Overnight KST backpack from Wahiawa Hills to Castle junction—kind'a.

I originally intended to hike right over the Koolau mountain--from Wahiawa (Wahiawa Hills and Paomoho) to Hau'ula (via Papali Uka)--over the Statehood holiday weekend.
The long range weather forecast called for lots of rain and heavy winds however, so I decided to avoid the narrow slippery sections of Papali Uka and do an in/out along the comparatively safer route from Wahiawa Hills. A disappointing adjustment, but not too big a deal, until the short range forecast came in...

I had intended to spend 2 nights out (Friday/Saturday), but reluctantly had to change my plans to 1 night. I was sick the preceding few days, and when the Friday morning holiday found me feeling exhausted, I decided to play it safe, get some more rest, and hopefully shove off on Saturday morning instead.

To complicate things, the week had brought flash floods to Kaukonahua stream that I had to cross en route to Poamoho, and constant rain was forecast for Saturday and Sunday. So I was worried that I would get trapped on Sunday afternoon by a high stream level on my way out. Normally the prospect of camping overnight to wait for the water level to decrease wouldn't have bothered me that much, but unfortunately an unexpected hurricane (Kilo) was developing south of Hawaii and looking to move north! At that time, the forecast had a lot of uncertainty about the track, but pointed to potential heavy rains before Monday.

Come Friday evening, the National Weather Service forecast called for 1-2 inches rain on both Saturday and Sunday at the summit above Wahiawa, with lightning and thunderstorms hitting the island on Sunday evening. Drat! Curses! Sufferin' succotash! That probably meant no backpacking would be taking place. Then again, the KHON2 news predicted only drizzle for Oahu! I decided to make a final decision on Saturday morning at 4am before hopping on Da Bus at 5am.

By 4am, the hurricane had slowed down and would be arriving at the islands on Wednesday. Forecasts still called for 3/4 inches of rain on Saturday, and 1-2 on Saturday night and Sunday. Still thunderstorms on Sunday night. The strong wind that had been predicted to blow me off the mountain was now down to just barely moving its lazy ass! All this meant that it was predicted to be a nice-ish Saturday, but overall a hot, humid, and very wet weekend in the mountains. To top things off, my ride on Sunday evening might have trouble picking me up, since the city chose this weekend to begin closing huge tracts of the freeway to pour new concrete. The speed limit in the open lanes was going to be 15, to avoid "vibrations" interfering with the concrete.

I finally decided that I didn't like the idea of being potentially hot, wet, and trapped by a flooded river on Sunday and having to spend the night dodging falling branches and lightning bolts in a eucalyptus forest while hoping to find a way out before the hurricane decided to rock up for the party. While I think it would've been a great and invigorating adventure to push through, it probably would've caused my girlfriend a sleepless night and there was a chance I'd need to be rescued. I felt that the rescue teams could probably best spend their time preparing for the hurricane instead of looking for me. I was also concerned about some existing landslides on the KST where the trail had previously slumped—sometimes these sections become waterfalls in heavy rain, and I can't imagine crossing a gap in the trail through a waterfall with a 2000 ft drop literally an inch next to and below the loose, watery soil! Still, whenever I cancel a trip due to possible but not certain weather, it's natural to feel like a pansy, and I'm always tempted to just go anyway. I've canceled more than one hike where the weather forecast ended up being very wrong. So it was with a reluctant sigh of defeat and a shake of my fist at the heavens that I decided to abandon the trip. To say I was bummed, would be an understatement. This also meant I wouldn't get the chance to put up a new type of trail sign I made. (It's a pretty neat idea, so I'll stick it up in the garden, take some photos, and write a post on it anyway.). The worst was I knew that Kilo would definitely bring heavy rain the following weekend (thus also no backpacking).

Vindicated but still bummed out: As it turned out, a flash flood watch was issued for Oahu soon after. By early evening on Saturday, the rain gauge reported that it had rained 1.5 inches at the summit of Poamoho. The Kaukonahua stream level was at 3 ft with moderately strong flow rate at about the time that I would be crossing on my return, had I gone Friday as first planned. I don't know if I would've been able to cross the river. Only a couple hours later, by nightfall, the river had risen to 6 ft (discharge was 900 cubic feet per second!!), and another 1 inch of rain had fallen at the summit. Who knows what the Poamoho stream was doing at this time—it's narrower and thus was probably experiencing catastrophic flash flooding (I would've had to cross that one at some point as well). During the evening, Wahiawa and Mililani towns clocked 0.6 inches of rain, so if I were camping out close to the river waiting to cross the next day, it would've been a very wet night.

On the other hand, had I gone backpacking on Saturday morning, as my backup plan had called for, I would've crossed the Kaukonahua on Saturday morning at 2.5 ft water level—challenging, but not impossible. It would have been a very humid, hot, and wet slog up to the KST. The Poamoho summit weather station showed wind at 2 mph at one point! That is unusually low for the Koolau summit, which is often the windiest parts of the island. The rain at times fell at 1 inch per hour. No doubt, the KST crossing would've been more dangerous and exhausting than usual. Little-to-no rain fell for the rest of the night, and Sunday brought 0.28 inches at the summit during the early afternoon, and 2 inches in Wahiawa and Mililani towns. The river was crossable most of the day, except for the later afternoon, when it rose to 3 ft.

I guess the title of this post should have been: "backpacking—NOT". Anyway, I hope you found some value or entertainment in reading about the vexing pre-trip decisions that go into backpacking.

The mountains of Hawaii has a way of infecting, of haunting, your soul. The surrounding cities and towns are the brown roots of a monstrous tree; you are compelled to be pulled up away from the roots, along the trunk and branches that are the ridges, ever upwards toward the green top—the summit ridge—that looks out over the world and envelops you in moss-covered trees and shrubs. When you reach it, for a short while, you feel like you belong. Like you've come home.

And so runs out my time to go backpacking. Maybe in another lifetime, we'll meet again, KST. Maybe far down the road, as a wild boar, I'll roam the summit from one end to the other. And I won't be deterred by the weather. A hui hou.

[--August 2015--]

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