Mokuleia Trail

Mokuleia Trail

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Far removed from the chaotic urbandom of Honolulu is Mokuleia on Oahu's north shore. In addition to being home to a smattering of local residents, surfers, polo ponies, and glider and skydiving enthusiasts, Mokuleia is the locale for an interesting, not-often-traversed hiking trail.

The starting point for the hike begins on the mauka side of Farrington Highway two miles past Waialua High School. Pass Olohio Street on the right and just before Olao Street, also on the right, a cane field road extends mauka toward the Waianae Mountain foothills. On the left side of the cane road, a couple of houses and a huge monkeypod tree form a quasi-oasis on the edge of the cane jungle.

About 30 hikers set off at 9:30, led by Sierra Club veteran Cedric Yoshimoto, a friendly, knowledgeable gentleman, and co- leader Bill Aoki, who manned the trailing sweep position. We followed a network of cane roads, crossing a dry Makaleha Stream and passing a fenced pump station on the left before eventually reaching a T-junction where we left the road, hopped over an irrigation ditch, and squeezed through first one then another barbed wire fenceline.

Before we left the canefields behind, Cedric paused to explain the history of the sugar cane industry in Hawaii. In his spiel, Cedric explained that cane was introduced to Oahu in 1835, the resulting environmental impact being quite significant. For instance, one of the highest yielding and fastest growing crops in the world, cane also requires substantial quantities of water to flourish. Accordingly, workmen, mostly poorly-paid Chinese and Filipino laborers, constructed an extensive network of canals, tunnels, and reservoirs to better sustain the water-needy fields. With the recent collapse of the sugar industry in Hawaii, debates about the most beneficial use of the still abundant water have begun. Cedric urged us to pay attention to these debates.

Cedric also noted that in 1883, the cane companies introduced the mongoose to Hawaii to combat cane-gobbling rats. What these folks didn't take into account was that rats are primarily nocturnal and mongoose diurnal; hence, their paths rarely crossed; hence rats continued to thrive, and mongoose turned to the most readily available repast--native Hawaiian birds, their offspring, and eggs. Cedric didn't need to mention what an unfortunate snafu this turned out to be--it was clear to all of us.

After listening with interest during Cedric's informational rest stop, we continued our march, proceeding up the broad ridge through cattle pasture land. In the lower regions, we picked our way through thickets of waist-high weeds and grasses, carefully avoiding cow pies (some two feet in diameter!). We even saw a few of the producers of these recycled vegetative delicacies (if you've never seen a cow up close, you should know that they're quite sizable and could inflict significant bodily harm on the unwary). Cedric emitted a couple of interesting-sounding moo- sounds to inform our bovine hosts that we were just passing through and meant no harm.

Atop the ridge to our left was the road that led to the summit of cloud-covered Kaala, at 4,025 feet, Oahu's highest point. In the gully between the two ridges, pea fowl and peacocks called to one another under a sky filled with high, slow-moving slabs of silver-gray cumulus.

The weedy section of the ridge eventually yielded to an eroded, rut-riddled former jeep road that climbed, switchbacked, and climbed upward some more. During the continued ascent, we saw a profusion of Christmas berry trees (from Brazil, said Cedric), native a'ali'i, guava, and silk oak, among others. During rest stops, we also enjoyed makai views of the north shore from Mokuleia to Waimea Bay. Above us, we saw several gliders drifting quietly after being set free by noisy motor-propelled craft.

At about the two-hour mark, we left the cattle ranch land behind, crossing a wired fenceline held together by guava posts and entering the Mokuleia Forest Reserve. Dozens of huge 10-story high eucalyptus trees dominated the hills and ravines the trail contoured along. We were at the 2,000 foot level at that point, winding through a beautiful series of lush gullies.

While passing through a damp hollow, we were surprised to find a fruit-filled tangerine and Hawaiian orange tree next to the trail. Apparently, these were planted by Sierra club members during a long-ago service project outing. Most of us shuffled to the trees hoping to find a ripe fruit or two. My height (6'4) paid off, for I was able to grab a couple of riper-than-the-rest tangerines which I slurped down in quick order.

At the 2.5-hour mark, we crossed a gently-bubbling Polipoli Stream first once, then again a few minutes later. While we moved along, Cedric, every now and then, paused to inspect leaves and branches of trees along the trail. He told us he was checking for Hawaiian tree snails, a species that numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the distant past but which are now endangered. While he had spotted snails in the trailside trees in the past, he found none on the day of our hike.

At 20 minutes after noon, just short of three hours after we set off that morning, the group reached the Mokuleia trail shelter, the terminal point of our hike that day. The shelter is a squalid 7'x 10' wall-less structure situated in a gently-sloped ravine nestled a stone's throw from the rim of Makua Valley. A fruit-laden Hawaiian orange tree and a few good-sized ohia lehua trees grew there, and a 30-yard lawn area was suitable for tent camping for backpackers who could access the site on the route we had taken, via Peacock Flats or by way of the Kuaokala-Makua Rim trail.

Cedric told us we could either eat lunch in the area of the trail shelter or make a 5-minute climb to a bluff with a nice view. All but a couple folks opted for lunch with a view, puffing and panting up the short, steep trail to a small, grassy plateau where Makua Valley lay at our feet.

I really enjoy chowing down on trail grinds (on that day, a couple of strawberry jam sandwiches and graham crackers) after several hours of hiking. That I had the beauty vision of Makua before me just added to my delight. In between bites, I took stock of the undulating topography of the valley below and noted how erosion had scarred many ridges in their mid- and lower regions, the result of decades of military artillery bombardment (for those who don't know, Makua Valley is controlled by the military, and sites in it are used for target practice). On the opposite side of the valley, two daring hikers moved cautiously on the razor-thin upper reaches of Ohikilolo Ridge (a member of our hiking group spotted them with binoculars).

Having finished my lunch and having committed the panorama I had observed to memory, I relinquished my spot at the small clearing to another tired and hungry hiker and returned to the trail shelter. Once there, I plopped down on a pallet in the shelter, closed my eyes, and floated off on a 10-minute trip into dreamland (I could have napped for a couple hours!) to the rhythmic, soothing whistling of a chorus of unseen insects.

The clamor of voices and boots stomping down the trail awoke me. At 1:30, Cedric and Bill counted heads, determined that all were present, and led us back on the trail. The return trip went almost without a hitch (we missed a turn at one point and encountered a stern-looking cow at another), and we were back at Farrington Highway at our cars by 4:00.

Mahalo to Cedric, Bill, and the Sierra Club for a fine day on the trail.

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