This starts around Fall 2011 when I was at Maxwell Air Force Base attending a weeklong Civil Air Patrol course, and throughout the week I met many new people, one of them was the director of Cadet Programs for Hawaii Wing, and not soon after returning home I was offered the opportunity to be on staff for the 2012 Summer Encampment, to be held at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. I didn’t have to think very long about that, it’s been one of the places I’ve wanted to visit for many years, and reciprocate as Ryan Suenaga had visited many of us on the mainland several times.
Realizing that Ryan had talked about the Olomana Trail a few times in passing, and I thought .. that would be a fun afternoon trip if I ever went there, but that was probably a pipe dream at that point. Forwarding a few years, suddenly I was actually going to get a chance to visit Oahu.
Our week started out with a visit by a Hawaiian Kahuna to the building and area we were going to be conducting our 10 day activity to perform a traditional spiritual blessing and cleansing involving conch shells to chase away evil and healing tea leaves at which the tea leaves are left on the door for three days and then tossed into the ocean. On the third day I drove to the beach near where Ryan lived in Kaneohe, tied the tea leaves around a rock and tossed it into the water.
Though I didn’t have a lot of free time while there, due to my position, I was able to get out a little bit and in the process of careful planning when I did need to drive, I got to drive the full length of all three of Hawaii’s Interstate Highways, even though a bit was in the wee hours of the night sometimes, I was quick to volunteer to pick someone up, drop off, etc, on other parts of the island since civil infrastructure is one of my interests, and getting out was one way to see it
Though there is lots to see in Hawaii, one of the things I really wanted to see was the USS Arizona Memorial, and that worked out perfectly because the day after we started, we took 36 cadets and others from the mainland, other islands, etc, that don’t normally have the chance to get there, to visit the memorial. After that it was very similar to KFest .. late hours, early hours, etc.
Later in the week when I had an afternoon that I could sneak off, (well,not really sneak.. but.. figuratively..) I arranged some stand ins and got some information from the locals on staff, and went to visit the Olomana Trail.
I’ve added some pictures here, you can open this in another tab and flip through them when you read about the last one you saw in the text, flip to the next and read some more.
Visiting the Olomana Trail starts by heading to the Luana Hills Country Club, and parking off Loop Rd. just outside the country club, and waking from there. About a 1/4 mile up the road as I neared the guard gate the person manning it, as he does everyone else I’m sure, sized me up .. “another one coming to the trail..:”, as I was dressed not like the typical country club patron, nor was in any kind of transportation, just me, cargo pockets with water bottles poking out, a handfull of lanyarded cameras and a monopod with one more camera, doubling as a walking stick.
“You here for the Olomana trail? .. it’s just up that road, over the hump, it takes about 2-3 hours, have you been here before? .. ” .. no this is my first time, I’ve never even been to Hawaii before.” .. I’m not a seasoned hiker, I wouldn’t even call myself a hiker by sport, though living in suburban Southern California, this kind of terrain is stereotypical, and my usual outdoor activities do expose me to this somewhat often, combined with my volunteering with search and rescue, so I’m familiar with it.
“You be careful, about a year ago, four people went up, and only three came back on their own. ” … yes, I know. he was my friend.” .. “I’m sorry .. ” … and I nodded, “Mahalo.. ” and I was on my way.
It was really weird in some ways, and serene. As soon as I walked off the asphalt road, several feet into the tunnel formed by the foliage, the sounds of civilization just went away. Poof. Like someone flicked a switch. This place isn’t just off a main road from this end, but you can definitely hear nearby traffic from the main road that’s about a half mile away, and of course the cars speeding by on the private road, oblivious to the limited views due to the hills and turns.
The sound of the gentle wind coming through the trees, the occasional leaf falling, and this would change ever so as the trail progressed. As both the types of growth and geology changed with the altitude, direction and such. Knowing that I’m standing on a mountain peak, while it may be just a mountain peak of 1,300 feet, it’s really just the top of an even much larger picture. The mountain range that makes up the Hawai’ian islands starts as much as 18,000 feet lower. The same could be said for the continent, but it’s not quite the same. The changes that take place along this relatively short ascent, the changes in vegetation and geology were fairly obvious to me, not like the typical Western United States desert and semi-arid nature.
When I arrived, I estimated about 3 and a half hours of daylight remaining and had resolved to myself that I probably would not reach the top of the first peak, and probably make it about halfway and have to turn back. My halfway point on the clock was about 30 minutes past half the time remaining between then and the sunset time for MCBH, where I was staying, to my east. Figuring that the descent would be faster than the ascent, and the bottom third of the trail was relatively flat with plenty of shoulder.
