Aiea Ridge

Location: Southeast Oahu,  Ewa Forest Reserve
Maps: USGS 1:24K: Waipahu, Kanehoe
Trail: 11 miles round-trip with 1800’ gain. From the parking lot in Keaiwa Heiau State Park, follow the Aiea Loop Trail for 1.5 miles to a junction with a lesser trail right around Puu Uau. Take the smaller trail to the left and follow it to the Ko’olau Range. 
Fees: none

October 2, 2007
About 12 hours after I arrived on Oahu, Dave and I were driving east from his house in Kapolei to Aiea Ridge, in the south-central area of the island. We had hiked nearby, or attempted to anyway, in 2004. Our destination had been Aiea Falls, but it was raining so hard during the hike that the creek we had to cross was too high to safely do so. Another time, perhaps. 

We started at the same trailhead as before, and after 3 years I still recognized it. Just as before, there was a fine mist raining down, enough so that we were compelled to wear raingear from the start. The trail was muddy, and steep places were fairly tricky to negotiate because of the slick much underfoot. It took about 30 feet to give up hope on keeping my boots somewhat clean, afterwhich I paid it no heed and coated them in red clay. Tall eucalyptus trees lined the first part of the trail, and their spicy aroma filled the wet air. The trail was wide and obvious until we turned left to follow the ridge at a junction. From there, the trail was narrow and obviously receives much less foot traffic. 

Almost immediately, views opened up to the east of the H-3 tunnels passing under the sharp ridge of the Ko’olau Range. It was cool and windy, and the trail was extremely muddy. Tall tree ferns grew in clumps, surrounded by impenetrable thickets of Uluhe ferns, blazing green in the soft light. The trail followed the narrow Aiea Ridge, so narrow in places that one step to either side of the trail would send you off down the hill. Once, trying to avoid a deep muddy hole, I stepped into the vegetation just inches off the trail, where my foot slid quickly past the ground that wasn’t there and I fell down. Foot traffic had worn a deep rut in places, so narrow that both of my boots would not fit side by side. Mia, Dave’s 30-pound dog, just barely fit in the knee-deep rut. 

As we gained altitude, the vegetation became shorter and the ridge sharpened up. It would be virtually impossible to descend from the ridge because of its steepness. The trail led generally east, and soon we were looking straight south to the H-3 tunnels below. Ridge upon ridge of sharp, green peaks marched away into the cloud-obscured horizon. The upper elevations of the Ko’olau Range to the east were completely hidden. We reached a clearing, and took some photographs. Then it really started to rain hard, and rain jacket or no, we go very wet. On up we went to another large flat spot covered with grass. If backpacking, this would make a nice tent site. Great views all around, but no water source nearby, unless you set a funnel over your Nalgene. This was Puu Kawipoo, a minor summit along the ridge at 2,441 ft. Although it was only another ¾ miles to the summit, we turned back because of the rain. Part of the appeal of hiking to the summit of the Ko’olau Range is the undoubtedly magnificent view you will see looking down the east side. If  it’s completely clouded over, there’d be no more view than hiking through dense jungle. Thus, we headed back down, a maneuver even trickier than going up, given the slick trail. I fell twice. At that point I was already so muddy and wet, it didn’t make much difference. On we went, following the slighly-sloping ridge back into taller vegetation, which did nothing to abate the heavy rain. I picked strawberry guavas that were growing along the trail and ate them, as we had run out of snacks and I got pretty hungry. After we connected back to the main trail, we encountered a few pairs of hikers, all of them soaked from hiking through the rain and crossing through ankle-deep puddles in the trail. We returned to Dave’s car and dried off Mia as best as could be done in the light rain, then hopped in the car and drove down to Mililani for a wonderful Maui Taco lunch. 

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