They say ignorance is bliss, and it was ignorance that allowed me to climb Koko Head in Hawaii two years ago.
Don heard from a coworker that sunrise from the top of Koko Head was a must see while on Oahu. We looked it up, and found that it was a medium difficulty level to climb. . I am not in the best of shape, but was ok with pushing myself for the promise of a beautiful sunrise. So on the second day of our vacation we were up at 4 am, following GPS instructions anxious for our sunrise adventure. We kept finding ourselves in a local neighborhood, after forty five minutes of “What is wrong with the GPS we realized we needed to drive through the neighborhood to reach the trailhead.
There was no moon and very dark when we arrived at the park. We could not see the top, only a strange shadowy shape cut against the stars.
Warning sign number one!
The trail was dark, it looked slightly daunting, but not so difficult. There were multiple warning signs at the bottom but we were too excited or maybe it was just too dark to notice them.
Warning sign number two!
We headed up the stairs, I started the climb with an excited run, “This is going to be a great workout.” I said, the darkness blinding me to just how far it was to the top.
What I had not know was that the “steps” were actually a train tracks built during World War II to haul people and equipment to the top. So these were not your typical stairs. The steps were actually one thousand and forty eight railroad ties, some of them were in bad shape. Broken, bent and dirty making the climb slippery and difficult. Hence the local nickname, “The 1,000 steps of doom”.
Warning sign number three!
It’s a good thing my flashlight only could see a few steps ahead of me, because if I had been able to see the steep climb I may have turned back. We had been warned that part of the climb was on a bridge and that some bees had taken up residence and since we were unable to see the drop underneath we opted for the alternate trip around through little gully on the side of the bridge.
Up up we climbed. If this were the Stairway to Heaven then the climb certainly was our purgatory to get there. As we climbed we were joined by many other would be adventurers, some who ran this daily as their work out, people of all ages were climbing this in hopes of seeing an amazing sunrise, to stay healthy or just as a personal challenge. The other hikers were encouraging us, “Your almost there!” they would tell me as they zoomed past me with their perfect bodies. Finally I could see the top, there were several people taking selfies with their best “Rocky” poses.
I was almost there I panted, I wondered if they had oxygen at the top as my lungs felt as though they were about to explode.
Don and I rested at the top before walking around to the the east side where the sun had just started peaking its head over the horizon. The views and the colors the sunrise made over the top were spectacular. All the pain from the climb was gone, as I realized the climb was worth the view.
We remained on top for nearly an hour, walking around taking in the multiple views from the top, it was so breathtaking that I never wanted to leave, plus part of me dreaded the climb down, which I knew was going to be painful.
Finally after realizing that we probably could not stay up there forever, I surrendered to starting the decent down. It was daylight now and looking down, I was amazed at the climb Don and I had made in the dark that morning. There were stairs towards the top were set at a near 90 degree angle. Well not really, it just felt like that. “We did that?” I asked Don, stalling while I tried to figure out how the heck we were going to get down without the ignorance of darkness on our side. No side rails, no even steps, just what seemed like miles of shaky tracks.
Down we climbed, when I got tired I sat down and slid down part of the trail (which actually was a bit fun).
At the bottom my legs felt like jello, I am sure others in the park must have thought I was intoxicated as I struggled to make my way to our car.
It took lots of Advil and stretching before my legs recovered, but now, finally, two years later, my legs are okay.
On our trip back to Hawaii this year I asked Don to go by the park so I could see Koko Head in the daylight to make sure I had not over exaggerated the climb. This time the thought of it seemed even more daunting. “We should get back in shape so we can climb it again our next trip.”
“Sure” Don said smiling, “I will let you take the lead on that one.”