Puu Manamana gets a lot of hype. Stuart Ball calls it “one of the most difficult hikes on the island.” Many have said that it offers some of the most spectacular hiking views that Oahu has to offer. Marvin went as far as to say that the “views are simply unrivaled on Oahu.” Heck, it was even featured as the banner image on Kaleo Lancaster’s Island Trails (the photo has recently been replaced). I had the opportunity to do a variation of the Puu Manamana trail and have to admit that, for the most part, the above statements are true.
In Stuart Ball’s The Hikers Guide to Oahu, the traditional Puu Manamana route is described and starts just off the Kahekili Highway, near a bus stop. On this day, we took a less travelled route, combing the Kahekili trail with Puu Manamana. The core Exploration: Hawaii members were all present for this hike. New to the hiking roster was Peter Chang, a graduate student at Cornell University in New York. Peter is a mutual friend of both me and Joel. He was visiting Hawaii and was interested in hiking a trail. I’m guessing that all of the hiking photos that I post on Facebook sparked his interest. Kahekili-Manamana turned out to be another hike for the Exploration: Hawaii crew. However, Kahekili-Manamana turned out to be the hike of a lifetime for Peter Chang.
Peter joined us on a whim. He saw a Facebook status of mine the day before the hike and indicated that he wanted to join us. I told him what hike we were doing and he was in. Unfortunately for him, I don’t think he researched the hike at all. Kahekili-Manamana is approximately 5 miles long and should take you about 5-6 hours to complete. About 20 minutes into the hike, I found out that Peter thought the hike would be a simple 1-2 hour hike. This was going to be a long day.
The trail start off in a residential area just off of Swanzy Beach Park. The trailhead is oddly located between two homes at the end of a residential driveway. The initial climb will be fairly wet and rocky with a somewhat steep incline. About 30 minutes in you will eventually reach the ridgeline. Immediately, you will notice the excellent views. The trail itself is very well defined here. Turn left to get a good view of the Windward Coast. Turn right to continue on the trail. Your first point of interest will be a World War II bunker. Wiggle your way in through the rusted door and experience what it must have been like to be a soldier during World War II.
A little beyond the bunker you will notice a makeshift path to your left that will lead you to a homemade memorial. The white cross is visible from the trail. The descent to the memorial is a fairly steep one and not really worth the climb down, in my opinion. Anyway, you’ve got a long trail ahead. Continue along the bumpy ridgeline until you reach a tall rockface. This area made for a nice restspot.
You will contour this rockface to the right, and work your way into the valley, losing elevation very quickly. This area, for me seemed to be the most sketchy. You can easily get lost in this part of the trail. In fact, we almost thought we had been on the incorrect trail despite Marvin’s reliance on his GPS device. We trudged on and eventually intersected with the correct trail. A fallen tree had led us off track a bit.
Eventually, you will reach a waterfall deep in the valley. It was more of a dry waterfall when we were there. Just a dry trickle was present. What is cool about this portion of the hike, though, is that you can look beyond the top of this waterfall. Below you will be a crazy drop further into the valley.
Once you’ve had your fill of the falls, you will work your out of the valley and back to the ridgeline. Getting out of the waterfall area will be tricky, as you will have two options. First, you can opt to climb up a muddy section just to the right of the falls. Or, you can climb of the wet rocks right beside the waterfall. I first tried climbing up the side of that waterfall, but slipped. Not good. I then decided to climb up the muddy section. Good. Both options will get you to the same place.
Once you get past the waterfall, it’ll be a steep and long climb up and out of the valley. This portion of the hike seemed to be the longest, most overgrown, and therefore most annoying. Peter had some difficulty navigating the steep climb, letting out frequent yeeps. Eventually, you do reach the ridgeline. Despite this, the effort is worth it because once you reach the top you once again are awarded with amazing views. From here, the views will only get better.
Once you’re back on the ridgeline, you will now work your way toward the famous Crouching Lion rock formation. Follow the trail right and eventually you will reach a junction. At the junction you can either turn left and continue toward Turnover and True Manamana. Or, you can turn right on the Manamana Trail toward the freeway and Crouching Lion. We turned right and continued on the Manamana trail toward Crouching Lion.
Now, this is where things got interesting for Peter. This section of the trail is considerably narrower than the previously travelled sections. The trail narrows and the dropoffs are steep. There are also two rockfaces that need to be climbed here. Things got interesting really fast.
What eventually happened is that Marvin, Ahnate, Andy, and I were ahead of Peter and Joel. Joel got stuck in the back and eventually, we broke from Joel and Peter. Joel has experience with Hawaii’s trails, so I wasn’t very worried and instead continued on the trail. Eventually, I broke from Marvin, Ahnate, and Andy because I was making frequent stops to take out my then new and unfamiliar camera. I was practicing shooting with it. I was always in sight of Ahnate, Andy, and Marvin. They could hear me and I could hear them. However, when I started yelling back to check on Joel and Peter, I would receive no response.
I started to get worried. I sat my butt atop the second rockface and tried to contact Joel and Peter. I tried yelling but received no response. I signalled for Andy, Ahnate, and Marvin to hold up and stay put. I continued to wait. Eventually, I did get a response from Joel and Peter, but they were still not within sight. About 40 minutes went by before they came into my sight. They were descending a steep section of the narrow ridge, and for some reason, Peter froze. He wasn’t moving. He was stuck and Joel had nowhere to go. I texted Joel and asked him what was going on. He replied that Peter had run out of water and was experiencing craps. At that point, I got pretty worried. Cramps on hikes can suck. Cramps when hiking a narrow ridge can suck real bad (see Bowman to Haiku Stairs). Joel and Peter decided to break there for a bit. Eventually they did continue on, albeit at a very slow pace. In the meantime, I was stuck above the second rockface carefully watching their every move. The same spot that is featured on Kaleo Lancaster’s banner, that’s where I spent nearly 1.5 hours waiting for them.
Joel and Peter eventually made it to me atop the rockface overlooking the Windward Coast. Ahante, who was about 5 minutes from my location ran up to give peter a can of Bacon Spam. He ate some. We encouraged him to eat more. The liquids situation also became an issue. See, I brought an extra bottle of Gatorade for Peter (in the event that he didn’t bring enough water). It turns out that he didn’t bring enough water. He ended up drinking that spare Gatorade, as well as an extra bottle of Gatorade that Joel had brought. He was drinking too much, too fast. We also found out that he had not eaten breakfast.
Despite all of this, we all made it through the hike, Peter included. While Ahnate and Marvin descended down the traditional route, Andy and I waited until Joel and Peter got closer. We opted to take the route that a poor of hikers and a poodle had taken that was between the Crouching Lion formation and the tall rock formation that Ahnate and Marvin countered around. We descended down loose rock and dirt straight into a residential area consisting of townhouses. At this point I was exhausted and wanted something to drink and therefore I had forgotten to take photos of the area that we descended into and I forgot to take note of the street that we exited.
During the drive home I asked Peter what he thought of the hike. He was literally beyond words as he continued to moan and groan in pain. Eventually he did say that this was by far the most difficult hike that he has done. He called it the hike of a lifetime. In many ways, this was a hike of a lifetime for many of us that day.
Explorers: Marvin Chandra, Andy Dewald, Coty Gonzales, Ahnate Lim, and Joel Sabugo.