top of page

Climbing the two tallest peaks in Oahu: Pu'u Kalena and Mt. Ka'ala

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

by Nandor Szotak December 9th 2018

Waianae mountain range
Panorama of Kamaile'unu Ridge, Kawiwi, No Name and Mt Ka'ala

Making a loop to climb the 2 tallest peaks on O'ahu.

The original plan was to do Schoefield Waikane to Poamoho this Sunday, but because we didn't get a permit, had to change plans. The weather was pretty ugly in the Ko'olaus so we decided to head out to the West Side. Alex told me that Krista is going to do Kawiwi to Knife Edge Ridge, but we ended up doing the Kalena Ka'ala loop because none of us did that track before.

The route started at the Ka'ala trailhead, and soon we veered off the trail and headed towards Kalena in search of our trail called Start Trek.

hiker climbing up in the jungle
Steve climbing up on one of the vertical sections

Alex knew where to take the right turn, so after a mile or so, we were already started ascending this steep ridge, which gradually got steeper and steeper. Waianae Steve who knows these mountains as nobody else said took them weeks to explore this area and to establish the route.


Continuing uphill we hit a rock wall, but following the old ropes and webbings, it was easy to contour around and work our way up zig-zagging from left to right.

After 2 hours finally we made it to the top of Star Trek which is actually a 2861 ft tall peak.

I quickly ate some snacks, looked around and after 5 min short break we took off to Kalena.

Here we encountered the fence line which was the sign that we are on the WST (Waianae Summit Trail).

pu'u kalena peak
Alex facing Pu'u Kalena

Here the wind picked up and after 2 minutes on the trail, I lost my Uloha hat which I successfully recovered from the top of an O'hia tree.

The trail got more overgrown around the fence, but we still had a better speed dropping 600' than climbing the almost vertical slope of Start Trek.

They were two small notches we had to cross, nothing too hard, just some basic down climb. You could use some old ropes to help you, but avoiding those was a better choice.

After dropping 600' we had to start climbing back up to Kalena 800'.

Oh yeah, the fun was just starting.

I like to keep up a nice steady pace uphill, not too fast, not too slow, and with the help of the fence, you can just pull up yourself for a faster pace.

Right under the top, it got pretty much vertical, but after just a couple more minutes pushing through, and we found ourselves on top of Pu'u Kalena (3504ft).

top of kalena peak
Top of Kalena - perfect camping spot

Kamaohanui peak and ridge
View of Kamaohanui peak and the North Shore

After enjoying our 20 minutes lunch break, we headed out to reach the tallest peak on the island the 4040ft tall Mt Ka'ala.

mt ka'ala view
Mt Ka'ala in the myst

Ka'ala view from Kalena
Alex is waving to Steve, who doesn't care..

The trail going to Ka'ala looked longer but not as difficult as the section between the end of Start Trek and Kalena. Unfortunately, those blackberry bushes didn't disappear, so we were fighting them still for a while. I think the worst things when you hike west side ridges and through the overgrowth, are blackberry bushes and their nasty thorns. They will scratch you up and mess up your clothes.

Steve always complained that he is too slow for us, and whenever we stopped with Alex for a picture, he just rushed in front of us saying "You guys catch me anyway!"

radar station on top of mt Ka'ala
We could already see the radar station on top of Mt Ka'ala

Getting closer and closer to the top of Ka'ala, it was more and more native vegetation, and it became colder, wetter, and more slippery.

South face of Mt Ka'ala
South face of Mt Ka'ala

For me, one of the most interesting sections was this rocky area right before the top.

Making sure nothing moves around

The fence already disappeared, so basically, we were hiking between the beautiful green vegetation and white boulders.

There was this very interesting climbing section where we had to climb between two boulders with the aid of ropes. The boulders were mossy and wet, so was very slippery. (too bad I didn't take a picture of it)

When I got there with Alex, Steve was already gone, so Alex started climbing. He didn't have spikes on, he was having a hard time climbing up, and at one point he was just hanging on the rope like Tarzan and circling from rock to rock.

Thankfully Alex managed to get up to the top, and we continued up the ridge and shortly reached the Ka'ala Bog.

tMt ka'ala bog and boardwalk
The Ka'ala Bog and boardwalk

Well, reaching the bog was easy, but finding the boardwalk wasn't.

After reaching the fence, we decided to continue along it until the fence started heading down the ridge.

"Something is not okay," I said, and after I checked my top map and GPS, we started backtracking because we realized that we are off the trail leading to the boardwalk. Trying to find our way was not that easy, because wherever we looked it was all this dense native vegetation, everything looked the same.

After 15-20 minutes we found this old trail which eventually lead us to the boardwalk.

hiker on the ka'ala boardwalk
Steve's happy face after we reached the board walk

The last time I was here was rainy and cloudy, so I was hoping that this time I will be able to have a view from the top.

Well, after walking another 10 minutes out from the bog and arriving at Ka'ala road and the radar station, the weather got even view.

end of trail sign on top of Mt Kaala
At least there is a good looking sign on the top

After 6 hours of hiking, we reached the top of Mt Ka'ala, but because of windy, cold weather and no views we decided to hike down without even taking a break.

Meantime Krista and her team told us that they are doing pretty good finishing their hike, so we can meet after for some snacks and to talk story.

hiker descending mt kanaal
Descending Ka'ala with clouds rolling in

The way down went pretty fast, the trail got more eroded from the last time I have seen it for sure, but still not as bad as some other trails in the Ko'olau range.

Another great day exploring and hiking in Hawaii!

Finally, we met the girls after our hike and everybody enjoyed a Jamba Juice delight while talking stories about hiking and stuff.

after hike hunger explorer selfie
Alex the selfie maker, Audrey, Krista, Kristina, Me and Steve

Kamaile'unu Ridge
Kamaile'unu Ridge from Ka'ala Trail

Google Earth Image of kalena to kaala track
Google Earth Image

Team: Alex, Steve, and Nandor (Me)

Distance: Around 9.5 miles

Hiking Time: 7h 35min

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!


Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page