You Just Climbed Koko Crater Not Koko Head (which is way easier)

Koko Crater tramway.

Koko Crater tramway.

About the title: When I checked in on Facebook, this was an option. And, as I’m always correcting people about how they climbed Koko Crater and not Koko Crater Head or Koko Head Crater or Koko Head, I jumped on that location immediately. It took me a while to get up there. Here’s my tale.

Under the blazing sun at 1 p.m. yesterday, I had the curiously strange idea to go up Koko Crater, which is practically in my backyard. It’s a big draw for (insane or fit or insanely fit) residents and tourists alike. It’s also a draw for those who want to go on a little hike. How hard can it be, they must ask themselves. I don’t know why anyone would do this hike more than once. We used to go up quite often, before it became a tourist destination, and we even took our daughters up there a few times. We’d watch the sunset, take in the view, and take lots of pictures.

For mere mortals, it’s not a piece of cake. The tramway is treacherous, there is nothing to hold onto except maybe the rail if you bend over and grab it, the trestle, which always seems to have a hive of bees or wasps in activity, is terrifying (so I took the cheater path on the side), and there is no water anywhere. If you aren’t discouraged by my message of doom yet, take a 2-liter bottle for the way up and maybe another for the way down.

Yes, my awesome Brooks Pure Cadence running shoes. Yes, this is typically the condition of the tramway all the way up.

Yes, my awesome Brooks Pure Cadence running shoes. Yes, this is typically the condition of the tramway the whole way.

There are 1,060 steps up to the top, and then you have to climb up rock that has been smoothed with erosion and thousands of footsteps. Years ago, an encouraging soul painted markers on the rail marking progress. At 200 steps. At 400 steps. At 500 steps At 800 steps. At 1,000 steps it also says only 60 more to go!


Everyone stops to rest, even the invincibles.

This being my off season, I haven’t been training for triathlons much recently. But how bad was it? Bad. Before I got to the 200th step I was having second thoughts. I knew I didn’t have to do it. I packed a little bit of water, but not nearly enough, and it was so hot. And it wasn’t until I got to the 400th step did I remember about the dreaded trestle. Although it seems to have been reinforced some, I do not have the constitution to go across, whether it’s climbing or descending. Fortunately, there is a well-worn path on its east side that takes some rock climbing and weaving in and out of the thorned haole koa thickets. To me, it was a better alternative.

A toddler is on dad's back, mom is right behind them, and their little big man raced ahead. It couldn't have been easy.

A toddler is on dad’s back, mom is right behind them, and their little big man raced ahead. It couldn’t have been easy.

I had to stop several times on the way up, and I wasn’t the only one. When people were coming down, it gave those of us on the way up a reason to step to the side and pause. I met several families on their way down, little kids fearlessly hopping about, dads and moms with babies on their backs (none too happy, either), a young couple in their 20s, of which the woman whimpered with every step down.

And then I met Julian and Evan. Carrying their bikes. On their way down. Julian was wearing a bicycle kit, was walking in his socks, and his bicycle shoes were stuck on his handlebars. Evan carried his big Giant bike on his shoulders. When I first caught a glimpse of them, I could see their bikes sparkling high above me at the top of the tramway, Julian’s front wheel spinning like a ferris wheel in the distance.

Julian and Evan walking down with their bikes after riding up to the peak on the tramway. This is who I mean by young invincibles.

Julian and Evan walking down with their bikes after riding up to the peak on the tramway. This is who I mean by young invincibles.

“Did youz guyz ride up from inside the crater?”

“Nope. We rode right up this trail.”

“Holy cow! Really? Are you in training?”

Julian told me he did the Honolulu Tinman, but he wasn’t doing this for training. If you could see that trail, you would be astonished at anyone getting a bike up there. If you have a rock hopper or a BMX or a trail bicycle, maybe, but these guys looked like they were on regular road bikes with regular tires.


The payoff.

Between 400 steps, the trestle, and 800 steps, I had to give myself the self pep talk. I compared the heat to Ka Wela, the recent Boca Hawaii endurance triathlon I completed a few months ago. I told myself if I can do Kona 70.3 Honu Ironman twice (and next year makes thrice), I can climb Koko Crater one more time in my life. I said to myself that I was not a quitter. I don’t quit. I might be slow, but I achieve my goal.

Finally, at the top, breathless, heart pounding, I leaned on the World War 2 pillbox to take a break, take out my phone and shoot stuff, like scenery.

A week or a weekend doesn’t go by that we don’t hear the sirens wailing and the fire department’s helicopter flying to Koko Crater to make a rescue. Having done it one final last time, it doesn’t surprise me. It would be so easy to fall and twist an ankle or break a bone. For me, it was dizzyingly high and at one point on the way down, I didn’t measure the step as far down as it was and I nearly tumbled. And, although it feels like it takes forever to get to the top, it also feels like forever to get back down. I am so done with it.

Somethings I don’t get:

  • Why do people hike with boom boxes or radios and make the rest of us listen to their music? Why not listen to the wind rushing through the brush, or the bullets ricocheting off the targets at the shooting range below?
  • Why do women wear cute little shoes for this climb?
  • Why do people go to the top and have a cigarette?
  • Why do people even go up there?

Great mysteries.



Distant Journaling on a Bad Storm.