As I started my ascent, the first thing that struck me was the lack of views, when hiking trails in the Southwestern US, one tends to find vistas at most every switchback, but Olomana is more like a rain forest with growth up to as much as 100 feet overhead in many areas. But not lush like a rain forest. One of the first things I came across was what I would have figured was an old pump house, or fire watch quarters. It was a barren cement structure in the shape of a small house, devoid of pretty much everything inside and out except for the walls and roof. The only colors were the paint used leaving urban graffiti like designs on the walls. A bit of light switching back and forth as the trail seemed to circumnavigate the way up the mountain, and I start to notice a bit of change in the growth, it’s getting thinner, scragglier, drier. I thought this was kind of strange as I was on the windward side of the island, yet during my 10 days the most encounters with rain were on the Honolulu side of things. So much for the rain shadow.
This lead to the trail getting a little thinner, but also with the thinning tree tops the possibility of some views started to come into play. With the ground turning more smooth, bare and sort of Martian landscape like reddish, I came to a point where the trail made a hard turn and there was direct sunlight poking through and I could see Castle Medical Center in the distance, and the road where I had parked before walking towards the country club. I stopped to take some photos and then continued onward, still not being able to really see the peak, with no altimeter I wasn’t sure about how far up I’d gone yet. About 20 minutes later the surroundings had turned to tall pine trees and the ground was no longer bare, but a nicely packed bed of pine needles, like hay, soft enough to sleep on. The trail at this point was saddling a ridge line, though it wasn’t very steep at all, you could see down both sides. The wind was pushing it’s way up and over that ridge and the sound it made as it passed through the pines was just amazing. Not loud enough to stifle out the further surroundings, but still very distinctive.
After the trees cleared I finally saw the peak. It reminded me somewhat of Devil’s Tower, from the Movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, kind of like the visions that Roy Neary, (Richard Dreyfuss) had before actually seeing the peak, though they’re really not like each other, from a few angles there’s that similarity in many peaks. Seeing that I’m a lot farther up than I had realized, I figured I might actually make it near the top of the first peak. Pressing onward, I come to another area where I can now see quite a bit more eastward to the coast, and even a bit of Kaneohe Bay and Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Even the road where I parked, and where it comes off the main road is visible. A bit more distant noise is coming into play now, too. Looking towards the peak again, I’m even more amazed at how far I’ve gotten and I still feel like I just started out.
After some time again, I’ve come to an area where I can see almost 180 degrees around me, and quite a bit of the horizon, as well as the Mokapu Peninsula that MCBH resides on and Kaneohe and Kailua. Kaneohe and Kailua are actually west/east of each other and the Mokapu Peninsula is north of both, about centered. At the same time that the Hawaii Wing Civil Air Patrol annual Summer Encampment was going on, at MCBH, there were some foreign forces cross training with the Marines and a biproduct of their training were explosions, explosions that were triggering noise complaints. Being from Southern California, living just south of Camp Pendleton, I’m very accustomed to this and hardly even notice it. In fact, what I was hearing while around the Kaneohe area was so little in intensity, that I had to laugh when I did hear about complaints. The stuff we get in California actually shakes buildings sometimes, and rattles stuff.
A little further on and I come across a section of trail that has some ropes left behind by prior hikers. In my research about Olomana Trail, I had read that it’s considered one that isn’t really for beginners, at least not alone, and portions of it were fairly advanced. Having read that I had decided that should I reach areas where ropes and rigging were required I’d probably call it at that point. The angle of attack, and the shoulder areas of the trail seemed fairly similar to what I was used to seeing a lot of in California, without ropes, just trees and rocks, to aid in traversing the trails, so I went forth and saw that I was fairly close to the top of the first peak now, looked like it was about 100 feet higher or so.
The marine layer had started to take hold and the peak was now in the clouds, this was probably going to be the last area where I could both see the horizon, and see enough for a photo opportunity. It was really cool, I could not only see Castle Medical Center quite well, but the road I parked on all the way from where Loop Road is accessed off Kalanianaole Hwy, and where it becomes Kailua Rd at the entrance to the Medical Center, but also back towards H-3, and Kamehameha Hwy as it goes into Kaneohe. All the places I’ve been in the last week or so, I can pick out. Longs on Kamehameha Hwy, Kinko’s, the Kaneohe Post Office, Burger King .. places I’ve associated with in the past in conversations with Ryan, and when I traveled Kamehameha Hwy for the first time I felt like I’d been there before. Issues of Juiced.GS surely were mailed from the Kaneohe Post Office, printed at the Kinko’s, and the Burger King and the traffic nightmares created at the intersection Likelike Hwy/Kaneohe Bay Dr and Kamehameha Hwy, when Burger King had the “gold” Pokemon cards. I could see how that must have just blown to epic proportions since that was obviously a major thoroughfare and the entrance to the parking lot and drive through lane are situated kind of uniquely.
