Mount Ka’ala

Ah, this one I’ve wanted to do for the longest time. Mount Ka’ala is the tallest mountain in Oahu (4,025ft) and can be seen from many places around the island. Most people recognize it by the odd “golf ball” shaped antenna at the top…and its cloudy summit. Many times, Mount Ka’ala’s summit is obscured by cloud cover but thankfully I managed to choose a time when the clouds parted for a while. That wouldn’t last too long though as torrential rain showers set in, making this the most dangerous hike I have ever done to date. Please enjoy my photowalk to the very top of Oahu.
Mount Ka'ala Top Flower View

I first heard about Mount Ka’ala through one of my co-workers as he told me about his helicopter rescue. He was attempting to reach Ka’ala from Kole Kole pass but ended up getting lost. The weather turned for the worst and it was starting to get dark. Even though he was airlifted out of there, till this day he wants to go back. The Waianae Mountain range is that beautiful but, as was the case with my co-worker, they are also very dangerous. Perhaps that is part of their appeal too. ^^;
Road start Kaala in Distance
Unlike my co-worker, I planned to climb Mount Ka’ala from the Waianae side. So, after a long road trip to the end of Waianae Valley Road, I parked my car and started up a long access road to the trails way in the back.
Mount Ka'ala
Mount Ka’ala loomed in the distance and you could see the clouds passing rapidly as the wind blew.
This made me a little worried because I really hoped that Ka’ala would be cloudless when I got to the summit. Trying to remain hopeful, I pressed on.
Mountain Graffiti
Along the road I spotted some nice graffiti. Someone appreciates nature. (:
Trail with Purple Markers
Eventually, the paved road turned into a dirt road. Then, after passing a picnic table, the Mount Ka’ala trail officially began. ^^;

Notice the colored markers on the left hand side? They mark which trail you want to go on. For the Mount Ka’ala hike, you are really only worried about two colors. Purple marks the Ka’ala trail going up, while orange marks your way back. This was extremely handy. I don’t like getting lost (but did anyways). More on that later. ^^;
Jungle Trail
The trail was not so bad initially. You are relatively level for the first part but then its a stead climb for the top.
Seriously, this trail gains elevation quickly. If you are not in really good shape, I would not attempt this trail. ^^;
Mount Ka'ala Far Away Still
Mount Ka’ala came into view from down in the jungle.
See what I mean about elevation gain? It was nuts! ^^;
Three Poles
The Ka’ala trail was rather steep but it was relatively safe….until this part. This is “three poles” and they mark where the trail starts to get serious.
Now the fun began… ^^;
Three Poles View
The view from three poles was epic. In fact, some folks will just climb to this point because the view is so nice.
Beyond that though is for experienced hikers only…
Steep Climb for Ka'ala
After “three poles” the trail is pretty much straight up, muddy as heck, steep, and with large thousand foot drops all around.
Drop Straight Down
This was the view on my right. One slip in the mud and it would be my last. ^^;

If you are scared of heights, you probably should pick a different hike! ^^;
Ridge For Ka'ala
When I got to this point, Ka’ala looked unclimbable. I mean, to get to the top you would pretty much have to go straight up…..

I did have to go pretty much straight up! ^^;
First Bouldering Section
On the straight up section, there really are two trials to overcome before reaching the summit. These boulders weren’t too bad but they are next to an enormous drop. I tread extremely carefully.
Second Bouldering Section
The second “trial” was not so easy. On the left was an extremely steep wall with almost no foot grips. On the right was some small foot grips right over a thousand + foot drop.

I looked at the “rope”…. Most ropes on the Ka’ala trail are made from….well, everything! I even saw things like printer cables, nylon rope, metal cables, and duck taped “other”. Could I really trust my life to this? ^^;

