Puu Manamana Trail (1997)

Puu Manamana Trail (1997)

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On the Kaneohe side of Kahana Valley, across from Pu'u Piei, is a hell of a hike called Pu'u Manamana. Rated by hiking expert Stuart Ball as one of the most dangerous treks on Oahu, Manamana isn't for the faint of spirit.

Although I ventured up Piei alone, I knew I'd never risk hiking a trail like Manamana by myself. Fortunately, I found the ideal hiking partner in Jim Mulligan, a recent transplant from New York who had come to the Islands to get away from the depressing rat race that is the Big Apple. Jim had found a nice place in Kaaawa and had been exploring the nearby hills and valleys. What's more, he'd been exploring the 'net and he and I hooked up via posts on the USENET group alt.culture.hawaii. After an exchange of email messages, we set a date to attempt the dangerous Windward-side hike.

We began our ascent of Pu'u Manamana at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. The day, although a bit muggy, was clear and dry. The trail gets down to some okole-busting right off. And after 15 minutes and some already stiff ascents, the thought "What the hell am I doing here?" echoed in my mind.

Jim and I kept going up higher and higher and after about 30 minutes we stopped for a breather. Turning to look makai for the first time, I was surprised at how high we had ascended and at the same time, awestruck at the beauty of Kahana Bay and Valley laying below us.

Mauka was the imposing ridgeline that led to Pu'u Manamana with its "legendary narrow sections" that Ball makes reference to in his book. After more precarious ascending, which included some narrow necks and a cabled steep section--some of which we negotiated by scrambling on all fours or hauling ourselves up hand-over-hand--we reached the main ridgeline. At that point, the view now included a superb overlook of Kaaawa Valley and points beyond, including Kualoa and Kaneohe Bay.

[Dayle on Pu'u Manamana]

As hairy as the hike had been to that juncture, the most dangerous sections still lay ahead. We eventually reached a place where I had to climb up a vertical seven-foot rock face with the aid of a cable. Under normal conditions, I could negotiate such an obstacle with minimal difficulty. However, given that the said rockface was along a narrow three-foot ledge with a 1,000 foot dropoff behind me, the "What-the-hell-am-I-doing-here?" thoughts were now booming at full volume instead of quietly echoing. I made a couple of half-hearted attempts to scale the obstacle but the call for self-preservation was stronger than my desire to complete the hike that day.

Prior to setting out, Jim and I had made a pact that if either of us became unnerved and wanted to retreat, we'd honor that request with no reservations. I used my retreat card that day and have the consolation of having made it to a point that not many others have been. We descended and after taking an alternate trail that skirted above the Crouching Lion Inn, we returned to our starting point.

A few weeks later, Jim returned to Manamana and completed the four-mile loop. He said that there were several other very dangerous sections after the place where I became unnerved. After those gnarly sections, though, he said the hike became increasingly less intimidating. The entire four-mile hike, which included a half hour break for lunch, spanned 5.5 hours, according to Jim. Like Jim, I hope to complete the challenging Pu'u Manamana loop some day. Meanwhile, I look forward to reading accounts from anyone who conquers this tough trek.

Addendum 1/98: On 10/12/97, I returned to complete Manamana as part of the trail clearing crew of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club. The day was a windless, humid one, making the initial climb to the main ridgeline quite grueling. However, I ground my way to the top, negotiated the 7-foot rockface slowly and carefully, and continued all the way around the loop. Yes, there are other dicey spots the rest of the way but ample handholds and/or cables are available for assistance. In all, a tough hike, no doubt.
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