Start the month right. Give each day a little blog entry. Kiss October’s round and orange jack-o-lantern butt buh-bye. Its moon wanes, high, still a bit bright, and it hangs with Jupiter and Venus in the morning darkness when the … Continue reading

So much for Lanikai Beach

@postaday 59; #postaday2011

Yesterday after John was through running, I was through with my bicycle ride, and the girls were through with their piano lessons, we decided our Hawaii Kai family was due for a day at the beach. Having taken the girls to Sandy Beach the week before, which was too rough for me to relax about them being in the water, we Benderettes lobbied for a trip to Lanikai Beach. It was after 2 p.m. as we headed out, so I was hopeful parking would clear of early birds who had been there a few hours already.

Back when I was a student at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, I took a Geology 101 requirement. Aside from a memorable trip to visit the volcanic sites on the Big Island, I was also taught by a graduate assistant who was soon to become a force for all things good for the earth’s oceans: Chip Fletcher. Many people in Hawaii know Chip as the arch enemy of sea walls.

Pity the wealthy owners of beach-front property at Lanikai who didn’t listen to him years ago.

Loaded down with our big Costco bag full of towels, goggles, my beach chair and surf shirts, we exited the van while John circled around for a long time looking for parking. We hoofed it down several beach access paths between estates to get to the ocean. At one point we were following a woman about my age talking about having cybersex into her cellular phone. Great. My girls get to hear this?

Back to our search: Where once were beaches, the sea lapped at the path. Some people set up hibachis and chairs right there at the end of the access. People like us would get down there and turn around rather than walk through the water toward another fractional piece of sand to set up our own sand chair.

Party time at Lanikai Beach.

Finally I found a stretch of beach, as did probably a 1,000 other beach goers. It was as crowded as the Jersey Shore on Labor Day Weekend. And as stupid. There were lots of kids, lots of beer, lots of tattoos, lots of promiscuous behavior. I’m no prude, but, doll show some self respect! Fortunately, our girls got right into the water and were busy exploring the reef with their goggles. I took a quick dip, and revisited by my rotator-cuff injury, couldn’t really swim. But all I really wanted to do was get a salt-water treatment for my hair anyway. So when he finally got a parking space, John joined me and we sat on the beach while the wild youth around us smoked cigarettes (yeah, I told them to stop blowing at me and they DID!), and talk about how drunk they were last night. I must be so out of it. I don’t think this is great conversation for getting a guy to ask you out. Is the message I drink, I get drunk, so quite possibly, you could get laid? Well, maybe it is.

Lots of Corona beer.

As we were leaving, John had to direct the girls away from this rollicking party of guys with beers, girls in bikinis, lots of indiscriminate sand wrestling, and what looked like a fat chick in about a square foot of fabric about to squeal like a pig because of this guy who was all over her.

What does all this have to do with sea walls? Well if the rich and well to do hadn’t built them, the ocean wouldn’t be lapping under their bedroom windows but below the stretch of soft, glistening pristine sandy beach that extended from their homes. Obviously, they wouldn’t want this kind of party atmosphere there, either, but I would wager it would instead be small families like mine, visiting for the day, taking with us everything we brought in, without dogs leaving  poop in their sand. It used to be that way.

Few of Oahu’s beaches are family friendly for residents like us. I think we might just go close to home next time and take the family over the hill to Hanauma Bay for an afternoon instead. It’s in our own backyard, and probably isn’t a big draw for the party crowds.

Chillin’ on Oahu’s North Shore

John rides off to join the 2010 Metric Century.

This past Sunday, I was supposed to join John in the Metric Century from Haleiwa to Swanzy Beach  Park, a lovely ride along Oahu’s North Shore in the morning.

The foot injury kept me from joining him, so he didn’t have the experience we originally planned. Off he went with the other riders, leaving me and the girls to get some sea, surf and sun time at Kaiaka Beach Park.

Sea, sun, sand, smiles.

This was the first time I ventured out without my protective boot over my Achilles tendon injury. It was a gorgeous morning and we had the beach to ourselves for nearly two hours before others came thru, walking, walking with dogs, chasing crabs. The girls did some beach combing, body surfing, snorkeling and playing in the sand. Charlotte made a sand mummy. I was surprised to have seen a humpback whale breach on the horizon, in the channel between Oahu and Kauai! That was a treat, very special.

Charlotte shaped a sand mummy.

It took John a little more than 3 hours to do the ride, so by the time he got back, the girls were waterlogged and ready for something to eat. I’m not a huge fan of dessert first, but, I think it was a wise decision. The Aoki’s Shave Ice hit the spot, and sustained the sisterly love between the two girls. I cannot remember the last time I had shave(d) ice; 15 years or so? While we were enjoying the cool treats, a truck went by with a big, black, hairy, dead pig mounted on the back. Freshly killed by the dogs in the cage below? That’s something we never see in Hawaii Kai. It went by too fast for me to get a photo!

Sophie & Charlotte enjoy sweet shave ice with ice cream underneath.

Click here if you want to watch a sweet young lady make my Haleiwa Delight shave ice featuring melon, lychee and guava flavors. It tasted floral, it was so heavenly!

We had lunch at a famous burger destination, and since they forgot the Swiss that was supposed to go on my Ortega Burger, I’ve got nothing to say.


Because Hawaii is our home, we fall into the rut of not enjoying the beautiful weather and beaches that are so accessible to us.  After this day, we promised to do something about that.