A Wedding Atop Pu'u Mai (1997)

A Wedding Atop Pu'u Mai/Koko Crater (1997)

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Traditionally, when planning a marriage ceremony, a large percentage of couples opt for church weddings. Here in Hawaii, outdoor knot-tying ceremonies are also in vogue, with many grooms and brides seeking resplendent oceanside vistas or quiet botanical gardens as locales to say their I-dos.

Stuart Ball, the well-known Oahu hiking expert, and his bride-to-be, Lynn, selected the first day of 1997 as the date to become wife and husband. Their unique wedding spot: Pu'u Mai (elevation 1,208 feet), the highest point on the rim of Koko Crater.

If you weren't aware of the logistics of ascending to Pu'u Mai, no roads lead to it. Instead, one must ascend to that point using one of three options--a precipitous approach from Koko Crater's west (Hawaii Kai-side) rim, the traditional route from the botanical gardens up along the east (Sandy Beach-side) rim, or a steep trail up the ocean-facing slope of the crater from a starting point near the Halona Blowhole parking lot (actually a fourth route exists via the abandoned railroad track on the slope above Job Corps, but that approach is used infrequently).

By tradition, on New Year's morning, the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club conducts a hike to the summit of Koko Crater (I think the club has been doing this for many years although I'm not sure of it). And according to a club member, the spark between Stuart and Lynn was kindled on one such New Year's trek. Accordingly, what better place to become wife and husband.

The nuptial ceremony was tentatively set for 11 a.m. and most of the hiking group/wedding party climbed to the Koko summit well ahead of time via the Blowhole ascent route. I was among the first handful of folks to reach the crater rim that morning, and I used the opportunity to plop down for a ridgeside chat with the well-respected HTMC trail-clearing honcho Mabel Kekina, whose grandmotherly appearance belies her ability to negotiate rugged, challenging Oahu trails.

Mabel told me three days prior, she had led the trail-clearing ohana into Kalauao Valley off the Aiea Loop Trail to gather strands of sweet-smelling maile for Stuart and Lynn. And the hunt had been successful.

Later, when the appointed hour neared, Mabel, true to form, and several others hacked clear an area of koa haole on the northernmost point of the summit plateau for the ceremony. In all, I counted at least 40 folks who had hiked to Pu'u Mai that morning and were in attendance for Stuart and Lynn's happy event. The roster of folks there included all the directors of the HTMC, a handful of club guests who had no idea the wedding was taking place that day, and basically a who's-who of the most experienced mountain men and women on Oahu. What's more, Judge Gay Conklin, an outdoorish-appearing type who would read the couple their vows, had also completed the climb.

At a few minutes before 11, Lynn and Stuart strode arm in arm from a thicket of koa haole to the clearing where almost everyone had gathered (a few folks watched from an elevated metal platform about 15 yards away). The bride and groom were dressed in well- pressed shorts and clean, non-perspiration stained shirts. Obviously, both had brought along a change of clothes for the wedding. Thick strands of Kalauao Valley maile, courtesy of Mabel and crew, hung from their shoulders. A maile-backed haku lei adorned Lynn's head.

The rimside spot for the ceremony was superb. To the couple's left was the wide expanse of Koko Crater, beautifully green- tinted at its bottom thanks to an abundant winter time rainy season. Behind them was the beautiful Koolaus and ridges and valleys with names like Kalama, Kameame, Kamilonui, Kamiloiki, Kaluanui, Haihaione, and Mauna o Ahi. Spread before them was a glistening and unusually tranquil Kaiwi Channel where minutes before we saw whales breaching less than a mile offshore.

Judge Conklin, attired in hiking togs like everyone else there, conducted the ceremony with gentle precision, reading some well- chosen bible passages that emphasized love, trust, and faith. A few seconds before the ceremony concluded, a gentle blanket of rain accompanied by an equally gentle wisp of a breeze floated from Stuart and Lynn's beloved mountains over their crater-top cathedral. A good sign, I thought. Chicken skin, no doubt.

And then the ceremony reached its end, Stuart and Lynn engaging in the traditional post-wedding kiss amidst gleeful cheers and applause from the gathered throng. And after congratulating the new bride and groom, we set off down the mountain, forty-plus of us and two now one.

Much happiness and best wishes to Stuart and Lynn.

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