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Braving the Trails of Koko Head Crater
The Steep Climb Up An Ancient Volcano
For the longest time, climbing Koko Head Crater had been on my bucket list and until recently, I've made one excuse after another, successfully dodging the hike altogether on every visit to Oahu. However, when my friend suggested we go on a recent visit to Honolulu, I simply had no excuses left.
I also felt it was time to bite the bullet and just do it. I had just turned 48 and I was definitely not getting any younger. I also felt that my fitness level needed to be tested, just to prove to myself that I wasn't "too old" to do stuff. I've never really like the idea of having to "act my age" and I wasn't about to start now. Was my climb a successful one? Or was I unfortunate enough to get a minor heart attack? Read on to find out!
*All photos taken by myself unless otherwise noted.
It's Challenging But Doable
It was a Tuesday morning, just three days before my flight back home to Tokyo. The skies were blue with not a could in the sky, making it the perfect weather for a hike. So I took the bus leaving from Waikiki towards my destination.
The 40-minute bus ride was crowded and uneventful and I tried to calm down my nerves, intensified by reading the numerous reviews on TripAdvisor on how grueling the climb was. I promised myself to take it at my own pace and rest when needed, reminding myself to enjoy the experience.
After some difficulty finding the place, my friends and I found ourselves at the base of Koko Head Crater. As we started to approach the start of the hike (honestly, it's more of a climb than a hike), we looked ahead of us to see the hike in its entirety. It's basically one straight trail up to the summit and although it looked rather intimidating, it didn't look too bad.
Signs warned hikers of the risks involved, pointing out how difficult it could be for some individuals. Seeing these signs made me hesitate a bit, and although I felt like turning back a few times, I was here to challenge myself and nothing was going to stop me.
Hiking on Oahu-The Definitive Guide
If you're an avid hiker going to Honolulu on holiday, this is probably the best source of information for the various hiking trails on the island of Oahu.
More than 50 trails that are suitable for a variety of fitness levels and includes stunning hikes like Manoa Falls, Koko Head and the easy-to-do-but stunning Diamond Head Hike.
Included with each hike are directions, a detailed description of the route and helpful information such as length of hike, difficulty level and trail conditions.
Don't forget to take these items with you
- Proper shoes (hiking,running or sports shoes)
- A bottle of water
- Towel (to wipe off sweat)
- Backpack (to keep you hands free)
The First 400 Steps
The start of the hike (or any hike for that matter) is always easy and for the first 5 minutes or so, I felt like this was going to be a piece of cake. Sure the steps go straight up at a steep incline, but I felt good.
In fact, I made sure to take it at my own pace and waiting for my friend to catch up with me gave me lots of time to rest. And even though my breathing was getting slightly heavy, it didn't feel like I was going to keel over or anything.
The three of us trudged along, one going straight up almost without rest, while the other had to take a break with every 15 steps or so. My energy level was somewhere in between the two. We cleared the first 400 steps in less than 20 minutes.
Have you ever climbed Koko Head Crater?
The Bridge From Hell
After the 500th step or so, we encounter what I call, The Bridge From Hell. Let me explain. This section of the trail is basically a long road of wooden beams with gaps in between, making it risky to make even one wrong move.
Those without proper shoes should turn back at this point, or take the less treacherous alternate route towards the side. (Although that route looked just as difficult)
The trick to getting across safely is to keep on moving, making sure you don't stop at midpoint. You simply keep your eyes on your feet and concentrate on balancing on the slanted, wooden beams.
If you make the mistake of stopping midpoint and looking up, you may find yourself crawling on both hands and knees like many people did that day.
Fortunately, we all made it across in one piece.
Keep Yourself Hands Free With a Backpack
If you're planning on hiking this trail ( or any trail for that matter ), it's best to keep both hands free for maximum safety. A sturdy backpack to hold your water, sunscreen and snacks can be a lifesaver.
This backpack from JanSport is functional and includes a main compartment as well as a front pocket with organizer for smaller items. The padded shoulder straps and padded back panel will keep you comfortable.
StairMaster from Hell
After the harrowing experience on the bridge, we continued onwards towards the summit. It had almost been an hour since starting the hike and we wanted to get there as soon as we could, as well as make it in time for our lunch appointment.
As we put one foot in front of the other, our breathing was becoming more labored and with every step, it became difficult to continue without resting for a few seconds.
My very fit friend was already up on the summit waiting for the two of us. I was at the 900th step mark, while my other friend was still at around the 600th step.
I had been waiting for my friend to catch up with me throughout the entire hike, but my adrenaline suddenly kicked in and I wanted to get to the top now! So instead of waiting, I whipped my head around and started climbing, slightly faster then before.
The final steps were ridiculously steep and it felt more like working out on a StairMaster at Level 100! I had to catch my breath a couple of times and as I kept my eyes on my footing, I took the final step to victory!
My Koko Head Experience on Video
Koko Head is located just a 30 minute drive from downtown Honolulu and is easily accessible by car or city bus. The bus ride takes approximately 30-40 minutes depending on traffic. Check the bus schedule for times and get to the bus stop early as the ride is usually crowded with tourists going to nearby Hanauma Bay.
Make sure to wear proper shoes and a backpack helps keep your hands free, which can help minimize accidents on the hike. Also, don't forget to carry with you a bottle of water and wear sunscreen. Early mornings are best to avoid the blistering sun.
Depending on your physical limitations, this may not be the hike for you. However most people, regardless of age or fitness level, seem to enjoy this hike. Just make sure to take it at your own pace and most of all, enjoy the awesome experience!