Saturday, February 12, 2011

Diamond Head

Madelon and I just returned from eight days in Hawaii. We stayed in Kailua on Ohau. On our second day there we drove back to Honolulu to pick up our friend, Erica, and drove out to Diamond Head Park. We had been planning on hiking to the top of Diamond Head, possibly as a warm up to climbing Koko Head. Diamond Head has always looked like a large ridge to me, as almost all the pictures of it are taken from Honolulu, essentially the west side of the crater. However, it is a very large volcanic crater. I thought the hike would start at the north end of the ridge on a trail that would switch back up to the crest, and then follow the crest to the summit.
The trail starts on the west side of the crater, and goes up the side of the crater with very few switch backs. In the early 20th century bunkers were built atop the ridge to defend Hawaii should the islands ever be attacked. December 7, 1941, is proof that the plan didn't work! The trail goes a few hundred yards at moderate grade, and then the fun begins. Either the military, or the Hawaiians, have never understood the concept of switch backs, because soon the grade of the trail increases dramatically. The trail is steep and narrow! And, many people take this hike on the three days that the park is open, creating traffic jams and, occasionally temporary grid lock. Approximately halfway to the crest there are 74 steps, leading to a 255 foot long, gently sloping tunnel. In the recent past it was recommended to carry a flashlight as the tunnel was dark. Recently, the tunnel has been wired with lights. We exited the tunnel, turned right, and there were the most daunting 99 steps I can ever recall. I was exhausted! I rested awhile, watching kids wearing flip flops, middle age couples with children, and people older than me, go right up those stairs like they were on an escalator. There were a few who appeared as tired as I was. I made it to the top of the stairs, but I didn't think I could go any farther. I sat for about 15 minutes, and when I stood to begin descending the steps, I was surprised to feel I might be able to continue the climb. We went through a short tunnel, and there was a three story spiral staircase that led to the bunker near the top of the ridge. After crawling through the very small portal that exits the bunker, there are another forty plus/minus easy stairs to the summit bunker.
The view was fantastically awesome. We could look northeast and see Koko Head and Makapu craters, north to the Koolaupoko Ridge, west to Honolulu, Pearl Harbor and beyond, and south to the distant curve of the horizon. We rested, visited with other hikers, took snapshots, drank water, and practically became drunk on the view. We eventually we began our descent.
The trail guide states that it is 0.8 of a mile to the top, with a vertical rise of 560 feet from the crater floor to an elevation of 761 feet. My old body felt like it was quadruple that figure. I am sure glad I continued after I thought I was done!

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