I rarely hike a trail twice. This is becoming increasingly difficult, though, as I complete more and more of Oahu’s hiking trails. In search of a unique hike to do, I began skimming through the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club’s (HTMC) outing schedule. I noticed that local author, Stuart Ball, would be leading a hike to Puu O Hulu. Without hesitation, I decided to revisit this little puu on the Waianae Coast that looms over Maili, with the added benefit of being able to pick the mind of a local hiking and backpacking legend.
The day started with me and Joel, my constant hiking partner, making the drive from Honolulu to the Waianae Coast. Our meeting spot was the Nanakuli Mall at 8:30am. Joel and I were the first to arrive. Shortly after, we noticed a short haole man wearing a faded pink aloha shirt and khaki pants. His hiking boots were rugged and worn. I knew instantly that it was Stuart Ball. I immediately jumped out of Joel’s 4Runner to introduce myself to Stuart. I was excited and, to tell you the truth, a little starstruck. I have been using Stuart’s books for a few years now, and so I was very excited to meet him. He greeted me with a very friendly “howzit,” a smile and a stern handshake. I then quickly signed the HTMC liability forms and made my $3 donation. I mentioned to Stuart my interest in joining the club, and he told me, “oh yeah, it’s good fun.” He asked if I wanted a form, but I told him that I might as well wait until I completed the required three club led hikes. He nodded in approval.
Once everyone had showed up, we then drove off to the trailhead, which was located 5 stoplight away from Nanakuli Mall. We turned right on to Kaukama Road and, as instructed, parked between the 8th and 10th light pole on the right side of the road. Stuart then gave the standard HTMC debriefing and we were on the trail.
There’s not much that I can say about Puu O Hulu that I didn’t already say in this blog post from 2011, when I last hiked this trail on the Waianae Coast. Puu O Hulu is a very short trail, coming in at roughly 2 miles. However, don’t let the short mileage fool you into thinking that it’s an easy hike. The trail is best described by Ball as a “glorious scramble up a rocky ridge.” I’d have to agree with him, with the one caveat being that I would add the word “steep” in there. The trickiest portion of the hike is the 10 foot rockface that needs to be climbed. The are many foot and handholds, though, make this one obstacle a manageable one. Once past the rockface, you will continue to scramble up the mountain. Eventually, you will reach the first of several abandoned army observation posts and bunkers. From here, you’ll be afforded with wonderful views of the Waianae Coast.
Stuart Ball has authored multiple guide books geared toward the Hawaii outdoor enthusiast. His books include: The Hikers Guide to Oahu (1993; revised 2000), The Backpackers Guide to Hawai’i (1996), The Hiker’s Guide to the Hawaiian Islands (2000), Native Paths to Volunteer Trails: Hiking and Trail Building on Oahu (2012). I had the chance to talk a bit with Stuart as we both stood atop of Puu O Hulu, overlooking the Waianae Coast. He was very friendly and very willing to talk story with me. I asked him about his favorite hike on the island. He quickly replied with an “oh, there are so many good ones” and followed it up with a little laugh. I then mentioned to him that he must get asked that question a lot, to which he replied, “oh, yes.” Then, he muttered a “but.” He said, “but, if I had to choose one then it would have to be Castle.” Of course, he was referring to the forbidden Castle Trail, which is located in Punaluu Valley. I paused for a bit, and then told him how I had been wanting to visit the Castle Trail, however, access problems made this difficult. Indeed, access has been a problem with the Castle Trail since it was conceived in 1906. In fact, recreational hikers have been banned from Castle since 1923. I asked him, what about the Castle trail made it special. He said that the switchbacks along Punaluu Valley were “beautiful” and the trail was simply “magnificent.” He also mentioned that the Castle Trail brings you to the stream that feeds Sacred Falls. This made me long to hike this trail even more.
When asked about the most difficult trail on the island, Stuart quickly said “Kamaileunu.” He then took a deep breath and sighed, as if he was recalling the steep and precipitous inclines and unstable ground that make up the Kamaileunu Trail. In fact, in his book, The Hiker’s Guide to Oahu, Ball described Kamaileunu as “the most rugged hike on the island.” He then pointed toward the trail, which climbs partway up the ridge separating Waianae and Makaha Valleys. We then talked about some of the more notorious hikes on the island, including Bear Claw (Windward Kuliouou) and the various saddles along the Koolau Summit Trail. He referred to the recent death on Bear Claw and the very narrow ridges the make up the various saddles on the KST. For Ball, these hikes simply aren’t worth the risk. He did note, though, that at his ripe age of 64, he’s not very suited to be doing those kinds of extreme hikes.
As we worked our way down the trail, I asked Stuart about his involvement with the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club. He mentioned that he first joined the club in 1980. I laughed and told him that he joined a year before I was born. He laughed back at me. He said that before moving to the islands, he often hiked while living on the East Coast. When he moved to Hawaii, he researched the two local hiking clubs, the Sierra Club and HTMC. He asked residents which of the two “were the most local,” of which many answered HTMC. He said, though, that he already knew the answer to that question. The rest is history, and he has been a member of the HTMC for over thirty years, leading hikes for local outdoor enthusiasts.
When asked about his influential book, The Hiker’s Guide to Oahu, Ball was quick to note that it all started with him simply taking notes of the hikes that he would go on. Eventually, he had a collection of meticulous notes on the various hiking trails throughout the state. It was then that he started to think that maybe he “could make a book out of all of this.” The guide book, which was first published in 1993, is now considered by many to be the Bible when it comes to hiking on Oahu. Does this mean that I had just hiked with a hiking God? Stuart would be the first to say no, but many avid local hikers would nod in agreement.