Updated: May 17
By Nandor Szotak - December 5, 2020
"Steve, are you hiking tomorrow?"
"No, I don't have any plans. Why?"
"I am thinking of doing something fun like Razor's Edge or try the Manana Corner maybe..."
"Ok, let's try Manana then!"
"Great! See you tomorrow at 7:30 am"
This was the conversation between my friend Steve and me, which lead to another documented first ascent of a Windward ridge the next day.
But let's just jump back a couple of weeks to our scouting mission.
As a peak bagger and pursuer of Hawaii's 100 Highest Peaks, I am always looking for new mountain peaks to climb. I finished all the bigger ones already in Oahu, but there are still some smaller hills I need to climb. 10 minutes from my house in Kaneohe, there is this ridge (no official name) that starts at Kam Highway and runs all the way up to the Ko'olau Summit. The lower part of the ridge is built around with houses, but has three named peaks:
Pu'ukauai, Pu'ukiolea and Pu'ukuolani.
All smaller 600-700ft high hills.
I needed to get to the top of those, so I could check them off my list. While studying the topographic maps of the area, my eyes got caught on the mauka (mountain) side of the ridge which leads straight up to the KST (Ko'olau Summit Trail). It was a very distinct ridge line and looked interesting enough to continue my research, finding out afterward that supposedly nobody made it up to the top. It even looked like an easier climb that the neighboring Ahuimanu Uka ridge.
On our scouting trip with Steve, I was able to get to the top of all 3 peaks, but instead of going closer to the base of the mountain to get a closer look, we found an interesting trail leading from the beautiful cook pine area down to Waiahole Valley.
We were still able to scout the ridge, which was steep but overgrown with a lot of vegetation. That is always a good thing on a Hawaii ridge. My only concern was a small steep section that looked very exposed, but all in all, we decided that in the near future, we can give it a try.
Fast forward to December 5th at 7:30 am.
The plan was to don't stage cars, instead my wife Elena would pick us up from the Manana trailhead if we successfully make it there. In the morning Steve picked me up in Kaneohe, we drove to Waiahole Valley and started our journey up to the cook pines and beyond.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning, with not even any clouds in the sky, a very rare phenomenon on the Windward side. By following this trail for half an hour, we found ourselves already gaining the ridge line. From the ridge line to the base of the Ko'olaus, it took us another 1 hour. There was an old trail we could follow, which was slowly degrading the closer we got to the steep section. We saw some micro spike marks on rocks which indicated that people still go out there.
As soon as we reached the start of the steep section, the trail vanished, and we found ourselves in the middle of uluhe fern in no time.
Thankfully it was just a short section, but knowing that it would not be the last, we already put on gloves and safety glasses. Yes, you heard it right: safety glasses. Way too many times I got hit in my eyeballs while bushwhacking, so getting a pair of cool safety glasses, which protects my eyes, was priceless.
The next 3.5h was tough, very tough.
The ridge started to get steeper, narrower, and more crumbly. The sun was burning us through our hats and neck gaiters. Our heart rate was high, the adrenaline was rushing through our body, and our brain and all our body parts were focused on every single move we took. While trying to avoid mistakes and work around or over every obstacle, we just felt more tired because of all that accumulated tension. It was no break between hard sections. You climbed up an exposed grassy area, and you thought "Ohh, finally!". But then you looked up and realized there is a new challenge in front of you, climbing a straight wall...but your only chance to make it up there, is to reach that octopus tree, pull yourself up and reach the top of the wall while weightlessly elevating your body without putting too much pressure on the tree...
Does it sound nerve-wracking? Believe me, it was!
There was a moment when it took me at least 5 minutes to advance to higher ground. I found myself on an almost vertical grassy section, relying on one stable foothold, which slowly crumbled under my foot, while I tried to figure out how to reach a small tree to have at least one handhold to pull myself up to a safer position. I ended up digging a hole under the tree root, this way I could fit 3 fingers through, and I was able to pull myself up.
If you panic in a situation like this...
Meantime Steve behind me started to lose his nerves too while watching me struggling on that climb.
"You making me nervous Nandor!"
"Just calm down and be patient!" I replied and let Steve take over the lead.
I think I just needed a break from the pioneering mode.
Steve was leading the last steep section, while I was taking a mental break.
We made it through the sketchiest section finally. We dropped down in the deep uluhe, grabbed some snacks, and forced some smiles for a selfie :)
We did feel exhausted, way more than other times. But it was far from over!
There was another steep section in front of us, but wider and more overgrown.
After climbing the next steep part, the KST was already visible, which was making us much happier.
The only problem was that it was another 1000ft of gradual elevation gain to get there.
Ohh, Yesss....more bushwhack time!!!
Taking turns while bushwhacking is a great idea. While one of the climbers trying to find the best way through the bush, the other can "relax", let's just say work less. After 10-15 minutes the other climber takes over and so on. There was not a lot of dialogue between Steve and me in this section. Both of us tried to push through, not just through the vegetation but push through mentally. In these situations, I always say that doesn't matter how strong you are physically, what it matters how strong you are mentally!
To make it easier, Steve had a good idea. He counted how many bigger trees he sees until the top of the KST. He suggested that at every 2nd or 3rd tree, we change bushwhacking position, so this way you brake down the distance, and will be easier to get to the top.
Meantime the weather got cooler, some clouds rolled in, and the views were amazing!
After 5 hours of fighting, we were able to step on the Ko'olau Summit Trail.
What a happy moment!
We were smiling like kids when they see the ice cream truck rolling in the neighborhood!
I just couldn't believe we made it up. Another successful climb!
We took a nice break at the "Corner". They call it the "Corner" because the KST takes a sudden turn in another direction. (my guess)
We were just 20 minutes away from the Manana terminus.
Walking on the KST never felt better!
After arriving to Manana, I called my wife to make sure she picks us up at the trailhead, which was more than 5 miles away. Walking down Manana felt good, enjoyed the views, and the mud pits end the endless ups and downs...
Another great last-minute adventure! We did miss Stacy, the only "crazy" woman who usually join us on these "extreme hikes", but I promised her that next time she can lead the way on another bushwhack mission :)
If I have to compare this climb to other windward ridges then I have to say it felt like Ahuimanu Uka, but way longer and more dangerous.
Although this ridge didn't have any notches to cross, I still feel like it was the gnarliest of the Windward ridges yet.
2020 was a memorable year for sure. I am not talking about the pandemic, that is another story. I am talking about achievements.
I finished all the 31 high peaks on O'ahu from Hawaii's 100 Highest lists, climbed Mauna Kea the tallest peak of Hawaii, I achieved my 1st ever FKT (Fastest Known Time) on the WST (Waianae Summit Trail), I did 3 first ascents (documented) on O'ahu. Of course, all these achievements wouldn't be possible without supporting friends. I just want to say Mahalo to all my friends who believed in me and who let themselves be fooled by my crazy ideas.
Cheers to friends and more great adventures!
Team: Steve and Nandor (Me)
Distance: Around 7.5 miles
Hiking Time: 8h
Please don't use this documentation as a guide for your future hiking activities. This hiking route it's unsafe and very dangerous, mistakes made up here can have consequences such as serious injury or death. Make sure you know your limitations and be safe out there!