Monday, May 05, 2014

Taking The Diamond Head Trail Challenge

I'm not really a fan of hiking, especially on steep terrains, but somehow I keep getting challenges to hike so that I see and enjoy the places I dream of visiting!  I guess challenges make things more interesting and when one is able to experience a challenge whether they actually overcome it or not, it frees our mind from wondering if we can do it or not, thus creating inner peace.  It also helps us discover things about ourselves and helps us accept ourselves for who we are and who we are not, thus self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-love.

Taking the psychoanalysis aside, this was all about enjoying the hike to Diamond Head Summit, because I know at the top, I would be blessed with breathtaking views as wide as the eye can see, and these would put me in awe and pull a string in my heart every single time.  I can't help but sigh loudly as I try to breath in the beauty of everything around me, hoping I can capture it and keep it within me.  These moments remind me of God's amazing creations and how we are all part of this beautiful world we often forget about.  Being part of a society that has turned more and more worldly material and to a certain extent negative, this yearning is odd to a lot of people and a touch irresponsible to some.  But this is precisely why we all need these reminders from time to time.  Call it a mission, a crusade, a pilgrimage!  It can be addicting!

Having heard that the 1.5 mile Diamond Head Summit Trail only takes about 1.5 hours to hike, I quickly put this in my list to do when I visit Oahu.  Despite the moderate rating coming from some hikers, the trail is mostly paved with actual steps versus rough terrain and testimony from many that this is suitable for non-hikers also because of the short trail.  I am no hiker and I knew my limits.  My biggest enemy is the steep elevation.  I am normally a very risk averse person but I know that getting out of my comfort zone and taking a bit of risks is key to living a full happy time.  It doesn't always have to be the best. I didn't have to outrun anyone.  I just had to at least try and experience it for myself.  Besides I needed the outdoor and physical exposure given my normally sedentary indoor lifestyle.

The trail head is easily accessed from the city center.  We took Oahu's The Bus Route #23 from the stop near the Ilikai.  The wait for the bus took about 20-30 minutes, but we were not in a hurry, and the bus took us another 30 minutes to get to the State Park entrance.  Even before getting to the trail head, we had to do a hike up the driveway to the entrance.  Took us 9 minutes to get from the bus stop to the Kahala Lookout, take photos at the lookout, and 3 minutes to cross the Kahala Tunnel.  Shortly before the Kahala Tunnel which takes you through one side of the crater wall into the crater, one can already enjoy some views from the Kahala Lookout.  I actually took these photos on the way down.

View of Kahala Area and Koko Head from Diamond Head Kahala Lookout
Kahala Tunnel
After emerging from the Kahala Tunnel, we get to the ticket entrance and paid $1.00 for getting in on foot.  We find ourselves in the middle of a vast parking lot and rest area surrounded by the crater wall.  We went to use the facilities at the rest area, then started our hike at the trail head, which was already at around 200 foot elevation.  I had a backpack on with my two cameras, a small one and a DSLR, plus my half bottle of water, which was fairly heavy but comfortable.

The first section was paved and it was a nice winding path gradually elevating as you go.  One starts to get a good view of the summit area from below, including the long path to get up there!  We have barely started, I already feel tired.  Surely, I'm so out of shape, age is catching up with me and the heat was not helping!  But it's also the anticipation that gets the better of me. But wait, this is not a race, so why hurry when in fact, I can slowly enjoy the journey.  I took my time, made frequent stops and use those stops to recharge and absorb the sights around me.  Took us about 10 minutes to tackle this first section and take photos, twice the amount of time it indicates on the EveryTrail website.

The Switchbacks, view from below

We reached the switchbacks, a series of zig zag paths that are built to make gradual ascends on an otherwise steep elevation.  These paths are partially paved but had a fairly comfortable surface.  But I hate steep paths.  I can walk long distances but when it comes to steep paths, I simply don't have the endurance for this.  It's physical, but maybe it's also psychological.  The moment I see a steep incline, my body is strip of all the energy, haha!  I had to stop every 1-2 sections, I told my cousin not to wait for me, but I think she wasn't too far ahead of me either.  We took 20 minutes on the switchbacks, with stops for rest and photos, surprisingly just 5 minutes more than the average time.

