Not pretty, but still a challenge
This is the second in a three-part series by Michael Tsai on various levels of hikes around O'ahu.
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Don't say we didn't warn you.
There are 19 switchbacks. After the switchbacks, there is dirt road. Big, boring, SUV-wide dirt road.
Please pay attention. This notice constitutes your official release of liability.
Said dirt road rises a hundred feet at a time, over and over and over again until you reach the summit. Imagine nature's version of the old Super Slide. Backwards. With dirt.
Forewarned is forearmed.
And, of course, about half the time, what rises also falls, effectively erasing whatever effort you put into rising.
Now get out there.
Yes, there isn't much to recommend about poor Kealia. Yes, its guide book profile isn't particularly inviting. On an island where just about every trail merits some sort of superlative, Kealia is not the highest, longest, most beautiful, most dangerous, most anything.
Still, Kealia does manage its own quirky charm. From the abandoned planes along the pathway to the trailhead to the bullet-riddled signs near the hunter cutoffs, the collisions of man and nature here are distinct and, if nothing else, certainly interesting.
The trail starts behind the airfield following the aforementioned accordion of switchbacks up a towering cliff face. The switchbacks aren't especially steep, but they are relentless.
Wiliwili, with their thick, gnarled trunks and orange flowers, grow along the middle and upper portions of this initial section along with several tall kukui trees.
With each switchback, your view of the North Shore coastline broadens. You also get an increasingly clear view of the numerous gliders that take off from the airfield.
The switchbacks end at a small grove of ironwood, which quickly gives way to a wide dirt road. On many other Hawai'i trails, careful, non-intrusive management creates an illusion that you are somehow finding your way in the unspoiled natural environment. At Kealia there are no such illusions. There is always the big dirt road or the wire fence or the huge water tank.
Does this detract? A bit. But there is also a lot to appreciate, like the rising Cook pines along the road or the grove of eucalyptus just off the ridgeline.
And, to be honest, after the first half-dozen steep climbs, you will be thankful that you're leaning into firm, even ground and not, say, mud-slicked roots.
The trail passes the Kuaokala Public Hunting Area, which you may deduce by 1) the shot marks on various man-made structures, or 2) the pig skull hanging on the tree branch.
A trio of very steep climbs are segregated by two junctions. You'll need to turn left at both to stay on course. At a third junction, you follow the trail to the right which takes you up Kuaokala trail to the summit, where you can look out over Makua Valley, 'Ohikilolo Ridge and the Wai'anae mountain range.
The trail requires no technical skill, but it is rated an intermediate hike because of the taxing climbs and the moderate danger of some of the narrower switchbacks.
Given its broad accessible pathways, Kealia is a nice option for well-conditioned trail runners who like their courses clear of rocks, roots and ankle-buckling obstacles.
By Gary Ching
Special to The Advertiser
|While the trail requires no technical skill, hikers should be wary of the climbs, especially some of the switchbacks.
Michael Tsai Photo
That is what I remember most about the Kealia hike.
I brought two 16.9-ounce bottles of water. I should have brought two big ones.
It was very, very dry.
The beginning half was nice because you can see airplanes taking off, parachute jumpers, hang gliders and the ocean.
The second half was really dry and you have only inland views.
The trail also hasn't been marked off for a while and there are different roads to take. If you don't want to spend a lot of time taking the wrong path, then plan ahead.
Even with our hiking book, Michael Tsai and I took a wrong cutoff and went in the wrong direction.
How did we realize that we took a wrong turn?
We're experienced hikers and Michael had a watch that shows elevation.
The book said the end of a certain part of the hike was a certain elevation, and Michael's watch was at a much higher elevation.
So we turned around.
The hike itself wasn't difficult.
However, I enjoy seeing waterfalls, and if you're looking for that, you won't find them on this hike.
If you're looking to see the other side of the island a little bit, then this is a little different, especially with the planes.
If I had to give a short synopsis of this hike, I would say it was dry and appeared longer than it was.
Gary Ching, 30, is a Makiki resident who does about five hikes a year.