Saturday, November 19, 2011

Moanalua Middle Ridge to Haiku Stairs (night hike)

One of the big trends in the hiking community as of late seems to be night hiking.  I had recently hiked the koko crater rim at night and I enjoyed it immensely.  This time around my wife and I were invited by some fellow hikers to climb up to the top of the well known stairway to heaven via the middle ridge of Moanalua valley.  On this full moon night there would be eight of us participating in this adventure.  A few people drove to Kaneohe ahead of time to station a car near the haiku stairs so we would all have a ride back to Moanalua valley and our cars after the hike.  In the meantime I was at school and starting to worry that I would be late for the hike since I did not get out of school until after 6:15 and the hike was scheduled for a 6:30 start.  I ended up leaving class a little bit early and actually arrived at moanalua valley park first, giving me some time to prepare my supplies and to get ready for the hike that was ahead of me.  Shortly after I arrived everyone else showed up as well and we all put our headlamps on and set off down the valley road for what we expected to be a somewhat boring first leg of the trail.

The trail starts by following an old gravel road that goes on for a few miles with numerous stream crossings.  After a few miles we reached a sign stating that this was the end of the maintained state trail.  At this point we began to look for our junction with the middle ridge.  There is a trail directly to the left of the sign but this was the trailhead for the highly dangerous Moanalua saddle, which no one in their right mind would attempt at night.  The middle ridge trailhead was about ten yards past the sign on the same side.  At this spot we crossed the stream and found a trail heading up through a wooded area that was well marked with ribbons.

From here on out the trail was well worn and simple to follow.  We climbed further and further ahead and finally reached the portion of the middle ridge that became narrow.  The ridge being narrow was not what presented us problems on this night.  The problem was that the wind was howling at 30 plus mph.  I have heard a lot of people say they will not do hikes such as this one in the dark, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it easier mentally at night than during the day.  While hiking during the day the crazy drops beneath me are very apparent but at night I do not tend to notice them and can solely focus on the trail that my headlamp is shining down on in front of me.  As everyone in the group negotiated the narrow sections with ease, the ridge began to steepen and the damp ground became tougher to gain traction on.  One positive thing we had going for us was that there were plenty of ropes in place to help us proceed upward on the steepest parts.  While the trail was getting steeper and steeper the narrowness was still ever so present.  I looked up and noticed that the middle ridge summit was just ahead of me now.  Since it was getting windier and starting to rain I decided to go ahead of the rest of the group and get to the middle ridge summit and then wait for them there. 

As I hastily made my way up to the middle ridge summit I looked behind me and realized that I had ended up putting a lot more distance between me and the rest of the group than I had anticipated.  As I arrived at the middle ridge summit I decided to just go ahead and make the left hand turn and head for the Haiku stairs by myself.  Having been on this section of the KST before, I knew that the haiku stairs were no more than ten minutes away now.  The wind picked up exceedingly as I got closer and closer to the omega station at the top of the haiku stairs.  The views were non existent as I looked down and saw nothing but clouds beneath me.  A few more turns along the summit ridge and a couple more steps through the mud and I had finally reached the top of the Haiku stairs where I was greeted by another hiker who had hiked up the stairs earlier in the night to meet our group.  I jumped over the railing and had officially arrived at the omega station at around 10:20 pm.  The entire group would arrive to the omega station no later than 11:00 pm.  As we all reached the omega station one by one, the skies began to slowly clear.  Before we knew it the entire sky had cleared up and presented us with incredible views of all of Kaneohe bay in front of us and of haiku valley to our left.  A few of us tried to pull out our tripods to get better pictures but the wind just would not allow the tripods to sit still, so we just settled for the pictures that we could get and then we began our decent down the stairs. 

Everyone else in the group began down the stairs first as me and another hiker took our sweet time, stopping frequently for pictures and just talking story.  As we casually made our way down the stairs, the full moon was in plain sight in the now incredibly clear night sky.  As we got further down the stairs I began to feel a little bad that the rest of the group was waiting on us at the bottom.  As we neared the bottom of the stairs the sky opened up and heavy rains started to drop down on us, seemingly trying tell us to hurry up because the others were at the bottom and were ready to go.  We picked up our pace a little and shortly afterwards we were understandably greeted with glares from the rest of our group as we reached the bottom of the stairs.  Once at the bottom everyone forgave us for our slow pace as we took a quick group photo and then began our short trip back to civilization.  Once on the street we successfully attempted to cram eight people into the car which would shuttle us back to moanalua valley where the rest of our cars were still parked.  Me and my wife would finally arrive home at around 2:30 am, ready for bed and not very eager for the next morning to arrive.  For now the night hiking craze is still going strong and I am excited to see what the following weeks will bring for me and the fellow night marchers.

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