On this Independence Day on Oahu, families gathered for picnics, paddlers stroked their outrigger racing canoes in the McFarlane Regatta off the sunny shores of Waikiki, and hundreds of folks marched in or viewed the July 4th parade in Kailua. Earlier, in preparation for a less conspicuous undertaking, I arose soon after dawn to prepare for an ascent of Konahuanui, at 3,150 feet, the highest peak in the Koolau Mountain Range.
Roughly translated, the Hawaiian word "Konahuanui" equates to "large testicles" in English. Although I'm unclear about the specifics, Hawaiian legend speaks of a giant who threw his testicles at a woman fleeing from him. What's more, in his 1964 work "Ka Po'e Kahiki," Hawaiian scholar Samuel Kamakau refers to Konahuanui as the highest point of Pohukaina, a sacred burial cave for Hawaiian royalty that stretches through the Koolaus to an opening near Kahuku.
Mindful of the mythological and historical significance of the mountain to be climbed, I set off with my hiking partner for this day, Wing Ng, at just past 7 a.m. from the parking lot of what was formerly Paradise Park. Wing, by the way, is a veteran Oahu hiker and a longtime member of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club. He has contributed several narratives to the "Oahu Hikes" web page I maintain (http://www2.hawaii.edu/~turner/hikes.html).
We had considered shoving off at the top of Tantalus at the start of the Manoa Cliffs Trail, an easier route to the top; however, car rip-offs are frequent at that trailhead. Instead, from our Paradise Park starting pint, we hiked to Manoa Falls (thanks to an abundance of rain in recent days, it was cascading nicely) and then contoured along the base of Tantalus and ascended to its top via the Aihualama Trail and its sweat-inducing 14 switchbacks.
In about 80 minutes, we had arrived at a clearing that overlooks the Nuuanu Reservoir. Located in a saddle at an elevation of about 1,600 feet, the lookout point is quite breezy and wind- whipped clouds streaked over the crest and just as quickly were gone. Ahead of us lay a series of imposing humps, swathed in clouds on this day, that comprise the ridge to the apex of Konahuanui.
After about 10 minutes of climbing, we passed two knife-wielding pig hunters and their posse of dogs heading back down the trail. We exchanged pleasantries with them (they had been looking-- without success--for what one of them referred to as "high hogs") and continued our ascent up the heavily vegetated ridge.
On the backside of the second hump, the trail dropped steeply via a couple of 8- to 10-foot rockfaces. Fortunately, ohia branches and roots, sturdy stuff indeed, were located in just the right spots to facilitate our downward jungle-gym-like scramble. To our left in the valley below, cars streaked town-bound and Kailua-bound along the Pali Highway. To our right, a verdant, funnel-shaped valley served as a catchment for the water flowing down to Manoa Falls. Further makai, Manoa Valley opened up oceanward to the sun-drenched shores of Ala Moana and Waikiki. Upslope, gray-white clouds enveloped the ridge. Soon, we were hiking in an ocean of clouds
I told Wing that I'd continue as long as I could see my feet landing on the trail. He smiled and agreed.
About 90 minutes above the overlook, we reached a broad, windswept saddle with low-lying vegetation. Wing had told me to look for this spot because an old contour trail called Olympus- Castle was supposed to connect with the Konahuanui route at that point. A rusted metal stake marked the spot as did a handful of orange ribbons. The contour trail, however, wasn't discernible to us.
A bit further along, we reached a point where a side ridge of about the same height had risen up to the left of the one we were on. The wind dropped noticeably at this point and the clouds eerily, slowly swirled about. In the small valley between the ridges, a gentle waterfall spilled over into a tiny stream.
We were fortunate that the clouds, although making for damp conditions, didn't spill rain on us. The white stuff did obscure all but 50 to 60 yards of panoramic visibility. Since I could still see my feet hit trail, I pressed on.
At about the two-hour-from-overlook mark, the trail rose steeply. Our ascent, for the most part, was along a skidmark up the mountain's face. Because of the angle of the grade, hands touched the muddy path as often as feet did. We had become trail climbing crabs, as it were.
As the top neared, the ridge veered right and fell off steeply on both sides. In a way, though, the near white-out conditions were advantageous, for clouds shielded our eyes from the precipitous dropoffs that could have played mental mumbo-jumbo in our heads.
At around 11:15--four hours after we left our cars--I strided the final steps to the damp, cloud-covered summit of Konahuanui. I knew I was approaching the top because the wind, absent for the most part during the prior hour and a half, stirred the tops of trees a few yards dead ahead of me. With native vegetation such as uluhe, ohia, mountain naupaka, and olapa spread about, the trail veered left along the summit ridge to a small clearing. There, mud-covered and in a lather, I unshouldered my pack and splatted my okole down on the damp grass. Wing arrived about five minutes later. At the highest point in the Koolaus, we ate lunch--Wing supping on Chinese noodles and I on an Army MRE (tuna with noodles). While we dined, a couple of short rainbursts pelted us and were gone just as quickly.
We began our return leg at 11:45 at about the time the rain ended its short-burst stage and began to fall more steadily. The way down involved more butt-sliding than walking, and the path now resembled a small stream more than a trail. Although descending safely was at the forefront of my thoughts, I was attuned to many things as I left the mountain behind: the ever-present clouds, the serenade of a lone mountain bird, the roar of a jet high overhead, wind-spread spikes from red ohia blossoms on the trail, oozing chocolate-colored mud underfoot.
At 2:30, Wing and I had reached the reservoir overlook. From there, we retraced our steps through the bamboo forest, down the Aihualama switchbacks, past Manoa Falls, and back to our cars. Our day of hiking ended eight and a half hours after it began.
Frankly, I can't recall things I've done on past July fourths. For obvious reasons, July 4, 1996 will be hard to forget.