HIKE: Moanalua Middle Ridge, O‘ahu
WHEN: October 2015
LENGTH: Good question. The entire trail, roundtrip, took us 7 hours.
DIFFICULTY: Challenging, some sketchy open-ridge areas
FEATURES: Stream crossings; historic and cultural sites (like petroglyphs); open ridges; several rope sections; steep cliffs; panoramic views of Moanalua, the back of Haʻikū Valley, Kāneʻohe and Enchanted Lake.
My husband and I finally had a weekday off together.
That’s a rare thing, considering he had worked at a farm during the week and I, well, worked from home. While we could hike on the weekends, he hated the crowded trails that have become, in recent years, a common annoyance.
So our one of our first weekdays off — we spent the others surfing empty breaks! — we decided to hit a popular trail that required a little more time than a normal day hike.
The Moanalua Middle Ridge Trail is part of a network of trails in Kamananui Valley. There’s the Moanalua Saddle Trail. There’s the Kulana‘ahane Trail, which is a shorter hike — around 3 miles roundtrip — along the valley floor. (This trail has more than 28 stream crossings and not recommended during heavy rains, for obvious reasons.) And there are trails that lead to the various summits in the area, namely Pu‘u Keahi a Kahoe and Mauna Kapu.
What we were planning to do was take the ridge trail to the start of the fabled — and closed — Haʻikū Stairs. A lot of hikers like to climb up one way — either the stairs or the Moanalua trail — and hike down the other side. But that would require parking two cars at each trail head — and more importantly, getting past the guards that man the entrance to Haʻikū Stairs.
And to be honest, I have no interest in going on a trail that’s closed and dangerous. It’s actually a pet peeve of mine that people do it — and when they’re stuck, they want to be helped out. There’s a sign, it says, “Do not enter,” so don’t go.
We got to the start of the trail, located in Moanalua Valley Park, at around 7 a.m. We decided to park on the street outside the park to open up stalls for actual park users.
We packed three liters of water each, several granola bars, bags of beef jerky, a rain jacket (which came in handy) and our Hike Spikes Hawai‘i microspikes.
Kamananui Valley is one of the many deeply cut valleys on the leeward side of the Ko‘olau Range. It’s part of the Moanalua ahupua‘a, which is bordered by Kahauiki on the east and Hālawa on the west. Moanalua Stream runs through this valley. In the early days, springs and pools in the valley were continually fed by high rainfall, causing the stream to meander and change over time. In the early 20th century, people would travel into this valley by horse and carriage. An Italian family named Arioli was contracted to build seven bridges and the walled terrace at Douglas Damon’s home in Keaniani. (The family may have also built the cobblestone road that’s still here, too.)
Clearly, this place is steeped in history.
We noticed residents often walk this trail, over bridges and cobblestone, in the mornings with walking sticks, in chatty groups, or with their dogs. It’s a nice, easy stroll through a lush vegetative area. I can see the appeal.
Then they would reach a clearing (below), turn around and head back. Smart. Because the trail really starts to change after this.
We past the clearing, veering right and came upon the marker for the Kulana‘ahane Trail.
Don’t take that one.
You want to head through the next opening, which takes you across a stream and up an embankment. In this case, a muddy embankment.
This trail was a straightforward shot to the summit — and the hardest part was only just beginning.
Let’s just say I was glad to have my microspikes and extra granola bars.
There was a point — about halfway through the hike — that the trail got tough. It didn’t help that it was muddy and slippery, too. I was happy to have my microspikes, but there were sections that were still pretty hairy.
Much of the latter part of the trail was rugged, where we had to scramble over boulders and balance along narrow ridges with steep drops on either side. There were several sections that required ropes — I love ropes! — and others where you could only cling to blades to grass — and hold your breath — to stay balanced.
It’s not a trail for everyone.
But man was it gorgeous up there.
We ran into a threesome, one who had hiked on the ridge overnight. All three had said they hiked the stairs first and were now descending into Moanalua Valley. And we met up with another couple who had no plans to traverse the stairs — smart — but weren’t sure about making it the whole way to the summit. (One was wearing Teva sandals.)
Those were the only people we ran into.
That said, we took our time.
I’m usually not afraid of heights — or, in this case, steep cliffs — but I got dizzy and freaked out on some sections, causing me to stop dead in my tracks and wonder, “Am I going to make it?” I stood on a narrow ridge, staring straight down into imminent death, and prayed the wind, which was howling that morning, wouldn’t knock me over.
I had a moment.
But after four hours of hiking — which included stops to drink water, eat HI-CHEW and spot a few ‘apapane — we made it to the summit.
It would have taken us about half an hour to get to the start of the Haʻikū Stairs, which would have be cool since neither of us have seen it up close. But we decided against it — add an hour to our hike? — and took our time at the summit, enjoying the views of Kāneʻohe, Enchanted Lake and the small islands offshore from Kailua.
That was good enough!
It took another three hours before we reached the park, where this all started. We were muddied and tired — but I made it, and that’s all that mattered.
Now, for more pressing matters: where were we eating lunch?
VERDICT: This isn’t a trail for novice hikers or anyone afraid of heights, falling, steep cliffs and Jackson chameleons. The high winds and muddy path didn’t help, either. And it takes time; you can’t just hit this trail in the middle of the day and expect to finish before sundown. Plan your hike here. Bring enough water and food. Wear microspikes. Charge your cell phone. And don’t chance the stairs. It’s not worth it.
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