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Pu’u Piei Mauka

We hiked through a sea of this.

We pushed through this.

We climbed up this.

Hiking in Hawaii to Pu’u Piei from the mauka side with Kaleo Lancaster, Ryan Chang and Lei Yamasaki. Kahana, Oahu, Hawaii.

At the top, we saw this.

Pu’u Piei is a mountain peak that sits on the north wall of Kahana Valley. There are a few different ways to get to this peak. A couple weeks ago we decided to hike the ridge mauka of Pu’u Piei (“mauka” = towards the mountains).

The hike took us 10 hours and was a full body workout. Even though we spent most of the time up on the ridgeline, we found ourselves contorting our bodies to weave our way through trees and shrubs for almost the entire hike to the summit. We encountered a few steep climbs as well where there was nothing to hold on to but grass and the occasional well placed root.

There’s not much of a trail up there. I mean, there’s something to follow but it’s not much.

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.

This ridgeline is Pu’u Piei Mauka. If you were to hike it from here towards the mountains, the ridgeline would become Pauao Ridge and would take you to the Koolau Summit.

The hike starts in Kahana State Park.

We cut up the side of the hill to get to Pauao Ridge and we’re on the trail. Small group on this day: Ryan Chang, Kaleo Lancaster (Island Trails) and Lei Yamasaki.

We immediately found ourselves waist deep in uluhe.

We gained elevation fast. The trail takes you straight up an overgrown path to the top of the ridge.

Once you hit the ridgetop you’ll start to see views of Kahana Valley. Pu’u Manamana is across the way.

There’s a trail junction at the top. You can go towards the Koolau summit or towards the ocean. We made our way towards the ocean. There was a ribbon that marked the way towards the Pu’u Piei peak.

The ridgeline that goes from left to right in the above photo is our trail.

The first section involved pushing through overgrown uluhe.

Uluhe is this fern. It’s everywhere.

Once we moved past the uluhe ferns, our trail became overgrown with trees and vines.

The forest was dense.

Ryan gently caressed a tree.

We navigated through the trees by staying as close to the ridgeline as possible. If we noticed we were descending down the side of the ridge we would make our way back to the top.

We weaved and weaved our way through the trees.

Certain sections felt more like a jungle gym than a trail.

There was also moss.

Finally a respite from the overgrowth.

We popped out into a clearing and were able to enjoy the early morning view of Kahana valley.

Kahana is one of the wettest valleys on Oahu so it’s plenty lush.

Standing in front of me is our objective. That peak is Pu’u Piei. It would take us over 4 more hours to get there.

That meant 4 more hours of hiking through this.

These trees, which I believe are called He’e, came in handy later on. They were helpful during the climbs we encountered further down the hike. But, certain branches will break free when you touch them so we had to test each branch before using it to support any weight.

At another clearing, we thoroughly Instagrammed this view (unrlhi, botohead, ryanschang).

Being exposed like this felt great. The wind was gusting against us and we could walk without having to duck under trees.

Still no trail though. We had to walk carefully over shrubs, making sure not to trip.

As we approached our first climb we had to push thorough some major shrubbery. Behind this tangle of branches was a small rock face.

Above that rock face was a small clearing and that’s where we broke for our first meal.

After lunch, we faced our next challenge. The ridgeline narrowed so much that it would be too risky to hike it. We had to find a contour. Kaleo led the way through the forest.

We eventually popped out on the other side of this narrow overgrown peak.

Then it was off to challenge number two, the false peak that sits in front of Pu’u Piei.

After a short, yet steep, climb we were at the top of the false peak. Pu’u Piei was now in our sights. We would have to descend down into a notch in the ridge and then climb up a couple hundred feet to the summit.

It felt like a daunting challenge at the time but by remaining calm and breaking the climb down into sections, we were able to make it up the to the peak safely.

Here’s the ascent. The climb starts through the trees. You have plenty of roots and branches to hold on to. But then you hit this part. The trees are gone and all you have to hold on to is grass. There are rocks on the slope but touch one and you’ll find they are all loose. Dislodge one and you may have just sent a heavy object hurtling down at the person below you. We were careful to not touch any rocks.

Once past the grassy section there’s another small rock face to boulder over. It’s an easy climb but with a pack on and at this high an elevation, simple rock climbing still gets the adrenaline pumping.

At the top of Pu’u Piei we could look back and see the full ridgeline we had just traversed. We could also see Pu’u Ohulehule (the pyramid shaped peak) and the Koolau summit.

At the top we took a break to recharge on some food and drink. And then came the fun part of the hike. Descending this beautiful ridge with views of the ocean the entire way. We would be descending the traditional Pu’u Piei trail.

This part of the trail was easy compared to the grueling mauka ridgeline we had just spent several hours on.

We paused several times to soak in this view.

We descended to another junction and hiked down the ridge that would take us to the visitor center of Kahana State Park.

Descending this ridge is fairly easy going. There are plenty of trees to help you with the descent.

Ryan caressed many of them.

As we approached the bottom, the open trail felt so nice.

We knew we would soon be back at the cars and could rest our weary bodies.

Looking back at the ridgeline we could see all the peaks and notches we had just hiked across.

Rain had arrived and Kahana valley looked magical.

After 10 hours on the trail we were finally back on flat land.

We stopped at the visitor center to wash up and made our way back to our cars. We felt accomplished.

Pu’u Piei Mauka is a trail that not too many people have hiked. Kaleo was able to get some info on it from one of our friends but otherwise, I’ve never heard anything about it. Because of the overgrowth, this is a very difficult hike. Not only is it physically taxing but it would be very easy to lose your way on this ridge (because there’s no trail). Had Kaleo not done the proper research on this hike before taking us out here, there are several sections of this trail where we would have been scratching our heads and potentially lost. For that reason, I’m placing this hike in the “extreme” category.

Kaleo and Ryan shot some video during the hike. Get a great look at this trail by watching the footage on Vimeo:

See also:


This story was last modified on October 13, 2013. (Originally published in June 2012.)

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