In the end, I chose to go up anyways. I am afraid of heights but I tuned it out and just focus on holding on for dear life. I was on the right side, so one slip there and…..I’d be a pancake! ^^; Thankfully I made it up but my legs would not stop shaking. I was scared to death! ^^;
Hawaiian Flower
After risking life and limb, I ran into a beautiful flower I hadn’t seen before.
Muddy Incline Rope Climb
After the 2nd bouldering section, the trail doesn’t let up. There was section after section of extremely slippery, muddy, and steep inclines. You pretty much had to pull yourself up with mostly your arms strength. I was wearing gloves but my hands were still raw and sore after this. ^^;
View of Connecting Ridges
Wiping the mud off my sore hands, I looked out and could not believe how high I was….and how fast I got there. The view was incredible.
Mount Ka'ala Summit Trail
As I neared the summit, the plants and flowers started to change. There are lots of unique plants that can only be found on the top of Mount Ka’ala. Its kind of like a “long lost cloud forest”.
Mount Ka'ala Sign
When I saw this sign, I felt extremely happy inside. I had went through some pretty dicey sections but I had finally made it! I was going to see something that not too many people who visit Hawaii have seen.
Sealife Looking Plants
The primary reason I went up Mount Ka’ala was to look at all the odd plant life. These plants look like they came from underwater or something.
Odd bush plant
An unusual plant…I don’t think I’ve seen it before.
Odd Berries
Some strange looking….berries? They look almost like light bulbs. ^^;
Kaala Plank Trail
At the top of Mount Ka’ala, there’s signs asking you to brush your feet off and to stay on these planks. There are a few side trails up there but the area was too beautiful. I did not want to destroy any part of this forest while investigating side trails. I stayed on the path. (:
More Sealife Looking Plants
Some more odd plants. I wonder if this is how Hawaii looked before people arrived?
Kaala Plank Trail 2
The deepest part of the forest was the most beautiful.

There was also some odd blue plant life that made me think I was on a different planet or something.
Mount Ka'ala Forest
Exploring the Hawaiian Dagobah trail. All I need now was to see Yoda. ^^;
Golf Ball Antenna
Ah, that famous “golf ball antenna”. This is Ka’ala’s landmark and at night it is lit up and visible from my base.
Its owned by the Air Force though but thankfully they let you walk around their installation….on the OUTSIDE of the fence. There is a separate fence with small doors that allow you access to see the view from the other side of Ka’ala.
North Shore View
Wow! This was one of the best view I have seen in my entire life. I could see North Shore in its entirety…actually I could see almost the entire island at once!
Central and South Shore Oahu View
I was truly blessed to see such a view. I could see my base, Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and the entire Ko’olau Range.
At that moment, the entire battle up here was completely worth it….but I still had to go down.
I was worried because the Waianae route is insanely steep and there was that 2nd bouldering section. It would be more slippery going down and my hands were so sore already…..

My other options were using the Air Force road but they were there. Even though I’m military, I don’t believe I can use that military road? And, to go down the North Shore side would require trespassing on private property and having to get a ride all the way back to Waianae. ^^;

I went back the way I came….
Ka'ala Plateau
As I went back, I looked at the “plateau” of Mount Ka’ala when a large dragonfly buzzed by. Didn’t know they had dragonflies in Hawaii. ^^;
Rain Coming In
As I went down, I slipped a few times and slowed down to a crawl. I made my way down carefully and grabbing everything I could while trying to tune out just how high I was up. But it wasn’t so bad, I mean, imagine if it was raining? =P

Just as I thought that, the clouds rolled in quickly and it proceeded to rain harder then I have ever seen in Oahu. I was completely soaked from head to toe. And, the slippery trails became more mushy, muddy, and slick. Still, I pressed on while in the back of my mind knowing that I would have to go down those boulder sections eventually. ^^;

At the second boulder section, it began to rain even harder. My glasses were fogged up and I could hardly see. I tried to wipe them off but it was just no use.

So….how to get down? I sat for a good 15 minutes just trying to figure out how I was going to do this without dying. On the way up, I used the right side of the boulder but that had a thousand foot death drop if I slipped. The other side and nothing to really get a foot hold on and about a 10 – 12 foot drop. I went with the left side and tried to get a grip on the slippery rock with my foot as I lowered my weight onto the rope. I had a little grip when suddenly I slipped! I grabbed tightly on the rope and now it was supporting my entire weight! I was scared to death….but I slowly lowered my self until I couldn’t hold on anymore.

At that moment, I said my prayers….literally. I was saying my “Our Fathers” out loud. ^^;
If I had chosen the other side…and that happened….. I would be dead.