View of the park entrance and crater walls from one of the paths on the switchbacks
One of the switchback paths, view from top
One of the switchback paths, view from top

Following the series of switchbacks, we reach the set of stairs, 74 steps up to a 225 feet long slightly lighted narrow tunnel.  Still huffing and puffing from the 74 steps and no spot to stop and rest, I feel my heart beating faster as I enter the tunnel.  I feel the ground gradually going uphill and for fear of getting claustrophobia inside and further increasing my heart rate, I continued one step at a time as calm as I could possibly be. It didn't help that I could sense fear through the voices of the people behind me who were making jokes hoping to calm themselves.  The small low intensity lights barely lit the ground and it was pretty dark except for that light at the end of the tunnel.  Maybe our eyes were still adjusting coming from the harsh sunlight outside  A side handrail was pretty much our guide.

View from the top of the switchbacks just before the 74 step staircase and tunnel
View from the top of the switchbacks just before the 74 step staircase and tunnel
Start of the 74 steps followed by the tunnel
Dark Tunnel - floor lights looked much brighter in the photo than inside the actual tunnel, maybe because our eyes were still adjusting from the light outside

Finally, a place to sit and rest at the lookout.  Taking in more of the amazing views help me regain my normal breathing and resting heartbeat.  Now it's another steep 99 steps up to the lower level of the Fire Control Station, which is at about 704 foot elevation.  I focused on looking up to alleviate my height phobia but also wanted to take a photo looking down, crazy me!

View from top of the 99 steps
From there, we ascend a spiral staircase 3 floors up and emerge into a low ceiling area with some old fire control equipment. 

Lower Level of the Fire Control Station
Spiral Staircase
Spiral Staircase
3rd Level of the Fire Control Station
Fire Control Station
I climb out through the small opening into the open deck above and what met us was a wide panoramic view of Oahu's southern coastline, including the lighthouse just below, popular Waikiki Beach to the right, Koko Head Crater to the left.  It was simply breathtaking!  The waters were all sorts of blue.  This is what I'm talking about!  I sigh loudly and I breath in the beauty of what I see around me ;-)

View from the Open Deck outside the Fire Control Station
Diamond Head Lighthouse with the turquoise waters
Waikiki Beach on the right
Another 54 metal steps put us at the summit at 761 feet above sea level.  At the top, a gold circular survey mark stands embedded on the observation deck floor. Here we get a 360 degree panoramic view.  

View of the Diamond Head Crater Walls with Koko Head Crater in the far background
Park Entrance from where we started our hike

Wide view of Waikiki Beach
Close up view of Waikiki Beach and Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island (long narrow island protruding in the middle horizontal of the photo)
Now it was time to descend and the path going back lets one enjoy more panoramic views.  The loop trail leads us back at the end of the narrow tunnel where we made our way back easier as there were less people.  We had a few seconds to capture a photo inside the tunnel too.

The descent was easier on the heart, but harder on the knees.  At the switchback, we saw an old couple slowly making their way down.  The woman had a cane and she was holding on to the guardrails, and the man was guiding her along.  So sweet!  And yet, it was a pleasant sight to see people not giving up things like these just because they are old.  Gives me hope! :-)

At one of the switchbacks, the lovely old couple on the left making their way down slowly
As we reached the final winding road that leads back to the visitor center, we were already thinking of getting an ice cold bottle of coke at the vending machine.  That made our hike down even faster! :-)  But in the end, I ended up with a shave ice from the food truck parked below.  The guy asked me if I was down from the hike or just starting out.  Told him I did my hike and he handed me a cold wet towel to cool off.  What a pleasant surprise!  We sat at the picnic table enjoying our shave ice and put up our feet to let the blood circulate back up to the rest of our bodies.

Shave ice, widely popular in Hawaii
We made it in little less than 2 hours round trip on the actual trail with stops for rest and photo during non-peak days (that's about 3 hours including the section from and to the bus station plus time to rest at the visitor center).

Another mission accomplished!

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