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Ascent of Kamakou on 2013-01-10

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Duane Gilliland
Adam Helman
PJ Klein
Don Nelsen
Laura Newman
John Mitchler
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Thursday, January 10, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Kamakou
    Location:USA-Hawaii
    Elevation:4961 ft / 1512 m

Ascent Trip Report

We climb this peak 2 days after getting down from Kawaikini.

9 Jan
We (Laura, Adam, Duane and I) take an early flight from Lihue via Honolulu to Molokai. John Mitchler, Don Nelsen and Bob Packard are already here: John meets us at the airport, Art picks up a rental car and we drive into town to buy food, water and cooking fuel. We have lunch then call back at the airport to meet John Klein who's on a later flight; Bob Packard and Peggy Swift also meet us here to say hello. John M and Don drive us and our gear up the rough dirt road (Don's 2WD pickup makes it OK) to the picnic site N21.13049 W156.92148, 1088m. An impressive location, with a superb three-quarter-circle rainbow and a view down a steep short valley to the ocean nearly 1100m below.

Here the five us set up our tents, under the picnic shelter out of the wind and rain showers. A welcome contrast to the cramped dirty sloping site we occupied at Sincock's bog below Kawaikini a few days ago. We arrive about 3 pm and enjoy a leisurely evening. John, Don, Laura and Bob sleep down in town and will join us in the morning.

10 Jan
I leave camp at 4.50 am, a few minutes after the others and soon catch them on the winding muddy potholed 2 mile road. Just before the trailhead there's a signed fork N21.11822 W156.90845 where we keep left. In a few metres we reach a very small turning head N21.11819 W156.90818, 1186m which could accommodate 2 or 3 cars, although only the more dedicated 4x4ist would want to drive here.

From the trailhead we take the board walk which continues straight ahead (east). It's underwater in places, and narrow, although the one place where it's significantly elevated it's double width. It's surfaced with a metal mesh so is generally an easy walk, except for a few trip hazards where the mesh is unattached. We reach an area of low vegetation; at N21.11914 W156.90087 is a junction where we turn R. Here's Don Nelsen's video footage of the same boardwalk from another trip (to Puu Alii), in daylight.

Bob Packard goes in front and we discuss Ultra bagging. He tells one of his tales, of an embezzling Filipino guide who had to be bailed out during a group trip.

It's just daylight when we reach the gate N21.11957 W156.89716, 1295m - perfect timing. After a brief stop we turn R (SE), following the low metal fence - all except Art Janssen who turns back at the boardwalk. We navigate using a GPS track with a compass bearing as backup. Don Nelsen leads as he and John Mitchler have attempted the peak before, also he seems to have a feel for navigation in this dense jungle terrain.

Initially the jungle isn't too dense and we make reasonable time over the first 0.8 miles to the first summit Kaunuohua, N21.11460 W156.88589, 1387m. There's a fine view down over precipitous jungle to the ocean; also a two stage rusty metal pole of unknown function, topped with a white plastic bottle.

We've been following blue tape flagging for most of the route, apparently making a bird transect line from a survey undertaken in 2011 (and probably earlier dates). This means there's a trail of sorts, which is very helpful except at one location....

Soon after this top it's necessary to turn L at about N21.11147 W156.88307 onto a side ridge, keeping L ie fairly close to the steep edge, looking out for pink marker tape instead of the blue. This turn is not obvious from the map and we miss it. We've been following blue tape flagging from almost the start, and go maybe 15 minutes down a false ridge too far L, before we notice (this has been edited out of the posted GPX track). Don has been following on behind with Bob and even he misses it. We continue as a group, back tracking to where we should have turned, then we head down a steep dense jungle slope. There's no sign of a trail and at first, no sign of a feasible descent, but we force our way down through dense vegetation, finding a few pink markers.

Once at the foot of this steep slope we pass R of a dense tangle of vegetation then pick up another line of blue flagging which continues all the way to Kamakou summit. Without this marked trail the jungle bush whack would have taken far longer than our 12.5 hours round trip: even so it is very slow and arduous, with many obstacles to be gone under or over, and thick vegetation to be pushed through where the jungle has reclaimed the old transect route. The most difficult thing for me is getting the pack caught when trying to go under obstacles. Laura just has a bum bag / fanny pack with a litre of water and some food - this seems ideal.

Here are two short video clips (1) and (2) captured by Don, which show the terrain involved.

With such tough going it soon becomes clear that Bob will either have to travel independently or stay back. He stays back while the remaining seven continue, with Don and I mostly breaking trail.

There are half a dozen false summits to go over, with a couple of awkward steep descents. We reach the summit at about 2 pm, far later than intended and well beyond our proposed 12:30 turnaround time. We'd decided we can bushwhack the last hour out in the dark if needed. The summit (N21.10666 W156.86832, 1530m) is a fairly obvious spot in fairly dense jungle, within a few metres of the locations given by Peaklist, Peakbagger and the topo map.

At 2.20 pm we head back down. Much better progress now we have a trail opened up but still very slow, with the team tiring. Don goes ahead to retrieve Bob (we never see them again and the pickup is gone from camp when we finally arrive: we later learn that Bob navigated back to the boardwalk in daylight). Don at a youthful 65 years is an incredibly strong hiker.

The remaining six of us get back to the easier terrain of the main ridge with half an hour of daylight remaining, and bush whack the last half mile in the dark. As expected, this is doable but difficult: I repeatedly find, lose and refind the GPS track recorded on our way out. We take some pretty bad lines but everyone is patient and in time we find the fence and are then soon back at the boardwalk gate, at 7.30 pm.

I head down on my own and am back at our picnic site at 8.40 pm: a 16 hour round trip. Someone doing the hike "tomorrow" and travelling light could save a few hours on this time thanks to our trail - but the jungle will quickly grow back over the tiny graze we have inflicted. Next day we hike Puu Alii the Kalawao county highpoint.

Overall I thought the trip was good fun, quite challenging, quite unlike anything I've done before. Far more enjoyable than the Kawaikini backpack. My jungle memories: the tree ferns which seem to each have its own character; the soft mosses which cloak every tree like towelling; the beautiful liquid song heard frequently from some unseen bird (the Apapane, I later learn, a Hawaii endemic); the three points where our route emerges at the clifftop and I'm taken in by that superb view down over precipitous jungle to the ocean far below.

Would I do it again? Yes, probably, although as it's the opposite side of the world from my UK home I doubt if I ever will.

Don Nelsen's excellent photo album (alternatively this link) - impressive photos considering the wet dirty conditions of the hike. You may have to log in as a guest using donnelsen@yahoo.com then if necessary look for the Kamakou album.

Also Don's fly-through of the route
Hint: once the page loads, hit play (lower left of the page) and then stop right away to let the graphics catch up, then start again.

Post script: we learn next morning that it's possible to access Kamakou from the east, in a 4 hour round trip, via ranch roads: the Conservancy have an easement. But is this true? ....
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:2736 ft / 832 m
    Extra Gain:656 ft / 199 m
    Distance:13.7 mi / 22 km
    Route:West ridge
    Trailhead:Picnic site below board walk  3537 ft / 1078 m
    Grade/Class:YDS 2
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack
    Gear Used:
Tent Camp
    Weather:Drizzle, Pleasant, Windy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:9 Hours 10 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:6 Hours 
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO resposibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file




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