After a short debriefing about the nuts and bolts of the hike by Joe Bussen, our hike leader, the dozen-times-two of us were mauka-bound. It was 9:30 a.m. The first half hour of the hike was along a dirt road. Along the way we passed by several small mom-and-pop type farms. I couldn't determine what exactly was growing in the fields; neither could anyone else. String beans, perhaps.
The road, wide and smooth at first, narrowed and became muddier after about 15 minutes. At a mile, we passed the starting point of the Laie Trail, marked by a metal gate. Not long after that we veered left off the road and began heading directly mauka up a fainter, quite muddy four-wheel drive road. I noticed an old set of horse tracks stamped into the path.
At about the 30 minute mark, the 4WD road was behind us, and we began our ascent of the ridge over several eroded red-dirt sections. No longer on flat ground, the group's pace slowed somewhat. Earlier along the mostly level road sections, we moved quickly. As we began to climb, the group, a hodgepodge of ages, ethnicities, and body-types, started to spread out. Trying to keep pace with a half-dozen of the club's experienced humpers, I puffed and panted, sweat soaking my orange-mesh shirt--tattered from past sojourns into the mountains.
After the red-dirt segments, the trail climbed past a stand of ironwoods, through several thick groves of fruitless guava, and over two ulehe fern-covered slopes. By 11:00 a.m., after 90 minutes trail time, the first group had reached the highest point of the ridge we would climb to that day--about 1,200 feet elevation or so. The trail continued on to the Koolau summit but was rough and had only been partially cleared.
A group of three hiking vets, two males and a female--all mid-20ish--said they were going to try for the top, head south along the Koolau summit trail, and descend via the Laie Trail. Joe, the hike leader, had the three cross out their names from our hike roster. They were on their own if they headed for the top and beyond the designated route for the day, said Joe. They agreed.
The remainder of our hike took us down a quite steep, muddy trail to the Malaekahana Stream. Fortunately, guava trees (God couldn't have made a better tree for trailside handrails) were abundant along the way. I slipped and fell once on the 15 minute trip down the grade. A splotch of mud on my rump was the only damage done.
By 11:15, I had reached the gently-flowing stream. The guava- populated walls of the shady gulch towered several hundred feet above. I spotted a reasonably comfortable rock and hunkered down with my sandwich and water bottle as steam visibly wafted from my body into the sparkling mountain air.
Most of the early arrivals had set off to explore points up and down the stream. I'd do the same later but thought 15 minutes of rest first would be best. As I sat on my middle-of-the-stream throne, more members of the group began arriving. Several commented about slipping and falling on the way down. I didn't feel so bad about my miscue as a result.
With my designated rest period complete, I headed upstream to see what lay there. About a hundred yards mauka, a small waterfall cascaded into a 10-foot wide pool. Three folks had perched themselves atop the falls and were chatting and eating lunch there. The beauty soaked in and after giving momentary thought to taking a plunge into the ice-cold water, I retraced my steps to my lunch spot and began the return trip up the slippery slope. It was 11:45.
In 20 minutes, I was atop the ridge again. Joe was there, bringing up the rear as is the standard practice of hike leaders. I thanked him for his efforts, told him I had work to do at home, and trudged downward.
My favorite part of the hike came as I descended. Views of Laie and the coastline fronting it were delightful. Surf reports announced waves in the six- to eight-foot range. Accordingly, white-topped rollers, the nearest a good two miles and a half away, spilled in to shore along my entire range of vision. At exposed sections of the ridge, a pleasant breeze blew gently. To my right, the Laie Ridge, crowned in the middle by a gathering of Norfolk pines, rose from the valley floor to the summit. I made a pact with myself to return to hike that in the future.
By 1:15 I was back at my vehicle, my muddy boots off, my slippers on. I called my girlfriend Jackie to let her know I had finished the trek without incident. I stopped for a Super Big Gulp from the Hauula 7-11 and continued the relaxing drive down the Windward coast (I enjoy traveling along this route more than any other on the Island), past Hauula, Punaluu, Kahana, Kaaawa (my childhood home), Kualoa, Waikane, Waiahole, Kahaluu, Temple Valley and to my hometown of Kaneohe. I often gazed inland at the mountains, looking for points along the summit I had reached from Leeward-side trails.
A beautiful day it was. I hope to have the chance to experience many more like it.