Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail (1997)

Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail (1997)

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At work on the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, Leslie Munroe, one of my Leeward Community College colleagues, bid me a happy holiday and gleefully reminded me that most of us working folk would have the opportunity to sleep-in the next day. While Leslie and no doubt many others may have spent an extra hour or two in bed on Thanksgiving morning, I had something else planned: a hike up Wiliwilinui Ridge.

In Stuart Ball's informative book about Oahu hiking trails, Wiliwilinui is listed among the two dozen or so "closed" hikes. In other words, access to these trails is either barred or so difficult to arrange that attempting to hike them would either involve trespassing or an act of God. Recently, however, a dispute between the residents' association of the Waialae 5 Subdivision and the Sierra Club regarding access to Wiliwilinui has hit the local news. The controversy led to the hammering out of an agreement so that mountain trekkers can now partake of Wiliwilinui's beauty without fear of arrest or need of divine intervention.

A lifelong early riser, I roll out of bed at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, shaking life into my still-awakening legs. I tend to my usual begin-the-day routine of reading the _Honolulu Advertiser_ sports page while shoveling down a pile of brown rice and a veggie burger smothered in ketchup (a concoction referred to in my household as "Dayle's Loco Moco").

Fueled and informed, I walk out into the front yard of my Kaneohe home to determine the likelihood of clear skies over the not-too- distant windward Koolau range, the foot of which is about a mile from where I stand. Towering over 2,700 feet above me to my right is Pu'u Keahi A Kahoe, barely visible behind a half-lifted curtain of clouds backed by cobalt skies The other peaks right to left along the ridge--Kahuauli, Lanihuli, and Konahuanui--are hidden behind fully-drawn screens of grayish clouds.

These are not good signs and point to the possibility of a mushy trail (which I dislike) and clouded-over summit conditions (which would be disappointing). However, motivated to hike a new trail and to burn a pile of calories before gorging myself on a huge turkey-day meal later that day, I ready my hiking gear, load up my Jeep, and set off for town.

In about 30 minutes, I am traveling kokohead-bound along Kalanianaole Highway where I turn left at the first traffic light past Kalani High School. I follow the road (Laukahi Street) as it snakes its way up the mountain through a neighborhood where homes are probably worth $1 million on average. About a mile up, a 50-ish haole woman waves me to come to a stop as I near her security post at the entrance of the gated Waialae 5 subdivision. After I inform her that I'll be hiking Wiliwilinui, she hands me a one-day vehicle parking pass, a road map of the route to get to the trailhead, a copy of the rules of the trail (no littering, no hunting, no drugs etc.), and sends me on my way.

The way is mauka. And in less than a mile, I have parked my vehicle and set off for the summit. The first quarter mile follows a paved Board of Water Supply access road. At a point when I reach a huge water tank, the road becomes dirt. Fresh tracks human and animal tracks on the trail indicate that others are ahead of me.

After about 15 minutes, voices echo from around a bend. In a minute, I come upon three oriental women--one in her 20s and the other two in their 50s--each holding the leash to large English boxer dogs. Attired in designer warmup suits, the wahines, I surmise, are either attorneys, doctors, or the wives of same. The three hustle their snarling canines off to the side of the trail as I approach. Exchanging greetings with the trio as I stride by, I quicken my pace, hoping that each possesses enough strength to restrain her pet/protector from breaking free, knocking me down, and shredding my flesh to ribbons.

The dogs and their protectees behind me, I press on, traversing a series of inclines and flat sections along the now-dry but erosion-rutted road. Strawberry guava trees, most devoid of fruit, guard the side of the road for most of the way. Occasionally, huge Norfolk pines, shaped like huge missiles, appear.

Not far after a dark, muddy section, the road ends. I have taken about 45 minutes to travel the two or so miles to get here. The remaining trail section of the hike is about a mile, but I progress more slowly because the ascent is steeper and rougher than the road route.

In the next 20 minutes, the hiking is a tiring, heart-pumping passing of time marked by ascents to a series of plateaus, two of which are topped by skyscraping powerline towers. I stop often, letting my heart slow from a rapid staccato to a more normal tempo. During these short rest breaks, I turn makai to scan the two gulches--Kapakahi to my right and Wailupe to my left--which rise up to Wiliwilinui ridge and funnel out to double then triple their widths further down the valley. These are pleasant respites, and when the booming in my chest subsides, I move on.

Looming ahead is a communications tower and shack, a squalid- appearing structure from a distance but amazingly well-kept and well-built upon closer inspection. I spend a few minutes exploring the complex, ducking into a covered patio area complete with a white lawn chair and florescent lights affixed to its low ceiling. "A good place to hang out if it rains," I tell myself as I click the lights off and on to confirm that they are functional.

The summit is an eighth of a mile away, and my exploration of the mauka patio completed, I trudge the muddy trail toward the top. In minutes, the summit is mine; unfortunately, the curtain of clouds has not lifted, and I stand at the crest of the Koolau Range staring into eerie whiteness. I am disappointed and linger in the tiny grass-covered summit clearing for ten minutes or so, hoping the clouds will dissipate. But it is not to be, and after taking a celebratory swig from my water bottle, I begin my descent.

On the way down, I slip and fall twice, plopping backward onto my well-padded (fortunately) okole. In the process, I'm reminded of one of my grandma's oft-repeated truisms: haste makes waste. Now muddy-bottomed and a bit wiser, I make my way down the trail more carefully and slowly.

In an hour, having passed seven other people heading for the top, I am striding the final yards to my vehicle. After loading up my gear, I enjoy a relaxing ride home, thankful for the chance to trek up and down Wiliwilinui for the first time and for the turkey and fixings that await me at home.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

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