Climbing Pu'u Waiahilahila a.k.a "The Nipple"
Updated: Mar 6
by Nandor Szotak March 18 2018
The whole story behind climbing "The Nipple" started 2 years ago when I was hiking up Papali Uka with my friend Scott. After about 2 miles on the trail, you come up to a signed intersection, which shows you the way to continue on the Papali Uka trail. We took a break, and after I looked around I saw a steep overgrown trail going down a side ridge. I took out my topo map and following the contour lines, my eyes got stuck on a peak called Pu'u Waiahilahila.
"I am curious if this is an old trail leading to that peak" - I told Scott,
"Maybe" - he responded with his "How should I know?" face.
Well, after I got home, of course, I started researching this peak. Not a lot of documentation showed up, whatever I read was from the 90s...
Locals named this peak "The Nipple" because it is a pointy peak, different from the other hills and ridges around it. Back in the days when Sacred Falls trail was open, it was very easy to access it from there by a steep side ridge. People used to hike up to Waiahilahila, connect it to Papali Uka, then hike all the way to the old Castle trail or even to the KST (Ko'olau Summit Trail).
"Yes, that's it! That's the way to do it!" But, today, almost 20 years after, many things changed in Hawaii. Sacred Falls trail got closed after a big fatal landslide in 1999, and after that, the trail got closed off permanently. That way wasn't an option! Besides that, the old trail was not in use anymore, so it probably disappeared between the uluhe ferns.
After more research, I figured that the best way to do it would be kind of the reverse of the original one. Going up Papali Uka, then drop down and connect those overgrown ridges, ending up at the peak of Waiahilahila.
Ok, the plan was ready, I just needed to talk with some people who would like to explore a new mountain peak, and not be afraid of bushwhacking for hours. I knew that Scott loves exploring (he made me like these things with some of his crazy exploration hikes). It was Randy, who is another old-school hiker on the island, and he is always into new stuff. I convinced Ben too, who is another good friend, maybe not the explorer type, but usually, he never complains.
What did I just say? Ohh, yeah, Ben never complains...not until now.
"I just don't want to get wet today..", "I hope my drone is ok in the car, and nobody will brake in..", "Man, not sure about this weather..."
So, yes we started hiking up from Hau'ula, up Maakua Rim and by the time we were on Papali it started to drizzle. The drizzle became more like light rain, the clouds were hanging low, and the higher we went up on the ridge trail, the less visibility we had.
After about 2h we reached the Papali Uka junction. We sat down for a quick bite, ready to decide whether to continue or not. I didn't want to quit, I had too much time invested in all the research for this route, so I was determined to go on. I was just worried that the rest of the group will bail on me. To my surprise, everybody was ready to continue, to explore the unknown ridges waiting ahead of us. Yeah!
Randy took the lead down the steep slope. After dropping down, we arrived at this flatter area, where we saw plenty of native plants, some tools, and buckets, possibly people who worked there before to protect native vegetation.
We continued our trek uphill through uluhe and o'hia trees.
Soon, after pushing our way through the overgrowth, we arrived at this higher "pu'u" (elevation ~1700ft). No views, high trees, and totally whiteout condition, but we heard water flowing or possibly a waterfall.
I started following the sound of the water but soon realized that the ridge leading down to the possible falls it's not the way I need to go. There were 3 possible ways, and looking at the offline topo map, still didn't make our choice easier.
Finally, after 10 minutes of decision-making with the group, we started heading down the right ridge.
From here it started the real bushwhacking action. The uluhe was way overhead, and sometimes we had to kneel on the ground and make our way through, by making little "uluhe tunnels". Meantime we had to make sure that we don't fall off the narrow ridge line.
Dropping down a couple of hundred feet, the visibility got better, and we could see our target peak closer and closer.
After 4 hours into the hike, finally we reached the Punaiki Ridge junction where instead of continuing left on the ridge, we dropped down into this beautiful little ti plant forest. This area was the connection with the peak of Waiahilahila. Here we found some old pink ribbons (they were white now), and kind of an old trail leading up the peak.
In half an hour, we found ourselves on the top of Pu'u Waiahilahila.
It was such a great feeling to stand up there. Felt like a great accomplishment! It was not a high mountain peak (1264 feet), it was not about the views (what we didn't have), it was more of a "Yes, we did it!". We hiked an old route that was not in use for years and was totally forgotten, but even with all the circumstances we made it!
"The Nipple" is alive again!