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What Duke Kahanamoku is to surfing in Hawaii, Richard "Dick" Davis is to hiking on Oahu. In the early part of 1996, while I travelled along the Likeke Trail on Oahu's windward side, I was fortunate enough to meet the man who not only built the trail I was treading upon but is also the most respected hiker on the Island.
I had been hiking for about 30 minutes after setting out from the Old Pali Road starting point when the sound of a gas-powered weed wacker pierced the quietness of the Koolau foothills I was tramping along. Rounding a corner in the trail and emerging along an open vista that overlooked the Koolau Golf Course, I came upon an elderly haole gentleman, about 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, power tool in hand.
I had an inkling this was the legendary Davis, for I knew this was his trail ("Likeke" is Hawaiian for Richard), and I had seen a picture of him in a newspaper article I had photocopied from a Honolulu Advertiser microfilm archive.
"Hello," I shouted over the din. The 75-year-old Davis, switching off his weed eater, echoed my greeting and asked if I were familiar with the trail. After telling him I was, I asked if he indeed were the famous Dick Davis.
"That'd be me," he smiled, extending his hand to grasp mine. "I don't drink alcohol, but I do do this," he grinned while using his thumb to stamp down a wad of tobacco into his dark brown pipe. The conversation that followed will stay in my memory for a long time, for in the next 40 minutes, I was treated to an array of Davis' hiking anecdotes. To say I was in heaven during that time would be an extreme understatement. Here's some excerpts:
Davis had begun working on Likeke in 1959 as a favor for Windward area Boy Scouts, who claimed they had no decent place to hike in the Kaneohe area. Working mostly alone, Davis began carving out the trail, completing it in 1963. "I've changed the route several dozen times over the years," said Davis. In fact, he says he still is working on some modifications. As he spoke with me, his eyes sparkled with pride as he surveyed the route he had devoted much time to building and maintaining. He pointed out an ancient Hawaii village site along the trail and directed me to a side trail he had blazed that dropped down to the now unused H3, skirted under the highway via a culvert, and led to Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden.
He recounted the hunt for a hiker named Cannon in the 1960s. "Spent about 500 hours looking for that young man," said Davis. "Never found him though." The son of a local millionaire, Cannon was lost while hiking above the Pali Lookout to Pu'u Konahuanui, the highest peak in the Koolaus. The hiker's mother paid for a team of Mainland mountaineering experts and specially trained dogs to take part in the search. The young man, a Zen Buddhist practitioner, was never found. Davis said he found a Buddhist book belonging to the hiker atop the mountain and even recounted an eyewitness sighting of the man above the upside-down waterfall. "Never found a body," said Davis.
He told me about his 1944 Christmas day descent to the windward side from a ridge at the top of the Koolaus where the Lanipo Trail (Lanipo starts at the top of Wilhelmina Rise in Kaimuki) crests out. Feeling lonely, Davis decided to hit the trail to attempt to shake the holiday blues. When he reached the summit, he spied a nearby ridge that dropped down toward the valley floor on the Waimanalo side. He decided to give it a go. The descent was treacherous. Davis described how he had to leap to snag guava trees, clumps of ferns and rock outcroppings on the near vertical mountainside. "These mountains are the most dangerous in the world," remarked Davis, a man who has traversed all the trails on this Island, most of those on the Neighbor Islands, and many of North America's most well-known routes. Davis did make it down Lanipo, but did so sans all the fingernails on both hands (he had lost them clawing his way down the steep mountain), and well after the sun had set. "Could hear the pigs snarling at me in the dark as I wacked my way through the jungle toward the highway."
Davis rehashed several other rescues he had assisted with, including a dangerous one in a steep-sided, hidden pocket in the Koolaus behind the Kaneohe State Mental Hospital, the Maunawili Valley search for a hiker named Tim Pantalioni, and the fairly recent search above Laie for the BYUH student which resulted in a fatal helicopter crash where three rescue personnel were lost. In the latter two cases, the hikers were never found. Davis blames the rash of hiking accidents on lawyers and judges. The lawyers, he says, are wrong for taking on frivolous cases where hikers file suit when they get hurt on the trail. The judges are at fault, says he, because they should throw these cases out of court. What has resulted, says Davis, is a situation where landowners have blocked access or made getting to trails so difficult that these formerly well-used paths are becoming overgrown and more dangerous than they should be.
He told me interesting accounts about the forging of two other trails: Ulupaina and Maunawili Demonstration. Ulupaina begins near Haiku Road in Kaneohe and continues on toward the Valley of the Temples. According to Davis, Ulupaina was part of a horse trail used by the pineapple companies in the 50s. He had re- opened the route with the urging of his daughter, who had found traces of the trail while exploring the area. The Maunawili Demonstration trail begins at the hairpin turn on the Kailua side of the Pali Highway. Assisted by members of the Sierra and the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Clubs, a detachment of Marines, state prison inmates, and other local and mainland service project volunteers, Davis hacked his way along the base of the Koolau Range from the highway to the trail's ending point ten miles away in Waimanalo. Having done the trail from start to finish, I knew what a huge task it was to complete the project. When I thanked Davis for his hard work, he nodded his head and smiled.
There's much more that Davis shared, but I'll end here, thankful for the chance to sit down trailside for a short but enlightening and memorable chat with the man local hikers affectionately refer to as the "Mountain Goat."
Mahalo nui, Richard "Dick" (Likeke) Davis.
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