Category Archives: Travel

Your first Oahu hike

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Your first Oahu hike

So, you finally made to Hawaii. Magic. And you want to go hiking on Oahu. There’s a surprising number of options. As someone who’s been hiking the island for decades, here’s my guide to deciding on your first hike, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned mountain climber. It (somewhat) assumes you are a tourist or visitor, and you’re staying in Honolulu. And I’ve left out a lot of details, you can Google the details of any of these trails for directions and the like.

Easy/Kids: Lanikai Pillbox Trail, Diamond Head, or Makapu’u Lighthouse.
Intermediate: Lulumahu Falls, Aiea Loop Trail, or
Advanced: Kuli’ou’ou or Olomana.

Easy Trails

Are you a relative beginner as a hiker? Want some great views without too much work?

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Get yourself to the Lanikai Pillbox Trail. A short, 30 minute climb to some WWII pillboxes, concrete bunkers used for lookouts.

If you’re not staying on the windward side (few do), then make a day of it, combine it with a trip to Kailua Beach and a meal in downtown Kailua.

Pros: Short (30 min), Views (out of this world), Safe (wear real shoes though, don’t hike in your flip-flops (or “slippas”, as the locals would say — a friend broke an ankle as the trail is very eroded in spots).
Cons: You will be on this trail with a hundred new friends. Seriously. About 1000 people a day hit this. Don’t go on a weekend.

2. Hit Diamond Head. Another short (but steep) climb. Much of the “trail” is really concrete stairs leading to the lookout. But the views of downtown Honolulu are hard to beat.

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Pros: Easy access from Honolulu, Awesome views. Doesn’t take long.
Cons: Crowded. Lots of concrete and stairs.

3. Makapuu Lighthouse trail

The Makapu’u area is awesome. Makapu’u beach is one of our favorite beaches on the island. Mostly a locals beach, great waves for bodysurfing, and not too crowded. The Lighthouse hike is an easy stroll with amazing views. It’s easily accessible from Honolulu (30 minutes from downtown), or from the Windward side. The trail is mostly paved, and you’ll get a amazing views of the famous Lighthouse as well as the entire windward shore. Do yourself a favor and combine this with a stop at Makapu’u beach and lunch at Keneke’s, a local plate lunch shop.

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Pros: Quick & easy, awesome views, only “moderately” crowded.
Cons: Mostly paved. Somewhat crowded.

Intermediate

  1. Lulumahu Falls

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Lulumahu falls are also easily accessed from both downtown Honolulu and and the Windward side.

Head up the Pali Highway, near the top you will see a bunch of cars parked in a dirt area, right where Nuuanu Pali Drive runs into the Pali Highway. There’s an entrance there to the trail. Just follow the people :). The trail to the falls will take you maybe 45 minutes (assuming no wrong turns — the trail is not extremely well marked). The trail is ok for smaller kids who like to hike. If you have a bit of extra time the bamboo forest and the ruins of Kamehameha III make for an Indiana Jones style experience.

Pros: Indiana Jones. Waterfalls. Nuff Said.

Cons: Can be crowded. Not hard to get off the trail. Not a sanctioned state trail, but tons of people on it.

2. Aiea Loop Trail.

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Pros: An ancient Hawaiian heiau (religious temple built from rocks). Gorgeous hawaiian Ohia flowers. A commanding view of the H3 highway and Halawa valley. A lost WWII bomber (I’ve not found it —  yet — but it’s there). Relatively flat, 5m round trip hike.
Cons: It’s not much of a workout, pretty flat. But fun

Advanced

  1. Kuli’ou-’ou Ridge Trail

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This trail is a workout. You start in a Honolulu neighborhood and end at the top of the Koolau mountain range, looking down into Waimanalo, with commanding views in all directions. Along the way you’ll go through a number of different “zones” of differing vegetation.

Pros: Great workout, amazing views, high quality trail.
Cons: A stairmaster section at the end. But it’s worth it.

2. Olomana

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Probably the best known Windward side hike. It’s not for the faint hearted. You’ll climb 1600 feet up a knife edge ridge, climbing with the assistance of ropes for 10–15′ in a few places. There are three peaks. The first is a workout but doable. The 2nd peak is not too much further, but you don’t get that much extra out of it, so I’d skip it. Don’t go to the 3rd peak. People die there. About once a year. Including experienced hikers. Just don’t.

Pros: Great workout, Amazing views, easily accessible.
Cons: Ropes. Mild danger. Extreme danger on 3rd peak. Just don’t.

Notes:

  1. You will have heard of Stairway to Heaven, aka Haiku Stairs. I don’t advise it. The stairs have been heavily damaged by recent storms, and you’ll expose yourself to tresspassing charges and a fine. Not fun.
  2. The definitive guide to Oahu hiking is David Ball’s book, highly recommended.

The Hikers Guide to Oahu: Updated and Expanded (A Latitude 20 Book)

Experienced and novice hikers alike will benefit from the information in this updated and expanded edition of the best-selling The Hikers Guide to O’ahu. The author describes in detail 52 trails that will take you to O’ahu’s lush valleys, cascading waterfalls, windswept ridges, and remote seacoasts.