Taking some time to take in the sights, being able to zoom in with the camera and confirm that I am seeing everything, it looks so close, but yet so far. Why does it take so long to get to H-3 from Longs, it’s only right there!?! Most everyplace I’d been utilizing outside of MCBH, all within view. So close, but so far. Seeing right where we were on base, seeing the P-3′s operated in and out of MCBH, and air traffic from Honolulu overhead. High enough to hear a hint of the freeway traffic, and the wind that makes this the windward side of the island. Serenity and Civility, the combination of mans creations and natures creations. A reminder that we’re just a speck on this planet, and could be flicked off at any time.
Returning to ascending the trail just a bit more, I’ve come to more ropes and it’s a bit steeper than it was before. Hearing sounds that are possibly out of place, I make my way a little further up and see movement from above, when a group comes down the second part of the rope and rock portion I’m in the midst of, almost just barreling through, at least 6 or 7 of them. The first sign of others I’d seen in the past couple hours since I started up this trail. I’m nearing my turn around point on the clock, and I ask, “how far to the top?” .. “About 15 minutes, it’s way worth it!” one of them says.. I turn around and see them disappear into the distance below, when their voices disappear, muffled by the landscape I started shooting some more photos, seeing just a little bit more than before, marveled at the view once more. It was around then that I realized the other noises I was occasionally hearing were impacts and explosions in the distance, the source of the noise complaints.
I continued on past the second part of the ropes and rocks and again stood for a few minutes, now that there really wasn’t much else to see as the marine layer had gotten thicker and I was at the base of the clouds with a little more trail to go before reaching the top. The landscape had definitely changed from the base, and even the trail just about a 100 feet below. It was very desert like, dry growth poking out of the light coral colored ground, the trail width being fairly narrow and somewhat steep in places, a few being almost vertical and a bit more than my height, as I could not see onto the next step without climbing some. I ended up slinging the cameras on branch, and leaving two of my remaining water bottles on a rock, as I was not going to be able to go much further with stuff in my hand and didn’t want the other stuff sticking out of my pockets. It was foggy just above me and already a bit misty in the air. I didn’t want extra stuff to deal with and wasn’t going to be able to take much more in the way of photos I figured, it was trees, rocks, and trail floor.
I reached the top a few minutes later, and while couldn’t see much except the immediate area, I’m sure the near 360 degree view would have been even more impressive. I definitely have to go back, and plan several points where I might be able to do this so I have flexibility with the weather. After reaching the I made a call back to the base, giving a status report, ops normal, at the top, starting back down in a few minutes .. and a noise complaint. It seemed that the impacts were very audible at the top and the population at the Mt. Olomana trail peak was being disturbed…
The descent seemed to go faster, but some areas that I came across, despite having only very recently traversed, didn’t look anything like I remember. The view looking the other way is so different. Even though you turn around and look down when going up. Amazing. Other sections I’m wondering “how the heck did you get up here?”, knowing I scoped it out as I was going up, looking for things to aid in coming back down. Sure, you think “I’ll just come down backwards”, the same way I stepped up. Somehow it does not work that way for the most part.
Back through the pine needle ridge, the wind sounded a bit different, it was getting darker, the sun wasn’t quite set now, but it was obvious the day was coming to an end, 2,200 miles west of the mainland, where America’s day ends, and my visit to Oahu would be itself, ending in just about 50 more hours. As I descended, stopping to look again at the same things I looked at on the way up, seeing just a little different look to it all as the day was coming to an end, the changing of colors in the horizon. Passing the area of mostly red hardened clay and what seemed like cactus-like plants, heading into the rain-forest like sections of rampant growth and overhead coverage it got fairly dark since the sun was low on the horizon and this area is mostly in the shadows without direct light except when it’s directly overhead. Past the empty house structure, and finally emerging at the trail head onto the private road section.
Looking back, that peak was “so far”, and quite a ways up there, it wasn’t but about 45 minutes ago that I was up there on top, the descent did indeed go much quicker, and in many ways I think was much harder. But the strangest thing was when I reached the road again, and looked back, somehow .. I didn’t feel tired at all. I was ready to do it again. I really felt like I had just gotten there. Or course, I get a photo emailed to me the day after I left showing a peak against a clear sky … Figures.