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Pali Notches


Descending the first notch.

There are a few hikes on Oahu that I had on my “not going to attempt” list. Up until a week ago the Pali Notches was one of them as it has a reputation for being very dangerous. If you’re driving up the Pali Highway from town you can see two notches cut in the narrow ridgeline. The notches are man-made. They were created by warriors of ancient Oahu to house cannons when defending attacks from Nu’uanu Valley. In 1795, King Kamehameha’s warriors disabled these cannons in the Battle of Nu’uanu which helped him conquer Oahu.

So, if the ancient Hawaiian warriors were able to hike the notches then at least it’s possible. But, a Hawaiian warrior I am not. Nevertheless, some friends were hiking this trail last weekend and I decided to give it a shot. The trail is short yet intense. It’s known as one of the most dangerous trails on the island because of the descent down the second notch. It’s a vertical down-climb and there’s no rope to assist you. And, even if you bring your own rope, there’s nothing to attach it to.

It was a difficult hike indeed yet we made it.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for entertainment purposes only. Hiking can be extremely dangerous. One slip or trip and you could easily fall down the side of the mountain causing injury or death. Do not attempt what you see in these pictures.


We started the day by doing a warm up hike to the Pali Puka. Here’s Reanne, Jen, Jen, Cory, Troy and Bryan at the trail head.


We made it to the puka in about 20 minutes.


It’s an easy hike with a nice pay off. We’re all smiles here. Later on, at the notches, these smiles would turn into expressions of anxiety and self doubt.


After a few pictures at the top we made our way down to the Pali Lookout parking lot. If you look to the top right of this picture you can see the two Pali Notches in the ridgeline.


This is the bamboo forest just before the parking lot.


The Pali Notches trailhead is unmarked but a faint dirt path can be seen from the Pali Lookout. You make your way up a steep slope through the forest and through a mesh of tangled hau trees.


This trail is on the opposite side of the lookout. You gain elevation fast and get an awesome view.


We took tons of pictures.


The first notch comes up right away. If you didn’t take any breaks to soak in the view, you could probably reach the first notch withing 25 minutes. It’s a easy climb down and up out of it.


As the trail continues there are some narrow sections but luckily for us, there was very little wind on this day. I’m not sure if this hike would have been possible if the winds were gusting as they normally do at the Pali Lookout.


And this is the infamous second notch. You’ll see it right after you come out of the first one. This is where things get real.


We sent Jenelyn down first to check out (she’s a fearless trailblazer). The tricky thing about climbing down this notch is that it’s a vertical wall made up of crumbly rock. There is actually a fairly easy way to get down it if you know the specific hand and foot holds to use. But since this was our first time, Jenelyn had to figure it all out on her own.


This is what she had to climb down. This is truly dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. It probably took around an hour to get the whole team down the notch. We had to figure out the safest route and then guide each other down slowly.


Getting out of the second notch is a different story. Just climb up this short wall and you’re out.


The base of each notch is a fairly level floor. Perfect for a cannon to be placed in.


Once you’re past the second notch you can continue on down the ridge until you reach the Chimney.


The ridge gets narrow at parts.


And of course, the view is incredible.


To get to the Chimney you can either scale this bump in the ridge (above Troy’s head) or take the low road on the side of the ridge. We took the low road.


You’ll a faint path that will lead you up to the base of the Chimney.


This is the Chimney. People climb up this to get to a ridge called Konahuanui. It’s nuts. For us, it served as a end point where we rested and ate our snacks.


Now, you simply turn around and go back the same way you came.



Climbing up the second notch, while still dangerous, is easier than climbing down.


It helped tremendously to have a rope we could use to hoist all our gear up.


Climbing this with a backpack full of water and camera gear would change everything.


And now the first notch.


From here you can see the Pali Lookout parking lot and you’re 20 minutes from your car.

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This story was last modified on January 5, 2014. (Originally published in March 2011.)

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