Partial History of the Castle Trail


July, 1911

In 1906, Punalu`u Valley was home to a small Chinese community of rice growers. They lived in grey, weather-beaten houses toward the front of the valley and tended their rice paddies irrigated by Punalu`u Stream. Mauka (inland) was the rice mill with a water wheel and red roof. Behind the mill were newly planted cane fields controlled by sugar baron James B. Castle.

An energetic entrepreneur, Castle envisioned sugar and other plantations lining the windward coast from Kahuku to Kailua. As a first step, he had started Kahuku Plantation Company (KPC) in 1890. Later the Mormons organized their lands into Lā`ie Plantation and began shipping cane to the Kahuku mill. In 1907, Castle founded Ko`olau Agricultural Company (KAC) to consolidate his agricultural properties between Hau`ula and Kahana, including a portion of Punalu`u Valley leased from B. P. Bishop Estate in 1906. That same year Castle began construction of Punalu`u Ditch to irrigate the cane fields there, and the Ko`olau Railway to link the windward plantations with the Kahuku mill.

Castle also decided to investigate the potential of Kaluanui and Kaipapa`u Streams to supply water to his Hau`ula acreage. In early 1906, he contracted the stream measurement project to engineer William E. Rowell, former assistant superintendent in the Department of Public Works. Rowell soon determined that a direct approach upstream to the two watersheds was not feasible because of numerous narrows and waterfalls. He then developed a flanking route, rugged but suitable for mules carrying material and measuring equipment. The trail would climb the west side of Punalu`u Valley on seven switchbacks, cross Kaluanui Stream above the last major waterfall, and contour around Ma`akua Gulch to Kaipapa`u Stream.

Later in 1906, a crew, probably from KPC, began building the trail, soon to be named after its founder. After reaching the Kaluanui crossing, the laborers constructed a 12-person wood cabin to provide overnight shelter while they completed the contour section. By October Rowell installed four weirs with measuring devices on Kaluanui Stream, one at 1,900 feet elevation near the cabin, and one on each of the three upper forks at 2,500 feet. He also built a fifth weir at 1,900 feet on Kaipapa`u Stream. The engineer then recorded monthly stream flow from October 1906 through October 1907.

In 1911, James Castle made an informal agreement with the newly founded Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club (HTMC) and its first president, his brother William R. Castle. The club would have use of the trail and the cabin in return for maintaining the route. However, no records exist of HTMC using or maintaining the Castle Trail in the 1910s.

In 1915, KAC helped install stream gauging station number 3040 on the right bank of Kaluanui Stream just above the cabin. A continuous recording device measured water flow for the next two years to determine if Kaluanui Stream could provide hydroelectric power to run the pumps at Kahuku Plantation. KAC had already constructed a ditch below the first waterfall, known as Kaliuwa`a or Sacred Falls, to irrigate its cane fields at the front of the valley.

For February 20, 1921, HTMC scheduled two hikes, Sacred Falls (class B, moderate) and the Castle Trail (class A, difficult). That morning four autobuses with 110 hikers aboard left the Pan Pacific building in downtown Honolulu. Because of a delay in Kāne`ohe, the caravan did not reach Punalu`u Valley until 11 a.m. Thirty intrepid hikers got off the buses there, and the rest continued to Kaliuwa`a Valley for Sacred Falls. Led by forestry ranger and HTMC member, Thomas R. L. McGuire, the smaller group climbed the overgrown, but passable switchbacks, crossed Kaluanui Stream and ascended to a saddle on the ridge separating Kaluanui and Ma`akua Streams. There the hikers were supposed to descend the ridge makai (seaward) back to their waiting bus. However, the group either missed the turn at the saddle or at another junction farther down the ridge and ended up bushwacking by moonlight. The "dirty thirty" finally reached Hau`ula well after midnight and Honolulu just before dawn. Part Hawaiian McGuire blamed it all on the resident pig demigod Kamapua`a for obliterating the trail and leading them down the wrong ridge. The group later decided the outing was one of the best trips ever. Participant, weatherman and sometime poet Lawrence H. Daingerfield captured the hardships and rewards of hiking Mauka Sacred Falls.

Upward where the mud is king,

And the birds in rain tree sing-

That's the place to go on the wing,

Mauka Sacred Falls.

Iridescent tree shells stray

A yard a year in search of prey,

And wild bananas, wind swept, sway

Mauka Sacred Falls.

This is Kamapuaa's place-

Pig God of the crooked face-

where the trail is but a trace

Mauka Sacred Falls.

