Not surprisingly, my two grandfathers, Paul and Edward, both laid to rest many years ago, were men of mountain and sea. Paul, my dad's father, was a hard-nosed Ohio country boy assigned to duty in Hawaii while serving a stint in the Army. After completing his military obligation, he married a local girl and purchased a home in rural Oahu so that he and his wife could raise their three children away from the humming pace of big city Honolulu.
Born and raised on Molokai, Edward, my mom's dad, spent his boyhood either ambling about in the mauka reaches of the Friendly Isle or fishing and diving in the island's bountiful waters. Years later as a career man in the Honolulu Fire Department, he often volunteered for rescue details in the rugged Koolaus and the dangerous waters along Oahu's south and east shores.
In spirit, all three men were with me as I made the semi- precipitous climb up Koko Crater [61K JPG Image] with the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club. I had hiked with the group just once before about a year ago, and one of the handful of resolutions I made for the new year was to join the HTMC on more of their weekend ventures. This day, the first of 1996, was a start.
At a few minutes before eight, a handful of hikers assembled in the parking lot in back of Iolani Palace. Our trail leader for the day, a soft-spoken gentleman named Zon Owen, signed us in, passed out a couple of club informational fliers, and briefed us on the club rules: no radios, no littering, no stomping of plants. "You're responsible for your own safety," said Owen. In other words, HTMC made no guarantees about seeing us safely to the trail's end.
With liability issues clarified and directions to the trailhead meeting place explained, we returned to our vehicles and made the 20 minute drive east along Oahu's southern shore to the parking lot overlooking the Halona Blowhole, the starting point for our adventure.
A dozen and a half more hikers, many of them club regulars, had forgone the Iolani Palace debriefing and had assembled at the trailhead. Several had already ascended part-way up the trail to aid those needing assistance along some of the steeper sections. By 9 a.m. we were off, a mixture of folks ranging from a large- bodied English teacher, to several 60-plus downtown business types, to a trio of young 20-year-old local kids who pulled into the parking lot just a minute before we departed.
The trail we were going to ascend begins about 100 yards from the parking lot on the mauka side of Kalanianaole. At that point a ridge rises about 50 feet above the highway and begins winding its way toward Hanauma Bay for an eighth of a mile before turning upward toward the rim of Koko Crater. Just as the ridge swings mauka, a fairly steep natural rock bridge stretches upward, spanning a short 40-yard section. At that point, ropes and cables had been affixed to the rockface and HTMC volunteers were perched to aid our climb.
The rock bridge section behind us, the group slowly clambered up the rest of the sloping trail, hand- and footholds more abundant along the way. Experienced climbers, bounding upward like mountain goats, negotiated the hill with relative ease. Most of the us scaled the makai-facing crater wall more carefully and slowly.
By 9:45, the majority of the group had reached the rim of Koko Head. At that point, Kalanianaole appeared as just a narrow belt strapped along the base of sea cliffs below us. Seaward, ocean swells bounced restlessly in the Kaiwi channel, spots of white arising at points where gusts blasted caps off wave tops. Inland, the expanse of Koko Crater opened up to us. Gusting trade winds funneled up the mauka mouth and whipped over the rim, cooling us after a sweat-producing half-hour climb.
We continued left about a quarter mile up the rim, and after several short, rocky sections, the ridge broadened and leveled out. At the top is the crater's highest point, Pu'u Mai (elevation 1,208 feet). The summit achieved, sweaty, breathless hikers lounged about atop an abandoned radar site, a few stretching out to soak up the steadily rising sun, most standing and pointing out landmarks discernible from our panoramic perch. I felt a strange sense of deja vu as I listened intently to veteran club members recount ascents up precarious, steep ridges on trails such as Ohulehule, Niu Ridge, Pu'u Kalena, and Pu'u Manamana.
To my delight, I met one person, Wing Ng, an experienced HTMC member who I'd exchanged email with in the past. I also recognized several other folks who appeared in photos I had seen accompanying articles about the local hiking scene. Unfortunately, one person who wasn't among the summit gathering group was former HTMC president Stuart Ball, the author of *The Hikers Guide to Oahu*, the definitive information source for those hitting the trail on this island. According to club members I chatted with, Ball--always the trailblazer--had set out up the crater early and had departed for a less-traveled segment of the rim trail. I retraced my steps down the mountain to my car, conceding that my meeting with the famous Mr. Ball would have to wait for another day.
And whether it be because of nature or nurture, there will be many more days--spent alone and with the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club--along beautiful and serene mauka paths for the burly English teacher--the son of Charles, the grandson of Edward and Paul.