Continue along the path across Pia stream and into a mixed mostly non-native forest of guava, christmas berry, coffee, and koa haole. Continue along the side the stream until you pass a number of large boulders. About 50 yards past a massive one abutting the trail on the right you will find a turn off to the right that begins your ascent up a spur to Kulepeamoa Ridge. Follow this up and to the right, it is as this same point that you will reconnect as you return from the loop hike.
You will enter a very open area with ulei bushes, guava, and lauae ferns. A very steep heart stopping ascent will bring you to an ironwood grove. Immediately following the ironwoods you will reach the ridge itself and turn left. Excellent views of Pia Valley to the left and beyond it Hawai’iloa Ridge will be visible. To the right is Kupaua Valley and Kuli’ou’ou Ridge. Beyond, excellent views of Hawai’i Kai and Koko Crater are available. Continue along this windswept ridge interspersed with ironwood groves and the occasional native plants such as ohi’a, lama, ‘ulei, pukiawe, ‘akoko, ‘ohelo, maile, ‘uluhe, ‘alahe’e, manono, naupaka, kolea lau nui, and even some bird’s nest ferns.
As you continue to climb you will enter the most difficult and dangerous section of the hike. Remember, too much rain or wind, or a dirt or rock section that may have slipped away is reason enough to return the way you came. Expect very steep drop offs, narrow dike sections with crumbly dirt and fractured stone support. Most of these sections have no rope assistance; only one section has a cable. However, if you perservere and attain the summit of the ridge you will be gratified by excellent views of the windward side from Chinaman’s Hat to Makapu’u and the Honolulu side from Makapu’u to the Wai’anae’s. A wonderful view of Olomana, with all three peaks lined up from behind.
Needless to say this site makes for an excellent lunch spot, but typically it’s too early and an even better idea is to turn left here and continue along the Ko’olau Summit Trail to the end of Hawai’iloa ridge and eat lunch there. Do not turn to the right since would take you to the summit of Kuli’ou’ou ridge via Pu’u o Kona.
Rather go left and follow the KST, a dangerous, narrow, windblown trail, for about 30 minutes until you reach a Na Ala Hele sign proclaiming the summit of Hawai’iloa ridge. There is a clear trail leading down that ridge that unfortunately is slippery and often muddy. Great caution is required to get down to an easier section, and extreme caution is required when this section is wet. Fortunately, Na Ala Hele has installed several stair sections to help your footing.
Continue down the trail passing through an ironwood section and lots of guava trees. About 20 – 30 minutes down the trail you will notice a sturdy fencelike wire section running parallel to the left side of the trail. The guava growth will thin on the left side as you progress and the trail will open up considerably. Continue on until you notice a small spreading koa tree on the left and look for a cutoff trail to the valley on your left. It should be ribboned and is very noticeable. This side trail will take you down a winding steep course through a forest of guava trees bringing you back into Pia Valley where you will turn right for a hike out along Pia stream where you will eventually joining the same trail on which you entered the valley.
You will spend some time rock hopping along the stream bed and all precautions concerning high or rapid water should be followed. However, this stream is typically dry. Continue until you notice the turn off you originally took earlier to the spur leading to Kulepeamoa ridge. Continue past the huge rock, now on your left. Shortly you will reach the path through the tall grass and pass the water tank once again. Allow five to six hours for the hike, the majority of which will be spent acquiring the summit.
- Sections of this hike require very steep climbs.
- Narrow crossings with sheer drop-offs to one or both sides are required, often during windy or blustery conditions. Extreme and excessive caution is advised especially in rain.
- On any day hiking this trail is extremely energy demanding. On a hot day you must have sufficient water (for most people a minimum of 2-3 liters).
- This hike is typically done counter-clockwise.