for as we still had to look for water, set up tents and cook up kau-kau yet. We decided to camp at the top of a pu’u (hill) used for a chopper LZ. Boy, was it cold and windy the whole night. Jim found a place to get water from that looked more like tea and it came complete with even tadpoles!
We got our water, set up our tents and had dinner. Dinner fare included freeze-dried meals, Ramin and MREs. We ate, checked out the beautiful sunset over my beloved Peacock Flats and hit the sack at 9:00 pm. It must have been in the 50s that night because it was cold. Fishman and Ernest shared a tent and Fishman even loaned Ernest his "blankie" since Fish already had a sleeping bag. What a guy!
After a long night we had breakfast and broke camp and left for our next leg, Castle trail junction. It was 7:30 am Sunday. More bushwhacking and getting off the trail at times we passed Pu’u Ka’inapua’a , the old Kahuku cabin area and finally Castle junction at 12:00 noon. A short break and we headed for our last leg for the day, Poamoho cabin. After an hour of hiking we reached the army environmental fence line and went to check out their cabin and get some water. The cabin is in excellent shape and has bunks, glass windows, water catchment and a lanai area with a million dollar view. I will plan to stay here some time. We followed the fence line for a long while thru thick fog at times and passed Pe’ahinai’a trail and the awesome Punaluu/Kahana valley overlook and reached the Cline marker where we took a group pic. Mahalo nui to the couple we met there and took our picture!
Poamoho cabin was only about 20 minutes away and it had begun to rain so we collected some stream water and reached the cabin at 4:30 pm. The cabin is in bad shape with no stairs and rat turds all over. But at least it was dry and semi-warm. We swept out all the rat crap and picked our bunks. I had already put a kapu on my bunk but since there was only four bunks, Ernest man-up and elected to sleep on the now rat crap-free floor. We changed into warm, dry clothes and had dinner. Everyone busted out their extra food and snacks and shared. We could now joke around a little since the next day we would be heading out. We had another long and cold night with Larry getting up in the middle of the night and doing laps in the cabin! Nervous condition I guess. (Larry you better check that out…..).
Our last day, Monday morning, we left the cabin early at 6:30 am. I promised the guys that today would beat all days since we would be hiking mostly on trails cut out of sheer cliffs and views would be better than ever. As usual the route was overgrown but this time we had to deal with recent landslides that took out some sections of the KST. Most of these sections had sheer drop offs so we proceeded with caution. After many days of leading and busting trails I was totally exhausted at this point so Jim stepped up and led the way. (mahalo Jim) But after following him for a while and seeing him stumble and slip and nearly go over the pali at one point I told him let me take over as my heart couldn’t take much of that! We came to a big slide area with a several hundred feet drop and went across one by one very carefully. Of course Larry had to fart-around at this point really give me a coronary! (no thanks Larry) We all made it across this crap pants area and was home free to the Schofield-Waikane terminus. We made it there at 8:50 am and after congratulating the guys and me, giving thanks to Ke akua for keeping us safe on the KST, we departed down S-W trail and exited onto California Ave at 12:30 pm. Larry had his wife pick us up and drive us to their home where we had hot miso soup and cold drinks and oranges. Mahalo to Larry and his ohana for their aloha.
Overall I have to say this is one experience I will cherish the rest of my life. I have done parts and sections of the KST but never connected the dots. I finally have and I did it with a great group of guys that now share the same passion that I have had for years. Being one with Hawaii’s native forests.
Aloha Aina and mahalo nui loa Larry, Ernest, Jim and Fishman!
Click here to see some photos of our trip. Remember you can click them to make them larger.
P.S. This is not a trip for beginners. Only experienced Hawaii trail and backcountry campers should attempt this.