In 2014, our favorite Thai hiker turned 31. Of course, a birthday celebration hike was in order. Ahnate chose Aiea Loop Trail’s significantly bigger brother, Aiea Ridge. Aiea Ridge is a rugged trail and is a commonly featured Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club (HTMC) hike.
I’m not the biggest fan of long, all-day hikes. I rarely do them. I leave those “grinders” and multi-day excursions to Marvin and Ahnate. I’ve been keeping busy with shorter trails, five hours or less seems to be my sweet spot. That said, I was a bit worried about whether I had the conditioning to get through the trail.
The HTMC lists Aiea Ridge as being 9.3 miles long, from its start on the Aiea Loop Trail to the Koolau Summit. The first 1.5 miles on the Aiea Loop Trail are fairly mundane, however, this will probably be the only time that you will see another person, so wave, and say hello. As you make your way through Aiea Loop, you’ll pass the junction for Kalauao Falls before eventually reaching the Aiea Ridge junction. Once at the junction, we had a good view of the ridge in front of us that we would be hiking. It was a particularly clear day, so we could even see all the way to the summit and the powerlines located just before it.
There are three major landmarks on Aiea Ridge, before you actually hit the summit. The first landmark is the flat clearing at the top of Puu Kawipoo. It’s an uphill climb to this puu, and you might even think that it’s the end. It’s not. The true Aiea Ridge terminus is about an hour away, just beyond the powerlines in the distance. I felt exhausted, Joel looked over it, Ahnate seemed energized, and Marvin looked right at home in his 80’s inspired hiking outfit number 1. I munched a bit on some beef jerky and lamented the fact that I had a semi-cold (and getting warmer each second) can of Coke-A-Cola in my backpack. A real deal Coke, not that diet stuff that comes in a silver can. No, I had a can of Coke. The stuff that polar bears drink. At that point, I made it my mission to reach the end so that I could enjoy that can of Coke.
The final push to the end felt as if it took an eternity. Marvin promised an hour, and to his credit, it did take, about an hour. The hills were killing me, though. Also, the trail from Puu Kawaipuu to the second clearning just before the summit is the most dangerous, with, at times, steep drop off points on both sides. Don’t trip. The climb to the second clearing, located just 10 minutes from the true summit, is the most disheartening. I found myself taking multiple breaks, as I worked my way up. As I reached the top, I noticed that the clouds were dominating the Koolau Summit and the terminus of Aiea Ridge. Bewildered, I quickly found a nice clear spot to sit. Joel and Marvin joined, while Ahnate carried on taking photos. The views of the neighboring ridges were beautiful. The clouds slowly crept toward us as we sat on the flat clearing. Joel even mentioned that a cloud was surrounding me.
We took a good 20 minute break before conversation on whether or not we should proceed to the true summit was raised. Marvin and Ahnate decided to press on. Joel and I decided that the extra climb would not be worth it. The clouds were thick and the summit was socked in. I rolled the dice and figured that there would be no view even if we went up and waited for a bit. Instead, Joel and I decided to just take a quick nap at the clearing, while Marvin and Ahante pushed on. The nap lasted a good 5-minutes before I realized that I had a, now fairly warm, can of coke waiting for me in the side pocket of my backpack. I quickly pulled it out, and proudly cracked the can open. The sound of fizzling sugar water never sounded so good.
Soon enough, we found ourselves back on the trail and headed towards civilization. We had a head start on Marvin and Ahnate, but it wasn’t long before they caught up. Eventually, we all, once again, found ourselves relaxing on the top of Puu Kawipoo. And once more, we took a long, and well deserved break. When the inevitable came, and we had to continue on, Marvin, as if on queue mentioned if this was now the point that we would all race back to the car. Spoiler alert: Marvin loses badly. Read on to find out how.
For some reason, the hike home felt much longer than the hike to the summit. Maybe it was my cranky knees, or sore feet. The trail just seemed to go on forever. At one point, I remixed the infamous self-referential and infinitely iterative Lamp Chomps song, The Song That Never Ends to be The Trail That Never Ends. I sang it a few times and then decided to just save my breath, and Joel’s sanity. Eventually, we did make it back to the Aiea Loop Trail and then back to our cars. By that time, it was just about 6PM. We each took different routes to finish the trail. Joel and I simply reversed track, taking the shortest route back to the car. Ahnate completed the Loop Trail, tacking on an extra 3.2 miles to his journey. Marvin, TRIED to finish the loop trail, but ended up getting lost. He came down a neighboring ridge. We should have seen this coming, especially when he notified us at the start of the day that he did not have his GPS with him. Marvin: you need that GPS at all times. It is your lifeline. Eventually, we did find Marvin. This little twist to the end of our hike was just the spice of comedy that we needed. Ahnate texted me, “Kinda hard to mess this one up. Grin.”