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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 29, 2002

Reward atop Olomana

The trip to the top may be rugged and not for those with a fear of heights, but the view atop Olomana is well worth the six-mile effort.

Photos by Catherine E. Toth • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hiking that Saturday had to happen.

We promised ourselves to hike once a week. But that promise came with an asterisk: unless otherwise distracted. And the weekend before, that emergency clause came in handy, as we skipped the weekly hike (blame the rain) for a champagne brunch steps from Kailua Beach.

So we didn't skimp on the next hike. Olomana: A six-mile round-trip ungraded ridge hike on the Windward side that takes hikers to a panoramic postcard 1,600 feet above sea level.

The view, veterans have raved, is amazing.

So with hiking guidebook in hand, the five of us headed out to Olomana, near Luana Hills Country Club in Maunawili.

According to our trusty guidebook, hikers should park in the Maunawili subdivision — anywhere on the road — and walk back toward Kalaniana'ole Highway. As most of us were first-timers to the trail, we obeyed the instructions and walked to the start of the trail on the country club grounds.

Mistake No. 1.

The walk took a good 10 minutes up a slight incline that had us winded before the hike even began. But we did manage to solve the parking dilemma: There were cars parked along the access road just before the entrance to the golf course. Park there and save at least five minutes.

A shifting mirage, the peak loomed, narrow and uninviting.

"You mean we're going to climb to the top of that?"

It did seem impossible, the curvy, slender ridge along a mountain sliced in half. Olomana (which means "forked hill") has three peaks that steadily increase in difficulty. The third peak, Ahiki, isn't for the casual weekend hiker. The descent from the second peak toward the third is reserved for highly skilled, nearly acrobatic hikers — or mountain goats — as the ridge plunges straight down on both sides.

(And it would be useful if you weren't afraid of heights. Or falling from them.)

Most stick to conquering the first peak, the highest of the three, and shamelessly deny interest in the other two.

Though the guidebook rated the danger level of the hike to the first peak as "high," it didn't hit us until we walked past the security station at the club's entrance.

The trail to the ridge takes hikers through forested areas to rocky stretches where some rudimentary climbing skills are necessary.
"I want five of you back," yelled out Melvin, the security guard on duty. "All five."

The scavenger hunt to the starting line, dotted with clues such as red metal posts and "No Parking" signs, ended at a signed junction. "Olomana Trail. No bikers, joggers, pets allowed."

Ten minutes into the hike without a view, we trekked along the uphill walk through a jungle of flora and insects, roots and trees. When the trail leveled off, we caught our first glimpse of our purpose: a wide-angle shot of Kailua spread below us.

The wind whispered through the ironwood trees, a haunting hollow cold that reminded us of an autumn day in the midwest.

We chatted like teenagers, pointed out strawberry guava trees and posed for photos. Where was the danger?

Mistake No. 2.

Take your breather now. The rest of the hike isn't so pleasant.

Past a sloping area the color of terra cotta pots, which boasts a nice view of Kane'ohe Bay, the trail undergoes a radical change.

Marking the transition was a menacing, near-vertical rock face that thankfully had a rope for the non-rockclimber. We pulled ourselves up the rock face, slowly, averting our eyes from the drop on both sides. Breathless, we helped each other up, calling out instructions or words of encouragement.

What started out as just something to do turned into a test of willpower and stamina. Only by strength of mind we saved our sanity by not looking down, imagining a painful plummet of 1,000 feet.

Will that lone tree save me? How many bones could I break? Does my cell phone work up here?

After climbing over rocky outcrops and walking along jutting dikes, the summit emerged.

It was utterly breathtaking.

A 360-degree view of the Ko'olau Mountains, Kailua, Kane'ohe Bay, Enchanted Lakes, Waimanalo — we were sitting on top of the world. The sky seemed endless.

It was surreal to be up so high; higher than trees and butterflies, eating Pop Tarts and trail mix. But it was perfect in that sense. Five friends who, instead of lounging on Lanikai or cruising on the couch, outwitted, outsmarted, outperformed their personal fears and expectations.

We conquered the great mountain.