Plus, I still had to go down the rest of the mountain in this muddy mess. ^^;
I pressed on for the next boulder section, with my fogged up and wet glasses, when suddenly I wasn’t sure where the trail was. There were ropes and ribbons still but the trail just….ended. As I looked around, I could see lots of areas that looked like they could be the trail. I would go down a little ways only to struggle to get back up again. As the rain poured down, the ground was starting to give way….and I was lost.

It was starting to get dark too, I was running low on water, and all I had left to eat was a Poptart. I contemplated climbing back up and going down the Air Force Road. I mean, I might get a ticket but at least I’ll be alive….

As I went back, retracing my steps, I did find the trail once more! (:
I carefully made my way down the 1st bouldering section (no problem) and down the mountain entirely. What a trip!
Hawaiian Rocks
Well, I hope you enjoyed my adventure to the top of Mount Ka’ala. As you can see, it is a challenging hike that can be quite perilous. But the rewards at the top…..are something I will never forget. I will also never forget the terror I felt on the way down. I might be taking a small break from hiking after this one. Or, as my girlfriend said, I am grounded. ^^;

I also don’t want to make my mom upset. She wrote this after she heard of my adventure: “Andy, son…if I get a call saying that my son is been splattered at the bottom of a mountain, I am not going to be a happy camper :-(“

Yeah, I overdid it this time…..

Please enjoy these pictures but do not attempt Mount Ka’ala yourself. The military guys I ran into on the way up were also scared to death. This hike is…something else. I’ll never forget it….

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24 comments on “Mount Ka’ala

  1. Postmandougie says:

    You never fail to amaze me with the places you manage to get to and the incredible photos you take when you get there! I’m so glad you have this site so prairie-bound Canucks like me have a little taste of what it’s like in a tropical paradise…

  2. Andy says:

    I really enjoy your blog and your adventures! I wouldn’t mind tagging along on one of your hikes also.

  3. Jerry says:

    This is easily the best account of Kaala I have read. Not many people take pictures of the boulders, they have too much on their minds. Well done.

  4. John D. Bennett says:

    Neat pictures of Mt. Kaala.

    You managed to get one photo of the aerial tramway that accessed the top from Schofield Barracks, originally buit to access the Mt. Kaala radar station.

  5. I love your photos! Beautiful blog and a wonderful post of your Mt. Ka’ala hike! I’ll be visiting my ohana for the holidays and plan to hike Mt. Ka’ala as well as other trails. I look forward to reading your other blog posts, especially Mt. Fuji-san….one of my dream hikes!

    • punynari says:

      Hi there. Glad you enjoyed my Mt. Ka’ala post.
      Happy trails! (:

      • Punynari, what trail maps did you use for this hike? Also, those steep, muddy areas with all the ropes/cords, what were they anchored to, rocks, trees?

      • punynari says:

        Hi there. Unfortunately, I did not use a map on this trip.
        I do have one now however. It’s in Stuart M. Ball, Jr first edition of “The Hikers Guide to O’ahu” under the name: “Wai’anae Ka’ala”. I’d search used bookstores to find a copy if you don’t have one yet. It’s the “hiker’s bible” and includes nearly all trails (including currently “closed” ones).

        As far as the ropes go, I wasn’t paying too much attention at the time. I think they were tied to trees but I might be wrong about that. ^^;
        Have fun! (:

  6. Thanks Punynari, I have Stuart’s book (revised edition) as well his Native Paths to Volunteer Trails and love them both! Filled with wonderful info!

  7. Anna says:

    I don’t want to burst your bubble but those plants you saw are not naturally blue. they are a native moss from the Big Island and the State is trying to get rid of it. The blue is dye in the pesticide they are using to get rid of that moss because it easily beats out the native moss and other plants that grow there.

  8. Scott New says:

    I was just wondering if you could tell me how to get to the trail from the Waianae Valley side. I am planing to do this hike with some friends this coming up Sat.

    • punynari says:

      Head to the end of Waianae Valley Road and park on the dirt lot on the left. From there, proceed down a long road until it turns to dirt.
      From the dirt road, the trail will cross a stream and continue on. Follow the purple bottlecap markers.
      Have fun. (:

  9. Muzzlehatch says:

    Sure, there’s dragonflies in Hawaii (and nearly every other insect that I can think of). Back in the 50s when I attended Aina Haina School, at a quiet corner of the playground next to the air raid/tsunami siren there was always a dragonfly cruising back and forth. He/she was probably hunting for mosquitoes.

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