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It's not 38F and raining on Kuli'ou'ou Ridge on O'ahu (In case you were wondering)
posted by John : January 9, 2018


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Oh, hey


After a week of adventure in the equatorial sun, getting up before dawn every day, you'd think I'd be ready to sleep in and take it easy. Maybe some people like that kind of vacation, but I don't go on vacation. I go on adventures! So while my father slept I headed east of Honolulu for a taste of Oahu hiking.

The Kuli'ou'ou trailhead is only 12 miles from downtown. Before dawn on a weekday I was driving against the rush hour traffic and made good time. Such good time that when I arrived at the "trailhead" (a cul-de-sac in a residential neighborhood) I sat in the car a while waiting for the dawn to arrive.

The lower trail is decidedly wet and jungle-like. Just after dawn the birds were making a racket calling back and forth across the valley. I expected to see a dinosaur around each curve as I slowly climbed. Before too long the terrain transitions from wet to dry and the trail is carpeted in ironwood while switchbacking up the steepening hillside. It was bone dry and could have been in Eastern Washington. Completely unexpected. Above the ironwood, the trail traverses the slope and there are a few views across the valley. This was what I pictured when I thought about hiking in Hawaii.

As I climbed higher the ridge narrowed and the trail's grade steepened without switchbacks to moderate the climb. Then there'd be a section where it flattened around a point of interest: Root-clogged sections reminiscent of the best of Mailbox; Banyan trees that form arches over the trail; a grove of Cook pines that grow toward the equator.

The final stretch is all stairs. As much as people complain about the pleasure and pain of slippery slopes, whether mud or snow or loose rock, there's little worse than stairs. I'd rather kick steps or scramble on all fours than climb stairs. They are my nemesis.

At the top of the stairs is the summit. Sort of. It doesn't have a ton of prominence and there's a higher peak just beyond. However, the signs all indicated going further would be pushing prudence and being alone I decided that was a bad idea. Instead, I watched the clouds blow in from the windward side and get shredded by the peaks of the ridge.

Heading down the stairs was more trouble than going up. They seemed steeper and I had to stop a time or two to regain my balance. That the boards holding back the dirt were slick with dew didn't help either. With the sun higher the views were pretty incredible and really felt like I was hiking through a jungle. Especially when I heard the bees.

Oh crap. Bees. I don't understand bees so they aren't my favorite. Bees appear from nowhere and don't run away like other animals. They're almost as bad as stairs. It seemed like the buzzing was insanely loud, but wasn't changing in volume as I moved down the trail. It was like they were following me. I was thoroughly confused until I saw the drone.

If stairs and bees aren't my favorites, drones are my super not favorite. This was my first encounter with a drone on a trail and I don't care to repeat it. The noise was distracting and annoying. It would buzz and whine, then pause a moment before resuming. In many places drones are not permitted. I don't know the regulations on this trail, but if they are permitted this is probably the only drawback for this route.

(Yes, I did find the video that was shot on this day and posted online. It's gorgeous and does a great job of showing the terrain and natural beauty of the area. But it's no wonder the video has a soundtrack rather than the whine of the propellers. It's also being used on a commercial site, which appears to be in violation of the rules according to the Hawaii Drone Club.)

One of the reasons I chose this trail was that it was said to be representative of hiking on Oahu. What I saw was amazingly diverse plant life, a physically demanding trail, and great views from the ridge and summit. All this just a few miles from downtown Honolulu. It's a great testament to the hiking opportunities on Oahu and Hawaii in general.

Plus, it wasn't raining and just above freezing. So there's that, too.

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