In 1923, landowner Bishop Estate requested assistance from Territorial Forestry in reducing the destructive pig population mauka Sacred Falls. On September 9, head forester Charles S. Judd introduced two estate hunters to the Castle or Pig God Trail and the upper Kaluanui drainage in the Hau`ula Forest Reserve. After the hike, Judd reported,

"Forest is suffering considerably from ravages of these wild animals and in effort to clear them out Bishop Estate has authorized me to pay bounty of $1 for each wild pig killed."

Later that year the estate also closed the Castle Trail to recreational hikers, fearing their impact on the native vegetation. Over the next several years Territorial Forester Judd made periodic visits to the upper Kaluanui region to monitor the native forest. On September 17, 1925, he found the vegetation much recovered as a result of estate and public hunting efforts.

On June 28, 1928, he climbed the Castle Trail to the saddle above Kaluanui Stream and then bushwacked up the ridge to the Ko`olau summit. Also along on the inspection were O`ahu Ranger McGuire, Ranger at Large Max F. Landgraf and two hunters with dogs. Near the summit Judd found extensive pig damage, which he immediately reported to Bishop Estate. In November, Kahuku Ranger Robert Plunkett and his trail crew packed pig traps up the Castle Trail for use by estate hunters.

On May 22, 1930, Judd hired Special Hunters John Pahamoa and Nicholas Mendes to kill pigs along the summit in the Kaipapa`u and Hau`ula Forest Reserves for $75 per month. The two men and their dogs frequently used the Castle Trail to access the summit area. For one week in July, Plunkett and his gang worked up the trail to the saddle and then improved the route to the Ko`olau crest.

After an eight year hiatus, HTMC returned to the Pig God Trail on November 24, 1929. Led by house painter Edmund J. Meadows, the group ascended the Castle Trail and returned the same way before dark. On September 28, 1930, McGuire and William Bush guided an HTMC group to Kaluanui Stream and probably beyond toward the summit.

On February 17, 1931, Judd led nine Army officers, Mendes, and Bishop Estate forester George R. Ewart III on a reconnaissance hike above Punalu`u Valley. The group climbed the Castle Trail to the saddle and followed the improved route to the top. They then turned south along the summit and descended a spur ridge back into Punalu`u Valley. During that grueling loop, the men first discussed forming a hiking club with members drawn from the Army and the Division of Forestry. After finishing the hike well after dark, the group enjoyed a swim in the ocean and continued the discussion over a late dinner at Cooper Ranch Inn in Hau`ula. Several months later Judd and Major General Briant H. Wells formed the Piko Club.

The Piko Club engendered cooperation between the Army and Forestry. Rangers developed trail maps for Army division officers and included them on inspection hikes in the forest reserves. In turn, the Army cleared a trail at the back of Punalu`u Valley among others, and even helped build a cabin near the Ko`olau summit.

On November 14, 1932, Forestry workers delivered three bundles wrapped in burlap to the Army bomber hangar at Luke Field on Ford Island. Inside the bundles were redwood frames, and tin roof and siding for a ten by ten foot cabin to be dropped at the head of Kaipapa`u Stream near the Ko`olau summit. On November 16, Judd, O`ahu Assistant Forester Glenn W. Russ and Ranger Landgraf hiked up the Castle Trail to the cabin site, cleared it, and set up a six by twenty foot white cloth as target for the bombers. That evening a severe Kona storm came in and dumped eight inches of rain on the summit. Despite the storm the group spent a "fairly comfortable" night in their tent. The next morning heavy clouds draped the summit, keeping the bombers on the ground.

On November 21, the clouds lifted briefly, allowing a single bomber to drop one bundle. It landed within 75 feet of the target, but unfortunately hit a rock bank. The tin sections survived the impact, but the redwood beams shattered. On the afternoon of November 29, bombers from the 19th Pursuit Squadron dropped the remaining two bundles on target and in good condition. On December 23, a forestry crew finished building the cabin to be used by pig hunters. The Army assistance had saved the crews many hours packing the material up the Castle Trail.

The Piko Club first scheduled the Castle Trail as a Sunday outing on November 19, 1933. That warm day 47 hikers ascended the switchbacks to Kaluanui Stream. Most then headed downstream to the top of a waterfall above Kaliuwa`a (Sacred) Falls for lunch. A few continued up the trail to the saddle, informally known as the pig wire, and then climbed the ridge to the Kaipapa`u cabin near the Ko`olau summit. HTMC also conducted hikes on the Castle Trail in March of 1933 and 1934.

Sometime in August 1934, the Honolulu Unit of the Civilian Conservation Corps began to reconstruct the Castle Trail and its extension to the Ko`olau summit. The veteran crew assigned to the project had already built the Summit Trail from Black Junction to Pu`u Kainapua`a. On an August 30 inspection, Judd and Ranger Landgraf found the gang, led by Foreman Ernest W. Landgraf, working halfway up the switchback section.

