Waahila Ridge Trail Campout (1997)

Waahila Ridge Trail Campout (1997)

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Hiking in Oahu's mountains has given me a chance to see many things--razor-edged ridges, rare Hawaiian plants, pristine valleys, cascading waterfalls, and much more. I thought I had seen it all.

Well, not quite.

In mid-February '97, my fireman friend, Bill Melemai, and his 11- year-old son, Willie, and I planned an overnight campout on Waahila Ridge, the Koko-Head-side shoulder of Manoa Valley. Our plan was to hike an hour up the ridge, camp at a pleasant tree- covered clearing, and descend via the Kolowalu trail that bottoms out in the Woodlawn area of Manoa Valley. We left my car near the intersection of Alani Drive and Woodlawn Avenue and motored up St. Louis Heights to the Waahila Ridge State Park in Bill's van.

We arrived at the park at around 5 p.m. (we actually left Bill's van just outside the park's entrance gate because any vehicle remaining in the park grounds after 6:45 would be dutifully towed away). So after lacing our boots and checking our packs, we were mauka bound.

Initially, the trail climbs steadily through a strawberry guava forest up the broad ridge. After about 10 minutes, right before the ridge drops to a saddle, a contour trail comes in on the left. Since Bill and Willie had never hiked Waahila before, instead of taking the side trail, I took them straight ahead to a clearing at the ridge's edge where they could have a clear view of the upslope route we would soon be traversing. So we tramped forward and took in the view.

That done, instead of backtracking makai to take the side trail, I decided to proceed mauka past a powerline tower and take a fairly steep trail down the saddle. A few yards before I reached the ridge's crest to begin the descent, a man and his son, each carrying a baseball mitt, quickly strode by us heading in the same direction as we were. As they hustled past, I turned to look at Bill, both of us exchanging shrugs and confused gazes. Baseball mitts? On a ridge trail with darkness approaching? Damn strange.

But that's not all, folks.

So the mitt-carrying father and son were ahead of us now, and just before they dipped out of sight over the edge of the ridge to descend the slope, they stopped, as if frightened, and hastily retreated, striding by us and heading back toward the park. "What was that about?" I wondered.

In seconds, I would find out.

I reached the tip of the ridge and began carefully picking my way down the rooty and rocky slope, not wanting to tumble, especially while shouldering a heavy pack. As I made my way downhill, about 20 yards ahead, I spotted what appeared to be two people stretched out on a blanket having a picnic at a clearing near the bottom of the saddle. "What a strange place for a picnic," I thought.

Only picnicking ain't what was going on.

When I stopped for a moment to shift my focus from the rocky path underfoot to the blanket occupants ahead, it became clear that the couple we were approaching--a Polynesian man (short and wiry) and woman (fairly tall and rotund)--were engaged in wild lovemaking. Sans clothes. Missionary position. Right in the middle of the trail. Oblivious to the trio approaching them.


My first thought was that I had veered off course to some clearing off the main path. After all, nobody would strip down and have at it right on a well-traveled trail, right? Sure, darkness was approaching. Perhaps, since it was about 5:30 at the time, they thought no one would be hiking at that late hour.


So what to do? Well, we were far enough down the slope that I wasn't about to backtrack. So, at a point about 15 yards away, I sheepishly exclaimed, "Coming through."

Like a flash, the humping ceased. Two heads swung upslope. Blanket, towels, and assorted clothes whipped about. Body parts were shielded, accompanied by embarrassed giggles

"Sorry about that," I offered as we walked by, a half-smile plastered on my mug.

After we had passed and were out of sight, we could hear the woman slapping and cussing out her lover: "I thought you said nobody comes up here."

Ahh, what men will say when our hormones are bursting at the bit. Heh.

So onward and upward we hiked, laughing and joking about what we had just witnessed. I thought 11-year-old Willie might have been freaked out by what he had seen but he seemed amused more than anything. In about 45 minutes, we arrived at a sizable clearing (elevation 1,600 feet) just downridge of the junction of the Kolowalu and Olympus trails.

As we were setting up camp (this was about 6:30), a haole couple shuffled by heading back toward St. Louis Heights. But instead of continuing on, they stopped to snap pictures at a nice scenic point about 30 yards downridge from our locale. Since daylight was fast disappearing, I remarked to Bill that they better make tracks to minimize the amount of time they'd spend hiking out in the dark.

Strangely, at a few minutes before 7, they backtracked past us and descended Kolowalu, although their exit via that route is just an assumption because by that time daylight had all but vanished and we could not see them or any sign of a flashlight heading downslope. And so they were gone.

Anyway, it was a perfect night to camp. We were graced with clear skies, very cool temps (low 60s) and just a minuscule smattering of rain. Our camp food--ramen, bagels, canned stew, cocoa--the kind of stuff we'd ordinarily hold in disdain, tasted wonderfully delicious, as all food on the trail tends to. At around 11, we retreated to our tents, blissfully sleepy after hiking up the mountain and laughing endlessly about the unusual sights (we referred to these as the "Samoan slap dance" and "the lost haoles") we had witnessed earlier.

The next morning was magnificent--solid blue sky, ridgelines sparklingly clear, a nice nip in the air. After shaking the sleep from my bones, I briefly explored a side trail that started at our camp clearing and angled down toward Palolo Valley. About 15 yards down, I found an exterior frame backpack fully-loaded with gear (tent, radio, camera, stove, sleeping back, food, etc). It was covered by a plastic tarp and was out of sight from the clearing but smack in the middle of the side trail. Strange indeed.

We considered the possibility that the pack belonged to the haole couple who may have stashed it there before we arrived, hiked to Olympus on the Koolau summit ridge, and returned, thinking they'd camp where we were. Perhaps they were scared off by our presence; after all, Bill (6-2, 240 lbs) and I (6-4, 260) are imposing-looking guys (but actually angels). :-)

Whatever the case, being so angelic, we left the pack and its contents.

After breakfast (more ramen, bagels, and cocoa), we packed up, broke camp and hiked upridge an eighth of a mile to the Kolowalu/Olympus junction. From there, we descended leisurely via the steep Kolowalu trail and in an hour we were back at my car on Woodlawn Drive.

From here on, I suppose Waahila will always occupy a special place on my mental couch. And when someone asks me what he/she might see while hiking above St. Louis Heights, I now have something extra to spice up my description.

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