I had tried to hike to Keahi a Kahoe via Moanalua Valley once but turned back because of a torrential downpour. My second attempt, two days after Christmas ('95), was successful. I was accompanied by my brother, Alika, and a friend, Jim Mulligan.
The drive from Kaneohe to town was uneventful, and we arrived at Moanalua Valley Park at the end of Ala Aolani Street at a quarter past ten in the morning. After lacing up our boots, loading our packs, and stretching for a few minutes, we were off. It was 10:30 a.m.
For the first hour, we hiked up the valley on a wide gravel and dirt road that crossed the Moanalua Stream a number of times. Along the way, we passed several significant sites, including a large, petroglyph-covered boulder called Pohaku Luahine and the former house site of the Damon family that lived in the valley at one time.
Jim, a long-limbed redhead who had recently moved to Oahu from New York, helped pass the time by asking my brother and I questions about island history, customs, and any other topic that came to mind. Chatting and hiking steadily, at around 11:30 we had reached an indistinct junction where we left the road, crossed the river, and began our ascent up the ridge that bisects the valley.
Right from the start the trail was rough and overgrown. Within minutes, we were huffing our way up a steep slope, reaching an elevation of about 1,100 feet within half an hour of leaving the road. Much higher now, we could see the valley floor spread below us and hear the stream whispering softly but audibly. In the far-off distance was our goal: Keahi a Kahoe, free of the clouds that often obscure it from human eyes.
The hike along the middle ridge was long and hard. Broad in some sections and narrow in others, the ridge was mostly vegetation- covered early on, with guava, ulehe ferns, and ohia the most predominant species. Often times, all we could see ahead of us was a hump in the ridge. We'd scale the hump and ahead would be another. Hump after hump we traversed, and higher and higher we climbed.
Some distinct points we passed were a rocky, narrow section that we shuffled, butt-slid, and crawled across; a short stretch that had eroded away because of a landslide; and a long steep hump that my brother named "Big Mama." We could also see the switchback route up the Kalihi-side ridge that led to a junction with the Tripler Ridge Trail. Most of the way, the ridge fell off on both sides, and we moved carefully and deliberately so as not to step on vegetation that was supported by just air.
By 2:30, we were nearing the top. The last eighth of a mile of the trail was quite muddy, and we slipped and slid our way over several thickly overgrown and mushy segments. Fatigued, thirsty, and hungry, we reached the top at around 2:45. Jim, Alika, and I hunkered down in the thick vegetation, and enjoyed the splendid view of the windward side while we gulped down water and wolfed down sandwiches we had packed. We had chosen a good day for the summit assault: the peak was cloud-free and the winds were gentle.
A couple thousand feet below us, drivers in toy-like autos raced up and down Likelike Highway unaware that three tired hikers were peering down on them from high above. Also below us were the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden where I hike/run/walk several times a week and the subdivision called Keapuka where I live. In the distance lay Olomana, Mokapu, and Kaneohe Bay.
The ridgeline from Keahi a Kahoe to Pu'u Kahuauli (where the Bowman Trail tops out) is deceptively rugged. From below, the ridge appears relatively vegetation-free and gentle. From our vantage point, however, the mountain was clearly more menacing: thickets of ferns and other vegetation choked the trail and obscure thin ridge paths; humps that appeared gentle and short were really steep and lengthy.
It had taken us four hours to reach the summit, and at 3:00, sunset was about 3.5 hours away. After just 15 minutes at the top, we began our return trip, retracing our steps down the same ridge we had climbed. Our goal was to reach the junction with the dirt road before dark.
While leading our party down the trail, at a point about 45 minutes from the top, I put my left foot down on what I *thought* was a fern-covered section of the trail.
In a split second, I went careening off the ridge. As I slid downward, I instinctively flipped onto my stomach, using my arms and legs as brakes to prevent an even more prolonged fall (when I checked a map later, the elevation at this point was about 2,000 feet). The braking tactic worked, and I came to a stop about 10 feet below the trail. I yelled for a rope.
Alika, second in the procession, bounded down the trail, slammed down his pack, and dug out the 50 foot coil of rope in it. After wrapping one end around his waist, he whipped the other end of the rope to me. With my heart pounding at several beats a second, I paused momentarily to muster up the energy to haul myself up to the trail. Slowly I did so, with Jim and Alika yanking me up the final few feet.
The near-tragedy behind us, we pushed on, albeit a bit more cautiously and slowly, for we knew we'd be stuck on the ridge after sunset if we didn't keep moving.
By 5:30, we had achieved our goal of reaching the road. About 50 minutes later, as darkness fell, we were striding the final yards across the park to my Cherokee.
Keahi a Kahoe is a challenging trek. If you do it, leave early, watch your step, and pack about a gallon of water per person.