On October 18, Judd and Ranger Landgraf climbed the rebuilt Castle Trail past the ship shape CCC camp by Kaluanui Stream to the pig wire. There Foreman Landgraf joined them, and the three men began scouting along the contour section of the trail for a feasible route to the summit. After floundering around Kaipapa`u Gulch, all three decided the area was too rough for the new route. Judd then told Foreman Landgraf to extend the Castle Trail from the pig wire up the ridge to the Ko`olau summit near the Kaipapa`u cabin at a 12% grade. Landgraf and his first rate crew built the Castle extension as instructed, completing it before year end and then resumed work on the Summit Trail. Vegetation and landslides gradually reclaimed the bypassed Castle contour section.

On Sunday July 14, 1935, the Piko Club completed a magnificent Ko`olau summit traverse on three new CCC trails. Thirty Pikos took the Poamoho Trail to the top, where they bushwacked north briefly to the current end of the Summit Trail. After strolling along the wide-open path, the group descended the rebuilt Castle Trail. Halfway down, Chief Scout Sweet served coffee at the CCC camp near Kaluanui Stream. The club repeated the hike on November 1, 1936, shortly before its demise. HTMC also scheduled the Castle Trail on May 5, 1935.

During World War Two, the Army built a cabin at the Kaluanui Stream crossing and just below the Ko`olau crest. Soldiers also dug a network of foxholes around the Castle and Summit Trail junction. In 1943, the Army established the Unit Jungle Training Center to better prepare its soldiers for combat in the Pacific Islands. The center had three layouts or courses of instruction, red and blue in Kahana Valley, and green in Punalu`u Valley. The green course was the most demanding as it taught instructors for the other two courses. Both the Castle and the Ko`olau Summit Trails formed a part of the green course for field exercises and edible plant identification classes. After training all day, the troops stopped for refreshments at the Punalu`u Store, established by Yan Quong Ching sometime in the 1930s.

After the war, HTMC resumed hiking the Castle Trail on December 22, 1946. The hike blurb in the schedule read,

"Although the trail is not nearly as clear as it was in the good old days, it's still the good old Pig God Trail. The finest view on the island if it doesn't rain, only it always rains."

The club also conducted a Castle campout on Labor Day weekend 1947. That year Territorial Forestry included Castle as trail number 16 at five miles on its O`ahu map. In the early 1950s at the saddle, a wooden sign painted white with black lettering "Hau`ula pig wyre" (corrupted Welsh for trail) pointed down the ridge, according to naturalist Lorin T. Gill.

HTMC continued to schedule Castle regularly from 1950s through 1973. For the next seven years the club was unable to get permission from Bishop Estate to hike the trail because of liability concerns. As a result, the route began to deteriorate; downed trees and landslides blocked the switchbacks, and uluhe ferns and clidemia shrubs clogged the upper section.

In 1980, HTMC members Zon Owen and Lorna Turner obtained permission from Bishop Estate for the club to hike the Castle Trail once again. Owen organized three trail clearing outings to reopen the route up the switchbacks to the Kaluanui Stream crossing. He then led the Castle hike for HTMC on January 25, 1981. In her poem Confrontation, Beryl Sawyer recalled the excitement of the crowd meeting at Iolani Palace that Sunday morning.

Ninety-two, at the palace, at eight.

For Castle Trail, closed of late.

Lorna Turner, leader-learner-

Chat, chat, chat, of this and that.

All signed on? The crowd was wide.

Don't get lost! Who needs a ride?

A member of the HPD,

On motor-cycle came to see.

Demonstration? Confrontation?

Accident? Or fender bent?

Assured we were HTMC,

He wished us well from HPD.

The club continued to hike the Castle Trail annually through 1985. On August 11 of that year, 74 members and guests led by Stuart Ball ascended the switchbacks to the Kaluanui crossing. Twelve stalwarts pushed on to the misty, still Ko`olau summit and a fleeting view of Ka`ala in the Wai`anae Range. The last hikers finally emerged from the forest at 6:15 p.m. after a long, but satisfying day. The next year the club lost access once again because of liability concerns of the lessee in Punalu`u Valley.

Today, the pig demigod Kamapua`a, his relatives, and an occasional hunter or hiker still roam the Castle Trail mauka Sacred Falls. The route from the valley to the summit is discernible but badly deteriorated and overgrown after twenty years of neglect. The original contour section from the pig wire to Kaipapa`u Stream is lost under thick vegetation and numerous landslides. The cabin and camp site by Kaluanui Stream is muddy and partially covered by dark strawberry guava trees, but remains a wild, lovely spot to pitch a tent or hang a hammock. Punalu`u Valley is often called green valley after the name of the training course there. Ching's store still offers refreshments - to locals and tourists, instead of GI's.

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