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Ka'au Crater Hike - Hawaii, United States

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Story:
This is one of the most variable, fun, beautiful, slippery, and dangerous hikes on all of Oahu, and it's only ~15 minutes drive from Waikiki and only ~5mi round trip!!

After reading a couple others' reports of the hike and feeling fairly confident in the plan for an out-and-back trip (skipping the loop that takes you around the crater rim after summitting), we started off at 10am on a slightly drizzly day.

It took ~60 min  to hike to the first waterfall (~1.25mi, slowed by wet/slick, and many overgrown/eroded parts), a little over 60 min to finish climbing up the all the waterfalls (total 2.1mi), and a little under an hour to hike to the top of the mountain range (total 2.5mi).  

Everything from the trailhead to the top of the 2nd waterfall was pretty straight-forward; follow the trailmarker flagging tape, and large pipe that leads you upstream.
*TRAILSPLIT: after climbing the 2nd waterfall the trail splits.  Go to the LEFT around a large rock and you'll clearly see the trail continue (if you try to continue to go straight up the trail, it dead-ends fairly quickly)

The 3rd/final waterfall is by far the tallest/longest consisting of ~7 rope segments. After finishing the waterfalls, your victory summit will soon be in sight; ~900ft up in only ~2100ft!  
*TRAILSPLIT: after climbing the 3rd waterfall, veer right (when facing upstream) and follow the steep ridge on the east side of the crater rim straight to the top.  Alternatively, you can instead take the trail that leads left, up the west side of the crater and eventually to the same top of the mountain.  

At the top, you've earned yourself an amazing view of almost the entire South and Windward sides of Oahu!  Take a break, eat, drink, get lots of pics, and get ready for your descent (most accidents happen in the second half of a hike).
*TRAILSPLIT: we chose to go down the same way we came up, but most people continue walking around the entire crater rim which eventually leads back to the top of the 3rd waterfall.  WARNING: others have said that parts of that descent from the west crater rim side are really slick/muddy (apparently without ropes) and doing a controlled slide/mud-glissade might be the safest (yet dirtiest) way down.

After coming back down the mountain and waterfalls, we tried following the stream back to the trailhead (wading through it, jumping on river-rocks or walking on the side of the stream), and although it was more scenic and interesting than run-down trail along the ridge, it was 2-3x slower, so with ~3/4 mi to go we bushwhacked back to to the trail (an upside-down menehune water bottle on a stick showed us where it was close) and finished after ~5.5hrs on the trail.

This hike and the Olomana Peaks are so far my 2 favorite in all Oahu and I highly recommend both if you have the physical capacity!!!
Tips:
- This hike is NOT for beginners or kids.  Hikers should possess basic bouldering & rope climbing skills, and good conditioning & balance for scaling the waterfalls and final ascent to the summit.  Obviously falling down the waterfall or off a ridge cliff can be deadly, so be prepared and use your judgement if it's unsafe to continue or you feel uncomfortable.

- Do not attempt this hike on wet days!  Although we went during light intermittent rain and the slightly muddy trail made it more difficult, after a large rainstorm the trail portions before and after the waterfalls can get especially treacherous; the most dangerous part is the final ascent to the top of the mountain after ascending the waterfalls, where the trail is steep, narrow, has sheer cliffs on both sides, is often very windy, and full of slippery clay (similar to, and in a couple spots worse than the Olomana Peaks). 

- To get to the trailhead, drive to the very top of Waiomao road in Kaimuki.  After a small parking area that says it's for temple parking only, drive around the bend and the next area on the right will be a small parking lot (enough for ~5 cars) and you'll see a sign that indicates the trail starts there.

- Others have reported two different trail options pink vs. orange trail-marking ribbons, but we didn't see much of a difference and just followed any color we saw (they all lead upstream to the 1st waterfall)

- Wear shoes that will have good grip on muddy/slick trails and ascending waterfalls; You can use regular waterproof hiking boots on normal days, but I could see how getting your feet wet might be unavoidable during high-volume waterfall days

- Most of the hike has great shade, but once you start the final ascent to the summit it's very exposed. Sunscreen and appropriate sun-blocking clothing is recommended.  Also the trail is overgrown in many spots so pants to protect legs from scratches should be considered.  Sufficient water/food for a 5hr hike, and of course the 10 Essentials, are recommended :-)
Tags:
Hawaii, Oahu, Kaau, crater, Kaau, hike, crater, trail, hike, waterfall, steep, Koolau, Mountain climbing, deadly
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Trip Info
by ing253
May 31, 2012
Trip Location: Palolo Homes, Hawaii, United States
Length: 5.0 miles
Duration: 6 hours
Activity: Hiking
Trip viewed 10,472 times
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