Tag Archives: Hiking

Koko Head Crater – Steep and steep

I thought I had done my homework on Honolulu but it took a chance conversation with Jason, my seat mate on the plane to find out about Koko Head Crater in Oahu in the east side of the island.

“Don’t do it,” Jason said. “It is incredibly steep. Do Diamond Head instead.”

That was all the challenge I needed. Yesterday I went to find the trailhead but the only road down was closed.

I searched for an official address. I just trusted my iPhone and it led me to Koko Head District Park. At about 8 am, I had a tough time finding a parking space. This was going to be a group experience with many friends I had yet to meet.

Look at those steps.

This was the beginning of a thousand foot climb in less than a mile. But this is no ordinary trail but an old railroad, built by our military as a lookout after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. According to one fellow hiker, the military brought all the supplies by helicopter and dropped them along what would be the railroad.

There are 1,048 steps/railroad ties. But this was a long time ago and now, the railroad tracks are falling apart. No one is maintaining it as a trail and still so many hike it. Even though it was less than a mile one-way, I treated it as a hike with a pack, water and poles. Was I glad for poles!

On top of Koko Head Crater

On top, the 360-degree view was magnificent. There were remains of a concrete lookout tower.

People were taking pictures of the view, themselves and each other.

Everyone congratulated me, because I was obviously the oldest person there, maybe by a generation.

If I thought it was tough, I had to hand it to the young family carrying a baby. I wouldn’t have tried this forty years ago.

On top of Koko Head Crater

But the walk down was tougher. I had to watch every step as not to slip. There is so much space between the railroad ties that each step was a negotiation. This is where all the “young people” passed me. I remember the saying,

“Be nice to the people as you pass them on the way up because they’ll pass you on the way down”.

When I got back to my car, I was spent. Nothing hurt, nothing was bruised. I found the closest coffee shop and just sat for a while.

Thanks, Mahalo, Jason, for telling me about this challenge.

A Trip down Memory Peaks

Should I look forward or backward? When you reach your senior years – senior in life, not in school – you may have a tendency to look back to your glory days. I prefer to look ahead and I have a lot to look forward to.

However, every once in a while, I am stopped in my tracks and can’t avoid contemplating the past.

In my husband’s desk, I found a huge pile of index cards held together by a rubber band. Each card contained information on the mountains that we climbed for various hiking challenges in the northeast. The first was in 1971, over 45 years ago. Yes, we started hiking in our twenties.

Before there were spreadsheets, there were index cards.

The information Lenny kept included:
The name of the mountain and its altitude, the date that he and I climbed it, and the route we took. We didn’t always climb together.

Much of the time, one of us went with a hiking club.

We completed the New Hampshire 4000 challenge in 1978 in many long weekends. You have to summit 48 named mountains over 4000 feet in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The Four Thousand Footer club was formed in 1957 to spread out hikers and encourage them to explore the area beyond the Presidential Range. We also finished the New England 4000 footers, adding the Vermont and Maine peaks.

Black Dome in 1977

Lenny also kept records for the Catskill 3500 challenge, both regular and winter. The Catskill Mountains in Central New York State are steep and rocky like most peaks in the northeast. To get a patch you have to climb the 35 named peaks over 3,500 feet.

I know, I know. Many people in the Southern Appalachians live higher than 3,500 feet and aren’t impressed – but trust me, these mountains are challenging.

To keep you hiking year round, the Catskill 3500 club had two hiking challenges: climb the 35 mountains any time but climb four specific ones in the winter as well. About a third of the peaks are trailless. They give out a separate patch for climbing all the mountains in winter – defined as calendar winter. We got both patches and Lenny wrote out a separate card for each challenge.

Though we got our first personal computer in 1982, an Apple 2E, Lenny kept adding to his index card pile. We walked the Appalachian Trail in sections over many years but I couldn’t find the index cards for that feat. I think that by then, he had a computer file for the various A.T. sections. We finished the trail in 1998.

The next obvious challenge was the Adirondacks in northern New York  46 mountains over 4,000 feet. They were the most difficult with poor signage, many unmarked trails and no view at the top. We persevered, doing about twenty peaks. Lenny added to his card pile.

Then we left the area, moved to Asheville, and joined Carolina Mountain Club, which has several hiking challenges of its own.

The last card was dated 07/03/1995 for Bondcliffs in New Hampshire.

Why write out a card for a New Hampshire 4000 Footer when we had completed that challenge years ago? Could the mountain have been added as a result of newer surveys? The current New Hampshire 4000footer club website discusses changes to the list but not Bondcliffs. That will remain a mystery.

If you’ve stayed with me on this trip down memory lane (or memory peak), you can see that my central question hasn’t been answered.

Am I ready to ditch the index cards? I have all the certificates from my northeastern climbs.

But most important, I’m looking toward the future.

Alum Cave Trail Reopens

I must confess that I was worried.

Alum Cave Trail steps
Alum Cave Trail steps

Today was the big, big celebration of the reopening of the Alum Cave Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  A steep 5-mile hike takes you to LeConte Lodge. Though it’s not the easiest way up to the Lodge, it’s the shortest and therefore the most popular.

For two years, four days a week, the trail was closed while the elite Trails Forever crew worked on its rehabilitation. Though I had a preview of the trail back in August, when a Friends of the Smokies hike used it to come down from the Lodge, I hadn’t yet gone up the new trail. Years ago, when I hiked up, I found Alum Cave Trail steep, slick, precarious and exhausting.

Park personnel, hikers, volunteers and media folks gathered for the ceremony. At 10 AM, Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan started the festivities by praising the work of the crew.

At Alum Cave
At Alum Cave

“Engineering and artistry transformed this trail,” Clay said. “When you walk on a good trail, you don’t notice it.”

I was concerned that I was going to start the hike way too late. By 10:30 am, the ribbon had been cut with oversize scissors and we were off. Most hikers stayed with the crew who explained how the trail was rebuilt with new steps, drainage ditches, rock walls and other techniques.

What a difference from what I remember! While no one can shorten the distance or lop off the mountain to make it lower, Alum Cave Trail had been transformed. Though it was still a steep climb, the hike was made so much easier by a smooth trail. Sure, there were a lot of steps but steps are so much easier to negotiate than rocky, slippery roots.

After Arch Rock, I caught up to a fellow, who was walking steadily. I asked him his name – I can’t talk to anyone without knowing his/her name – but I quickly realized that he was profoundly deaf. Still we communicated with smiles, thumbs up or down, and passing our cell phones back and forth for pictures.

20161117alumcaveviewaI felt I had plenty of time because the trail was so good. If I had been struggling, I would have waved to my fellow hikers and moved on. A good trail encourages camaraderie. Ultimately hiking trails are for people. If hikers don’t have to struggle too much, they’re much  more likely to be social and helpful.

I didn’t see the hiker at the top. I didn’t see too  many people at the top from our ribbon cutting ceremony. It took me two and a half hours to get up to the Lodge and about two hours to get down. Not bad for 10 miles and 2,500 feet of ascent.

Now the trail is open every day. Get up there before the rest of the world finds out!