Folks you meet at the Koko Crater Tracks hike

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

By Nik Streng
Special to 3D Travel

Looking for a physical challenge during your trip to Oahu? Try this thigh-burner: The Koko Crater Tracks hike.

It's 1,048 steps to the top of an extinct volcano (1,200 feet elev.) along railway tracks that once ferried supplies to a WWII-era lookout — a serious vertical climb. I've done it a handful of times and can testify: It's difficult, but doable. (Photo: Kristina D.C. Hoeppner/Creative Commons)

Despite the difficulty, it's a popular hike with locals and tourists, providing a tough workout with spectacular topside views of Hanauma Bay, East Oahu, the Koolau Mountains and, on a clear day, the neighbor islands of Molokai, Maui and Lanai. It was a clear day on my recent visit, sunny with sparse clouds on a Thursday afternoon. The few people doing the hike were like ants above me, moving up and down the tracks. (Weekdays are a good time to hike; expect crowds on the weekends.)

Here's a sample of the people I met while I was mulling my own ascent:

Anne, an elementary school teacher from Kahala, was head-to-toe ready wearing a visor, sunglasses, athletic shorts and a t-shirt. She said she makes it a point to "walk up Koko Crater once a week because it is a great workout." She often tries to convince her girlfriends to come along with her, but this time she was unsuccessful. "They all had one thing or another."

Anne started up and a group of young Japanese tourists arrived, most wearing bright jogging suits. They said that the hike was suggested to them by a friend who is a Hawaii resident, but seeing how steep the slope was up close, they were unsure about going. They chatted and, after some encouragement from yours truly, made a go of it. (If you do the hike, I don't recommend jogging suits — too hot. Think light and loose clothing.)

When I had first arrived at Koko Crater, I could see an athletic, tanned man in a cut-sleeved shirt running up the tracks — running! A half-hour later, he was back at the trailhead with his shirt now in his hand. Todd, an insurance agent, said he runs up Koko Crater as often as he can because he's training for the Ironman Triathlon in Kona. And then he said he'd just finished his second round on the hike. I don't think I could run up the crater, let alone run it twice. But Todd said that two trips was actually a slow day for him — he had to cut it short because he "had a boring mandatory meeting to go to later."

Don't worry, summiting this mountain once is an achievement — we can't all be Ironmen.

Interested in doing the Koko Crater Tracks hike? Some tips:
  • It's hot and there's little shade. Bring water and wear light, protective clothing and/or sunscreen. You can avoid the worst of the heat by going before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
  • Wear comfortable shoes: You'll take big steps on the way down, your body will need the extra cushion of good shoes.
  • Steps are dusty and can be slippery. Also, a bridge halfway up stretches across a crevasse with a drop of up to roughly 20 feet in places. Hike with caution.

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