The first hour and half (about three miles) of Manana is superb, almost freeway-like. The trail is wide, well-graded, and simply a joy to hike upon. In that first section, I found myself tramping up a paved road and then through a forested section marked by gentle hills. In the first half hour, I passed junctions that led down to the Ahern Ditch trail (this is on the left about 15-20 minutes from the start) and Waimano Pool trail (this is on the right a few minutes further up).
At about the 30 minute mark, the forest yields to blue skies and open ridge. At that point is a distinct eroded section, now made quite easy to traverse because of steps placed there by the state trail maintenance crews. And a bit further up is a broad, grassy plateau with sweeping views upridge and the unpopulated upslope valleys of the leeward Koolaus.
I'd guess most folks hike to that point and not much further and getting that far is remarkably satisfying. But I yearned for more, and pressing on found the trail remaining wide and well- maintained for another hour of hiking.
On one of my failed summit attempts, I made an error in judgment, opting to wear a pair of not-quite-broken-in boots. The result of my miscalculation were egg-yolk-sized blisters on the heels of both feet and a ton of frustration when I had to stop at the halfway point about 1.5 hours in and watch four other people hike by me as I licked my wounds.
I had hiked the trail other times, but always in its lower sections, usually as late-afternoon workout sessions.
When I finally made my successful trip topside, I was accompanied by Dr. Pete Caldwell, a local pediatrician and proverbial jack of all trades. Among other things, Pete dabbles in writing, photography, canoe paddling, triathlons (he had competed in a swim/run biathlon the morning of our hike), and basketball, both as a player and as an avid backer of the UH basketball program. Pete was great company, and he shared stories about UH players he and his wife, Olga, had served as surrogate parents for.
Pete is also a veteran hiker of most of Oahu's trails, and he and a couple of his buddies have a particular affinity for traversing the summit spine of the Koolaus. I look forward to joining them on one of their treks, most likely to Lanihuli and/or Konahuanui to Mount Olympus. Should make for nice adventures to write about.
We hiked along rapidly, reaching the halfway point (timewise), a flat-topped clearing used occasionally as a helicopter landing pad, in 1.5 hours. The spot holds some significance because a week after Pete and I hiked to the summit with Pete, I returned to the spot to campout with another hiking buddy, Bill Melemai.
At about 9:45 p.m., on that nippy (low 50s), mostly clear-skied Saturday night, the sound of a helicopter two miles downslope caught our attention. In minutes, the chopper, a military Blackhawk based on its silhouette, was cruising less than a 100 feet above us for the first of a dozen or so passes.
It was obviously conducting a search, continuously cruising up and down the ridges and valleys above Palisades until midnight, sometimes flying well below ridgelines. Dangerous work, no doubt. The Honolulu Fire Department, which usually conducts searches for lost hikers, has adopted a no-fly-at-night policy after a HFD chopper went down, killing three, while searching for Wade Johnson in the Koolaus above Sacred Falls in 1995, hence the involvement of the military on that night.
When Bill and I hiked out the next morning, at a point about an hour down the ridge from our campsite, we noticed a ribbon stretched across the trail, marking the spot where a rescue team had hiked to the night before looking for a lost 22-year-old whose plight was mentioned in the local paper.
I don't know if the guy was found or walked out okay. What I do know is I never like hearing about folks lost in Oahu's mountains, which has a way of embracing the unwary and unprepared and never letting go.
Pete, because of his years of hiking experience, can never be classified as unwary nor unprepared. His pack is chock full of items that would be useful in case problems arise while in the backcountry. In addition to the standard first aid kit, he carries an emergency packet (from REI) that includes a tube tent, space blanket, matches, fishing tackle, whistle, and more. Pete also showed me a pliant but durable splint that could be used to immobilize an injured ankle or other joint. Mister Preparation is Pete.
The trail, wide open up to the helicopter landing spot, becomes more rugged thereafter. Plan for the mandatory roller-coaster hump-trekking that one comes to expect on ungraded ridge hikes in the Koolaus. Relative to the first hour and a half, the path narrows, although the ridge never becomes razor-like and dangerous, except for a couple of sections near the top, and these aren't bad at all if taken slowly and with care. Plan on at least an hour and a half to reach the summit from the the helipad.
About 30-40 minutes from the top, the trail swings noticeably left to join another ridge to ewa that runs parallel to Manana. It is in this section where care needs to be taken along the narrowing ridge. Six to seven hundred feet below to the left, visible were some small pools in the boulder-filled bed of the south fork of Waiawa Stream's highest reaches. Pete told me about descending a steep ridge to the stream on one of his prior jaunts up Manana.
Almost exactly three hours after we shoved off from the trailhead, Pete and I arrived at the Koolau summit (elevation 2,660) at an overlook of Kaalaea Valley, which is nestled between Kahaluu and Waiahole. Compared to the topping out points of Waimano and Aiea Ridges, the view of the windward coastline is particularly spectacular from the apex of Manana. Just about the entire span from Kualoa to Makapuu is viewable. Kaneohe Bay stretched out before us as did the easily recognizable pu'u, including Kanehoalani, Ohulehule, Kuolani, and Ma'eli'eli.
We kicked back at the summit for 45 minutes, Pete rehashing a successful traverse of the Koolau spine to the top of the Waimano Ridge trail and an unsuccessful attempt to reach where we were from the summit of the Kipapa Trail.
We began our descent at around 2:30 and reached helicopter hill by 4 p.m., stopping to chat with a young haole couple who had just finished setting up a tent for an overnight stay. We were back at our cars at 5:45 as the sun dipped behind the Waianae mountains to the west.
I went home that night, showered, ate a big meal, watched some tube, and, pleasantly tired, slept deeply, dreaming of success achieved at last.
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