Oahu's west side wears the Waianae mountain range like a crown, and Mt. Ka'ala is the crown jewel. Rising from a barren desert valley into a cool blanket of rain clouds, it reaches its climax at 4,025 ft above sea level. Biologists and hikers alike salivate at its rugged terrain and rich habitat to native Hawaiian plant and animal species.
Hiking up Mt. Ka'ala is not for beginners, so if you've never hiked before, this is not for you. Most guidebooks rate this hike intermediate to difficult, so if you're in good shape and are up for a challenge, you won't be let down.
The hike starts in a deserted dirt parking lot - not a place you want to leave your valuables! The trail doesn't really start until a mile or so down the road, but the golden valley scenery is stunning the whole way. From a stone shrine covered in leaves, you'll enter a tangled forest of glowing-green. Strawberry guava trees, though invasive, bear delicious red fruit ripe for picking in the summertime. Native kukui trees and Christmas berry also dot the trail. As you gain elevation in the rainforest, you'll face steep climbs over boulders and slippery slopes. Much of the trail follows a ridgeline, and there is nothing but a few low plants separating the hiker from a plunge into the valley. Cables and ropes are nailed into many places on the trail to help you maneuver over roots, rocks, and muddy slopes. Don't forget to look around, though. The landscape overflows with native koa trees, ferns, 'ohi'a trees and maile plants. You'll also pass terraces once used to grow taro, the leafy plant with a purple roots used to make poi. The strenuous hike itself will leave you catching your breath, but on a clear day the views of the leeward coast are breathtaking, as well.
Most hikes end in a high peak with an expansive view, and little more than tundra beneath your feet. Mt. Ka'ala's summit is nothing of the sort. Hours of scrambling over boulders lead to a plateau and an easy stroll over a drastically different ecosystem: the bog. Follow the sturdy boardwalk over mossy, swampy earth for ¼ mile. Look out for endangered Hawaiian land snails and brilliant red native birds, the 'apapane. You'll also notice man's footprint in nature when you see the giant FAA radar installation, (which is obviously off-limits to hikers). On a clear day, you can take in a wonderful panorama of the north shore.
Be sure to bring plenty of water, food, rain gear, and good hiking boots.
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