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Diamond Head later climbed Sun, Dec 25, 2016|
Waikiki is one of the most famous places in Hawaii. If there's "a scene" to be had on the islands, this is where one would find it. Waikiki is it's own subsection of Honolulu, surrounded by water on three sides with a limited number of entrances/bridges, it is an incredibly dense collection of highrise hotels, tenements, businesses and people. The shopping ranges from high-end to micro-stalls, sort of a mashup of SF's Chinatown with Beverly Hill's Rodeo Drive. While primarily filled with asians (Japanese seem to love this place), it is highly integrated with degenerates and bizarre people of all races. Homelessness is rampant next to $25/day parking. The Udon restaurant downstairs has a queue 40 people deep most of the time. An elderly lady hawks cheap tours and luaus from a small kiosk next to a makeshift tattoo parlor. Bikes, pedestrians, cars and buses with cute anime characters (of course filled with Japanese) all converge in a Disneyland-esque manner. Later at night the nightlife takes over, with clubs selling jaeger bombs for $5, all manner of dress and fashion on display, hookers and trannys and tranny hookers doing their thing. I don't know exactly what time they hit the streets since I'm in bed by 9p, but they're still out there at 5a when I head out for my hike (I call it the Tranny Hour). There are way too many people older than me with sun-damaged skin and fading tatoos still going shirtless, similarly aged women in bikinis, younger fellows showing off their younger skin, pecs, and new tatoos, ladies in summer dresses and dark sunglasses, guys carrying surfboards, whole families, and pretty much all corners of mankind. It's wonderful, scary, amusing, and bewildering all at the same time. For the record, the Korean BBQ place downstairs was pretty good.
The Aiea Ridge route starts at the Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area, high on the ridge north of the H3 Freeway. I got there shortly after 5:30a, finding the gate locked and the sign indicating it didn't open until 7a. I backed down the road a bit to find a place to park, noting a pickup truck pull up and unlock the gate as I was doing so. I followed the gentleman into the park and asked if it was Ok to come in. This older Hawaiian looked at me kinda funny and said, "Park open!" Good enough for me. I saved about half a mile of steep hiking uphill to the upper parking lot where the trail starts.
As Koolau Range ridge trails go, this one was rather tame and I rather liked it that way. The first 1.7mi up to Pu'u Ua'u, an intermediate bonus peak, were well graded. This section of trail and the Aiea Loop Trail that branches off from here were upgraded to CCC standards in the 1930s. The loop trail is extremely popular as I found on my way back. After a quick sidetrip to the Ua'u summit (another lesser-used trail descended down the north side of the summit), I resumed my hike along the Aiea Ridge. The trail continues to be wide and easy to follow, though it no longer contours along a grade as it did earlier, switching to the more usual Hawaiian fashion of going up and over the ridgeline directly.
The route does not feel as wilderness as some of the others, thanks to the noise of the H3 Freeway that follows just south of the ridge about 1,000ft below. Eventually the freeway noise diminishes as it goes into the huge tunnels going through the mountain, leaving the upper third of the route relatively quiet from urban noises. The route becomes muddier in the upper half, evidently 4 days of almost no rain were not enough to dry it out. The clouds that seem to perpetually develop over the crest were at their usual business this morning, sometimes lowering, other times giving one a glimpse over the crest, at rare moments the sun actually making an appearance. There is a second bonus peak along the ridge in the way of Pu'u Kawipo'o, this one requiring no side trip because the route goes right over the grassy summit. The treeless top provides excellent views when the weather is clear (so-so views this morning) of the leeward side of the Koolau Range in front of you, and the urban areas behind along the southern coast. The crest rises still higher from Kawipo'o, almost another mile away. There is no dramatic rise at the end to reach the crest as is often the case, in fact there were only two short aid ropes on the whole route, both before reaching Kawipo'o and neither really needed even in slick conditions.
I thought I had reached the crest at a grassy knob before reaching a large transmission tower, but the junction with the crest is actually beyond the tower. As I was passing by the tower I found a rain tarp lying on the trail (dropped from someone's pack along the Summit Trail?), not looking very old. Beneath the towers were two tattered and soggy sleeping bags, abandoned perhaps after a very wet and cold night. I reached the crest at a point marked 2,805ft on the topo map (this is the end of the route described in the guidebook), but the slightly higher Peak 2,826ft is found another quarter mile to the south. This gave me another chance to do a section of the harrowing and exciting Summit Trail. The trail was partially overgrown making footing unnerving, and the strong wind blowing over the crest is an ever-present force that cannot be ignored. I went up and over several bumps and down to several saddles before reaching the unassuming highpoint after about 3hrs effort. There was no grassy knoll here and only fleeting views amid the swirling clouds coming up and over the crest. A few moments of clarity provided views north and south along the crest (another summit 1/4mi to the south looked of similar height). Satisified, I retreated.
Following the same route for the return, I came upon another party of 4 about 1/2hr down from the crest. They had started at 7a and thought they were the first up the trail this morning. A second party of two were about an hour behind them. That was all I saw heading up Aiea Ridge this morning. Back at Pu'u Ua'u, I picked up the other half of the Aiea Loop trail in order to check it out. It turns out that 2/3 of the loop comes after reaching Ua'u, so I had a few more miles than I had reckoned on. The trail was teeming with folks, far more than I might have guessed. Being Sunday, that might have accounted for it. When I eventually made my way back to the park, I found the Honolulu Korean Hiking Club van and dozens upon dozens of their members gathered for a BBQ lunch - this also accounted for at least part of the high number of trail users.
The trail starts from the restrooms on a easy graded concrete path, eventually becoming a rough rock&concrete path with a steeper grade that begins switchbacking up the inside of the crater wall, then a long, poorly-lit tunnel to a junction where you have the choice of two sets of steps, one straight up to the highpoint, the other a more meandering set that still gets you to the same place. Along the way you must wait behind complaining children (and plenty of adults, too) or finese your way around them. One conversation overheard: "What's wrong?" "My feet hurt." "You should have brought comfortable shoes." "These ARE comfortable. When I'm not walking." There are railings around the summit and several levels of viewing platforms, all jerry-rigged from the concrete pillboxes that festoon the crater rim as leftovers from WW2. People are spilling all about the summit area, most inside the guardrails, some scofflaws outside the rail at nearby locations, others atop the concrete roof of the highest pillbox. The views are indeed grand, out to the blue and green seas of the south coast, west to the highrises of the urban jungle, north to the Koolau Range and a bird's eye view of Diamond Head's crater. A cacophony of dozens of conversations, people posing for shots, a few Go-Pro sticks waving about or video selfies, in short - not really my scene. But at least now I've been to Diamond Head and on my next visit I can look for other places to hike, ones more to my liking...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Diamond Head
This page last updated: Sun Dec 25 19:30:20 2016
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