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Manana "Corner" Windward (first ascent)

Updated: Mar 6

By Nandor Szotak - December 5, 2020

We took the left ridge as our route

"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 Mañana 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.

X marks the top of KST | Red Dots mark the scouting route

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.

Nandor Szotak hiking in the morning lights
Perfect hiking conditions and morning light

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.

Steve's first fight with uluhe

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.

Master bushwhackers in style :D

Picture don't show justice of this narrow grass climb

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!

Straight up!

Typical crumbly section with octopus trees to rely on

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.

Amazing views of O'hulehule (left) and Kanehoalani (right)

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 :)

Deep uluhe 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.