Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
Most people go to Hawaii for the beaches. Having lived there for a number of years, I am pretty well beached out. When my wife started planning for the biennial trip back to see her family, I as usual resisted going, citing expense, time. etc., etc., etc. But one evening she started telling me the hiking she used to do when she was young. In my mind, the recollections came back of looking at those razor-edged Ko'olau and Waianae mountains, and I conceded she might have a good idea. I invested in a book, "Hikers Guide to O'ahu" by Stuart M. Ball, Jr., containing some 52 hikes, ranging from the ridiculously easy to the easily ridiculous. After pouring over the book for a month, I chose three hikes, a ridge hike, a shore hike, and a valley hike, hitting one each of the types available.
The first hike we took the day after we arrived, the only day when our youngest daughter and her husband would be there. I chose the 5-mile Wiliwilinui ridge hike, on the strength of the view from the top of the mountain from which one could see two sides of the island.
Being primarily an Appalachian Trail day hiker, I was pretty sure I could handle whatever Hawaii could throw at me. I was wrong.
A tropical island has several distinct weather patterns, based on the interaction with trade winds, mountains, and ocean moisture. It could be sunny and warm at one location, and rainy, foggy, and cool someplace else. I failed to take that into account.
The trail head is accessed through a rather high-rent neighborhood called Waialae Iki V, guarded by a gate house from which you must obtain a hiking pass. The steep drive up to the gate provides million-dollar views, exceeded only by the multi-million-dollar residences.
Looking at the back side of Diamond Head.
Imagine waking up to this every morning.
We arrived early, but had to wait until sunrise to be allowed in. Once past the gate, we found the parking area near the trail head, a dirt road.
A quick groupie shot before starting out.
The trail was rated easy to moderate, and I guess for some that would describe it. The first mile and a half were pretty easy. The road was wide-ish and there were a couple of places where picturesque overlooks made themselves visible.
As we climbed higher, the trail narrowed and grew progressively wetter. The surface was not dirt, but a kind of clay which became slick as ice. I had what I thought were pretty good hiking boots, but the lugs which did fine on the AT struggled for purchase on this surface. I actually fell twice, to the initial concern, then amusement of my family. There were places where the trail was washed out and we had to use hands to get through those places. Despite the challenges, I was having a ball. Every view we accessed was remarkable in its own right, from looks down to the shore, to views of the neighboring ridges.
At about 1.75 miles in, we encountered the famous steps. These are recycled plastic beams that make climbing a bit easier, and also slow the erosion to a degree. Some were comfortably close, others required a bit of effort to scale. (Please remember that the writer is 60 years old)
At two and a quarter miles, we encountered that final ascent, a steep climb up the last two peaks to the top of the ridge. When I got to this point, I started to climb, slipping constantly on the wet clay. I realized that while I might just make it up there, getting back down would be, for this old man, a trek of some danger. At this point, the trail was about a yard wide with a dead drop of 800 feet on either side.
I stopped at this point while the younger folks went on.
The final ascent. The trail end is at that second peak, shrouded in fog.
Those two tiny specks of color are
those who went on.
While I waited, I took a couple of pictures from that viewpoint.
I tried to start down, trying to get ahead a bit, when I slipped and fell again, this time completely off the path. My legs were dangling off the edge, my fingers desperately gripping the foliage. I managed to pull myself back up, and by going into a crouch position, managed to get past that section.
They got as far as the first peak, which was completely fogged in, and decided to stop there. Descending, they fell frequently, which affirmed my decision to stop. The descent back down was adventurous, and I fell once more along with a several near-falls which sent me into some wild dance moves as I tried to keep my feet.
We finally got all the way back down. It was for me a great hike, even with the challenges. I learned something important about wet clay, and received an overdue dose of hiker's humility.