Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mokolii Island (Chinaman's Hat)

It has always been my wish to step afoot on that island, an island that many locals know about but only a few can say they've been there. One day, I was inspired by a girl who has done it at least a dozen times. She reassured me that there are no sharks and the distance between is absolutely swimmable. In my mind, I said, "if she can do it, so can I!" I called my friend that afternoon and in a few hours, we arrived at Kualoa Beach Park. Luckily, there were no signs indicating high levels of bacteria. Those signs were posted everywhere years ago and swimming in the beach was strictly prohibited. The sanitary conditions were the least of our worries; it was late in the afternoon, and we were concerned about sharks.

We wasted no time getting in the water. We swam while carrying our slippers for the hike up to the summit. The water was shallow most of the way but there was a portion that got deep, deep enough for large animals, like sharks, to pass through. Fortunately, there were no encounters, not even a hammerheard! After twenty minutes of swimming, we finally arrived at our destination. The island is full of ants! But as I turned back to see the misty windward coast, I was in awe to finally see what I used to see only in photos.

The short trail to the summit began on a steep dirt hill narrowed by pokey plants that didn't make the hike any easier. There were occasional slips due to the loose dirt. We were forced on all fours with our wet hands mixing in with the dirt. We arrived at the rocky section where the trail became ambiguous. We tried to find the safest and less technical route as we climbed on near vertical walls. One misstep would be disastrous but fear did not slow us down, we proceeded carefully up the final stretch to the peak. When we got to the top, we could finally say that we conquered Mokolii. The panoramic view is one of the best on the island and well worth the risk.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Bowman, I conquered you! 'Bow' down to me!

For a long time, I always wanted to hike this mountain. It's the scenic view and prominent backdrop of Kalihi Valley residents. The Cook pine trees dominate the southern landscape while it gradually yields to the Hawaiian native plants deeper in the valley. The ridge climbs steadily upwards with an elevation gain of about 2,400 feet and stretches 6 miles to connect to the Ko'olau summit. I always wondered, since hanabata days, 'what's behind that mountain or how does the valley look like from up there?'. Curiosity and an appetite for adventure have brought together four guys and a girl (Josh, Justin, James, Laarnie, and I) for a full day of hiking in muddy terrain.

We initially met up at Valley View Drive and arrived at the trailhead in back of Kalihi Elementary School an hour late of our scheduled time. It was partially cloudy with a few morning showers. As anticipated, the hike started with a steep and merciless climb up the ridge. It didn't take too long for us to realize the seriousness of this trail. With Justin leading the pack, I found myself trailing but I kept my steady pace. When we arrived at the dirt road, Justin finally realized that he was going too fast. The initial climb almost knocked him out. Luckily, he was able to regain his strength for the next 11 miles. After the first hour or so, we finally arrived at a clearing and could see an overall view of Kalihi Valley below us. But what was more visually striking was the highway cutting through the green valley in a straight line.

The real fun started near the highest peak of the ridge. The trail got more narrow and slippery with the overgrown vegetation scratching our legs at every step. The switchback was really steep and it involved some rope climbing and some nerves of steel. After overcoming the most difficult obstacle, there was still more hiking to do. At that point, my fellow comrades were having second thoughts, especially with their legs cramping. Despite the odds, we continued forward with hopes of reaching the end. After wading in ankle-deep mud puddles, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the windward side. It was here that we finally ate our MREs (thanks to Justin).

The return trip was less rigorous but it was more technical. I became very irritated with all the mud and slippery descent down the slopes. It seemed never ending and slipping was the last thing I wanted. I just hated the idea of not having complete control due to the slippery terrain. Not only does slipping leaves you with a muddy behind, but it can cause serious injuries and even lead you off the trail. I've seen it happen several times that day, but luckily no one got hurt.

It was getting late in the afternoon and we still couldn't see any sign of civilization. I was a bit concerned that we would have to finish it in the dark. Sunset was at around 7:20pm and we got back at around 7:10pm. We laid our bodies down on the basketball court near the trailhead thinking of what just happened that day, realizing what we have accomplished, and grateful to make it back alive.

The first half of the trail reminded me of Kamanaiki while the second half shared some features of the Waianae-Kaala trail. It was indeed the most strenuous hike to the Ko'olau summit and I enjoyed every minute of it.

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