Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus

I had hiked part-way up the trail to Mount Olympus early in 1995 but had turned back because I was alone and hadn't intended to head for the summit anyway. I did get my opportunity to stand atop this distinct peak when I joined 30 people on a Sierra Club- sponsored hike on April 28, 1996.

The trail to Olympus begins in the Wa'ahila Ridge State Recreation Area above St. Louis Heights. At 8:40 a.m., led by hike leaders Bill Aoki and Bill Gorst, we shoved off for the 3.5 mile hike to summit. The first half of the trek followed along the Wa'ahila Ridge trail, a well-maintained path that rose and fell over several humps in the spine separating Manoa Valley to the northwest and Palolo Valley to the southeast.

The group was an amiable one, with the more outgoing of us chatting about past hikes and pointing out the different types of vegetation along the route. The two Bills also did their jobs well, making sure we stopped every 20 to 30 minutes to catch our breaths and to swig some water. During one of those breaks, I chatted with a tall haole chap about his summit conquest of Lanihuli, which I had heard him mention to another fellow while we were hiking along. I hope to ascend Lanihuli one day and the feedback he offered will make my journey more efficient and safe.

About an hour after we began, we reached the sign-marked junction with the Kolowalu Trail, a route that descends to Woodlawn Drive in Manoa Valley. Another group of Sierra Club hikers, starting a bit later than us, would take that route. Our group, however, was headed mauka to the summit of Olympus, so we swung right up a recently cut auxiliary access trail and began our upward march.

The route to the top included several steep sections that every member of the group negotiated one by one. Native flora abounded--with ohia, mountain naupaka, a'ali'i, koa, and ukeuke among the species we passed along the trail. Higher up, we were treated to excellent vistas of upper Manoa Valley and the verdant, untouched upper reaches of Palolo. Also easily visible were the ridges that paralleled the route we were taking---to our right on the opposite wall of Palolo Valley was Mauumae, which extended northeast to a peak called Kainawa'aunui (elevation 2,520 feet); to our left on the far side of Manoa Valley was the broad upswelling of Tantalus that rose up from the Pauoa Flats to Pu'u Konahuanui, the Koolau's highest point (elevation 3,150 feet).

An hour from the Kolowalu junction, we had reached a formidable pu'u in the ridge. Even at a distance, the trail up its flank-- standing out like a scar--was readily apparent. At that point, the way became more muddy and semi-precipitous (some short sections with dropoffs). Fortunately, the Sierra Club trail- clearing hui had done good work on the path on prior weekend service outings, improving it immensely from my previous part-way expedition along the route.

Carefully, we made our way up the slippery pu'u. Hand- and footholds had been carved into the path to assist our ascent. As we neared the top, Maunawili Valley appeared to our left. However, gray clouds hung tauntingly overhead, threatening to obscure the views we all hoped would be our reward for a two and a half hour hump.

We reached the summit of Olympus (elevation 2,486 feet) at a small 12-foot wide clearing. A half dozen folks continued a hundred yards or so kokohead along the summit spine to another pu'u while the bulk of the group hunkered down to rest and to gobble down lunch. For a few minutes, we had glimpses of the windward side from Kaneohe to Waimanalo. Dead ahead of us triple-peaked Olomana and massive Maunawili Valley lay at our feet. To the leeward, Kaau Crater nestled against the rear wall of Palolo Valley. For the most part, though, clouds did not wish to cooperate with us and for the better part of our 30-minute lunch break the group sat surrounded by a veil of swirling gray and white.

At around 11:45, a spattering of raindrops stirred us to our feet to begin the downward leg of the journey. In anticipation of the slick, butt-sliding descent ahead, I slipped a pair of tattered shorts over the pair I was wearing and slid a pair of work gloves on. These additions helped protect my hands and backside on the now rain-slickened path. After about a half hour of descending, most members of group were bathed in a sheath of earthen brown. During one rest break, someone mentioned that we all were all wearing the same color shoes. Everyone in earshot of this remark laughed.

We continued downward, passing a couple of guys heading for Olympus and a dozen or so others who were day-tripping along Wa'ahila. By 1:30, most of the two-dozen plus six summit conquerors had returned to the parking lot of the Wa'ahila Rec Area, tired, muddy, and happy that we had taken some time out on a Sunday morning to climb one of our island's beautiful ridges.

January 1998 addendum: I've since hiked to the summit of Olympus on my own and reached the top from Waahila State Park in 1.5 hours. I left a bottle with a pen and pad of paper which serves as a summit log/diary for whoever visits there. If you get there, find it, and sign it, email me.
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