On a recent October morning, for the first time ever, I ventured mauka up Pu'u Ikena not to gawk at the million dollar homes up there, but to hike a wonderful trail that begins at the highest point of the subdivision.
As a visitor, I had to stop at the security booth near the start of Pu'u Ikena and sign a waiver--which I idiotically never read (it was probably some guarantee that I wouldn't sue the bejabbers out of rich folks if I maimed myself).
The waiver signed and my right to sue forfeited, I shifted my Cherokee into low gear for the steep climb to the very top of the subdivision. Residents of the ridge have a view of Oahu's south shore that is just downright marvelous. Within clear view are the channels and pockets in the nearshore reef structures. To one side is Koko Crater and to the other is Diamond Head. Across the channel, Molokai was more clearly visible than I've ever seen it from Oahu. A wow scene, no doubt.
Aside from the million-buck view, the homes in the expensive tract didn't strike me as Beverly-hillish although they probably cost the same and sell for more than I'll ever make in my lifetime.
Leaving the mansions and my fantasy of living amongst the rich and famous behind, I arrived at the trailhead which is adjacent to a Board of Water Supply water tower and a recreation area for residents which includes a jogging/walking path and outdoor fitness equipment.
After loading my pack with a gallon of water (I'm a heavy sweater), a couple of granola bars, my camera, a small first-aid kit, and Stuart Ball's _Hikers Guide to Oahu_, I was off. It was 9:25 a.m.
Thanks to the recent trail-building efforts of the Sierra and the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Clubs, the ridge route is in extraordinary condition. The path, at least the first two-thirds of it, is wide, level, and easy to traverse. Hats off to those folks who donate their time and muscle-power on weekends to maintain trails like Hawaii Loa.
By 10:30 I had covered about two miles and was half a mile from the summit. In the first hour I had passed through a couple of thick, dark guava groves, ascended and descended two distinct humps in the ridge, and peered down into two serene valleys--Kulu'i to my left and Pia to my right.
That last part of the hike, however, is when the trail steepened and my pace slowed. I grunted, puffed, and sweated my way up the ridgeline toward the summit. At a distance, this section appears near-vertical. Thankfully, ropes were set-up at three different sections of the trail to aid one's ascent. The final half mile climb--mostly through thickets of uluhe fern and dying ohia trees--was more taxing than dangerous.
By 11:15, I was at the summit (elevation 2,520 ft.), snapping photos of Waimanalo directly below me, triple-peaked Mount Olomana to my left, and Pu'u O Kona, a distinct peak about a half mile to the right of where I stood. After taking a few minutes to finish off the first half of my water supply and gobble down the granola bars, I began my return trip, slipping and sliding my way down the steep ridge.
By 12:30, the water tower was in my view as I rounded a bend in the trail. A minute later, I was removing my dusty hiking boots, wiping off the now-dried mud from the seat of my shorts (I slipped and fell once while descending), and reciting a silent prayer of appreciation for completing my journey invigorated and injury-free.
Addendum: I hiked Hawaii Loa again on 3/21/97 with Doug Walker, a Punahou '66 grad now working as a hospital administrator in New York. We trekked along under clear skies and reached the cloud-free summit crest in 85 minutes. The state trail crew and/or the Sierra Club had done work on the trail since my first ascent of HL, with the addition of erosion guards/steps made of recycled plastic planks at a couple steep sections during the final half-mile segment prior to the summit.