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My first real immersion in map appreciation was during Sergeant Smith's ROTC class in my sophomore year at Kamehameha. It was then, under Smitty's guidance (he told some witty jokes, too), that I learned the art of making tails and heads out of topographical maps and their undulating contour lines. To be truthful, I wasn't the most outstanding map reader in the class nor was I truly fascinated with maps at the time. But some of the stuff the old sarge taught us must have seeped into my cerebral cortex so that years later, when I developed a fancy for trekking around in Oahu's mountains, I could tell, among other things, the difference between the lines that designated a ridge and those that indicated a valley when I perused a map.
So enthralled have I become with maps that I have developed a goodly collection of them, including detailed topo maps of almost every section of Oahu, colorful relief maps, and Bryan's sectional map of Oahu, the standard glove compartment fare. In one of my previous write-ups, I mentioned how my girlfriend, Jackie, remarked that my interest in hiking had reached a fanatical stage when I began purchasing all these maps. Secretly, though, I think Jackie much prefers me spending hours perusing these maps rather than ogling pictures of naked women in smut mags.
So what do maps have to do with this particular hike (Tripler via Moanalua Valley, if you've forgotten [g])? Well, before I plopped myself in front of my computer to compose this piece, I spent about an hour scanning a couple maps I had of the area, making note of the starting elevation of the trek (about 600 feet in this case), the highest point (2,760 feet), and the names of places and natural features that I passed or could see while on the trail.
Okay, with all this introductory banter out of the way, let's get to the hike itself.
When hiking Tripler Ridge, the standard approach is via the highest point of the Tripler Hospital grounds. However, I found out that residents of the military housing near the trailhead had expressed displeasure about the presence of hikers (actually hikers' vehicles) parked on the roadway nearby. So while we hikers aren't banned from accessing the ridge trail, we are banned from parking anywhere near the housing/trailhead.
This fact necessitated a very long road approach to get to the trailhead, and while we're hikers and are used to lengthy treks, an almost unanimously disdained part of any true hike is an extended beginning/ending on a road (yeech).
Okay, so what does all this mean? The Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club braintrust, particularly trail-clearing boss Mabel Kekina and president Grant Oka, decided to try a different approach to Tripler: through Moanalua Valley.
Experienced hikers know that a steep, semi-treacherous trail ascends to Tripler Ridge at a point deep in Moanalua Valley. This path, forged years ago by Hawaiian Electric crews to access and maintain ridgetop powerline towers, is referred to as "the powerline trail."
But we wouldn't be ascending the powerline trail; instead, we'd climb a trail on a ridge that begins a bit more mauka of the famed petroglyph boulder, Pohaku Luahine (literally, "the rock of the old woman"). If you've never been in Moanalua Valley before, this spot is right at marker number 10 (a brown post). Take some time to check out the ancient carvings on the stone.
The trail we climbed begins on the right side of the gravel road that snakes up the valley at a point between two scraggly koa trees not far before marker number 12 (from the park at end of Ala Aolani Street, I'd say it takes about 20-25 minutes to get there). The ascent route's origin was marked by pink ribbons on the day (1/12/97) I joined the HTMC clearing gang to hack open the trail, but don't count on these being there, for Mabel or someone from the club may have removed them after the HTMC- sponsored hike in mid-January '97 so as not to lead some unsuspecting hiker astray.
The trail through the forest and up the ridge is well-marked by pink ribbons thanks to Mabel. Because of the steepness of grade (about a 900-foot climb in about half a mile), anyone who attempts the ascent will undoubtedly be sweating and panting heavily once the ridgeline and the Tripler trail are reached. Hundreds of guava trees populate the ridge on the way up and these make for handy and appreciated bodily propulsion aides on the ascent and equally appreciated braking mechanisms on the way down.
I'm usually good at noting down times for specific legs of hikes, but I neglected to do so for the climb from the gravel road in Moanalua Valley to the Tripler Ridge trail, probably because I was grossly occupied mopping the calabash-load of perspiration flooding down my brow and listening to my heart making like a bass drum in my chest--all this done early on a Sunday morning when most folks on Oahu were still in sweet arms of Morpheus.
In any event, I'd estimate about 30 minutes for the climb, give or take a few. If you're tallying up total time from the start of the hike, count on a good hour to hike up the valley to marker 12 and ascend to Tripler Ridge. Rigorous it is, but ahh what sweet rigor!
The trail reaches Tripler Ridge at a point about a quarter mile beyond the distinct twin Norfolk pine trees easily visible from points between Aiea and downtown Honolulu (next time you have a chance, locate the pink buildings on the mountainside [Tripler Hospital] and scan the ridge above it for two rocket-shaped pine trees that jut noticeably skyward).
While reaching this point using the traditional top-of-the- hospital-grounds approach would probably take the same amount of time, the approach via Moanalua Valley is unquestionably more appealing and worth the effort for anyone who wants to try.
Or for a less-exhausting method of traversing the route, go and pick up a good map. Sergeant Smith, I'm sure, would be proud. [g]