The route begins at the top of Mauna Lani Heights above Kaimuki. While driving to the trailhead at the top of Sierra Drive, I had flashbacks of doing sprints up Wilhelmina Rise with my high school buddies Blane Gaison, Radford Park, and David Hughes in preparation for fall football practice at Kamehameha. Ahhh...to be young of mind and body. Afterward, we'd drive down to Haili's Hawaiian Food, located in the conglomeration of markets across from Ward Warehouse, and pick up some fresh laulau, poi, and raw fish and engage in an intense kaukau session.
With these flashbacks lingering in my mind, I reached the trailhead next to a board of water supply yard as high up Mauna Lani Heights as one can get. I started at 10 a.m. and hoped to be back by 2 p.m. However, as I was to find out, I underestimated the ruggedness of the trail and overestimated my ability to traverse it.
If you attempt Lanipo, be prepared to do some rock hopping in the first mile where the trail drops from its Maunalani Heights starting point into a low saddle and resumes climbing. Thereafter, you'll be subjected to a long series of mostly ups and a few downs. Along the way, you can look down into both Palolo and upper-Manoa valleys. Near the top, you can look left into upper-Palolo Valley and see Ka'au Crater and a waterfall that cascades from a gap in it. Beautiful stuff, no doubt. There are a couple of nice, relatively flat hilltops with panoramic views along the route that are good places to catch one's breath. Pitching a tent there for an overnight stay might also be a possibility.
An overnighter was not in my plans on the day I hiked. In fact, I hoped to get to the top much sooner than I did. Here's a piece of advice for neophyte hikers: 3 1/2 miles (the distance from the trailhead to the summit) traversed on foot on a city street cannot be compared to the same distance on a trail like Lanipo. Plan for at least two to two and a half hours to reach the top.
As I mentioned at the beginning, my summit visit was hampered by cloud cover. Having planned to enjoy the great view while eating my bagel and banana lunch, I was disappointed about the white stuff obscuring my view. Nonetheless, a Koolau summit conquest--although not akin to tackling Everest or K2 or Kilamanjaro--is a milestone. And I celebrated it with a fist held heavenward, clouds and whipping tradewinds notwithstanding.
An interesting sidenote about this trail involves veteran hiker Richard "Dick" Davis, who on Christmas day in 1944 descended to the windward side from Lanipo. Traversing a steep ridge which was near vertical along several stretches, Davis made it down after sunset and after losing all his fingernails, which were ripped off as he clawed his way down the steep pali. Davis's feat is difficult to appreciate unless one is standing atop Lanipo looking down at distant Windward valley floor. But an amazing if not foolhardy accomplishment it was.
Not nearly as daring, the trail up was the trail down for me. As I tromped makai, I was reminded that downhill hiking--because of the repetitive jarring impact--is more painful for my back, legs and feet than uphill hiking. Consequently, I stumbled and limped back down the trail and took about 15 minutes longer to get down the mountain than it had taken me to get up it.
How would I sum up the Lanipo hike? Like Dick Davis, I survived.
Addendum: I hiked Lanipo three times after my initial trip. The second time, in February '97, was a short two-hour exercise/scouting hike to check out possible tent sites for an overnighter. I found the site, about an hour up, at a pleasant clearing amid a couple of towering Norfolk pines and some koa trees, and returned there the following weekend with my friend Bill Melemai and his son, Willie.
Also, on 3/23/97, I joined the HTMC trail clearing gang for a maintenance outing on Lanipo. The initial plan was to ascend Lanipo, head right along the Koolau crest, and descend Waialae Nui ridge. Unrelenting rains and heavy cloud cover that day forced the scrubbing of the crest traverse and the Waialae Nui descent but we did ascend Lanipo, clearing the trail to a point about a half mile of the summit before calling it a day.
The HTMC club hike is scheduled for 4/13/97.