3. If you are a deeply experienced hiker and into extreme hiking, check out this site for (dangerous) adventures. http://www.unrealhawaii.com/hikes/ (what I call “advanced” here, they call “easy” or “intermediate”. You have been warned.)

Enjoy!

House of Rain, by Craig Childs

Not long ago, I returned from a fantastic trip to the Southwest with old friends. We hiked and explored many of the key ruins of the Anasazi (or Ancient Puebloans, as is the currently accepted term) — Mesa Verde, Hovenweep and Chimney Rock, one of the northernmost outposts of the Chacoan empire. You can read more about our trip here.

Inspired by our trip and on the recommendation of my friend Thomas, I went after House of Rain, by Craig Childs, to gain more perspective on what we’d seen. House of Rain is ~500 page exploration of the world of the Anasazi. The Anasazi built a vast empire in the American Southwest with a complex culture, amazing cliff dwellings and stunning pottery, only to mysteriously disappear from the scene around 1300AD. Childs set out to explore, and perhaps solve, this mystery.


Awhile back there was a management school of thought called “Management by Walking Around”. Childs is from the “Archaeology by Walking Around” school. His (and others’) theory is that the Anasazi were an inherently nomadic people, in spite of the magnificent cliff dwellings they built. And his further assertion is that you can only really understand them by following them through the terrain. If you’ve ever been in the southwest, you know it’s a bleak, harsh, byzantine, but ultimately stunningly beautiful land, filled with mountains, rivers and a maze-like set of canyons littering the landscape. House of Rain is Child’s travelogue as he explores the vast landscape of the Southwest, mostly on foot and often at real personal danger. He starts at Chaco Canyon, the epicenter of the Chaco culture, then moves north to Colorado, east to Utah, South to Arizona, and eventually into Mexico. Along the way we’re treated to equal parts nature travelogue and deeply scholarly archaeology.

Childs is a modern day Indiana Jones — one moment he’s swimming a flash flood in Chaco Canyon, the next exploring the evolution of pottery patterns over time in a museum. One of the more recent discoveries is that the Chaco empire built roads in the desert running fifty miles or more in a straight line, connecting settlements with both roads as well as mountain-top signal fires straight out of a scene from the Lord of the Rings movie. Childs walks these roads and explores the canyons, and the beauty and desolation of the Southwest comes to light.

Along with his athletic explorations, Childs brings a deep knowledge of the scholarship of the southwest to bear on his tale. As he travels the southwest, he’s moving both through the migration paths of the Anasazi as well as moving through time. The Anasazi periods have very distinct pottery styles that identify region of origin, time of origin, even individual potters. Childs tells the story of the evolution of pottery and architecture over time and shows how it documents the migrations of the time. Materials sampling of pottery and human remains show pots and human remains that came from hundreds of miles away.

As the drought of the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries made life ever more difficult for the Anasazi, migration and social upheaval increased greatly. It’s well documented that were mass murders, religious warfare and ritual cannibalism during that time. Childs relates the studies of Ernandes, that have shown a corn-only diet can lead to malnutrition, and in the extreme to OCD, aggression and even mystical states of ecstasy. It’s considered a possibility that the corn-only diet of religious priests may have led to documented mass sacrifices amongst the Aztecs, Toltecs, and the Anasazi. To quote Childs:

Ernandes did not leave the Southwest out of the study, mention-
ting a fervor that swept the Anasazi landscape. Terribly disfigured
human skeletons have been found from that time, bones polished by
cooking, heads severed. The authors of this study believe that corn
could have been a factor — that dementia could have occurred on a
cultural level.

(The upheaval of the Southwest during this time of drought is an interesting phenomena given the drought that’s occurring today in the Southwest and California in particular.)

Childs book is a fascinating exploration of a little-known time and place in the history of the Americas. And if you live anywhere in the southwest, it’s right under your nose. As for Child’s solution to the mystery of the disappearance of the Anasazi? Well, you’ll have to read the book.

It’s right under your nose…

Ancient castles set in lofty cliffs. (Game of Thrones, right?). Mountaintop signal fires communicating to settlements a hundred miles away. (Lord of the Rings movie, right?). Ancient roads running miles in a straight line, now hidden to all eyes except experts. And supporting a system of empire and tribute. (Ancient Rome, you’re thinking…). Hybridized Corn. (X-files, anyone?). Ritual cannibalism (New Guinea?). Pottery that will steal your breath it’s so beautiful. (Ancient Greece?). Use of geologic features and stone construction to support Astronomical events guiding religious ceremonies? (Stonehenge???). Underground rooms, home of rituals and dances, and settlements lost in the wilderness for a thousand years, found pristine by ranchers looking for lost cattle…..all this and more is right under your nose here in America, in the southwest near “4 corners”, where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet, the home of the Chaco culture, aka the Anasazi, aka “the Ancestral Puebloans”, as they are now called. It’s amazing how many Americans don’t know about this truly unique aspect of the history of the country they live in.

We’re just back from a duo of great trips. The first was my daughter’s wedding, which was simply awesome. Enough said.

Immediately following, Michelle and I went on an exploring trip with our old friends Thomas Jensen and Lynn Thorsen-Jensen. Both accomplished tech executives, published fiction writers, fencers, and amazingly well-versed historians. It’s enough to give a person an inferiority complex. Thomas in particular seems to know everything there is to know about English history (especially the medieval period), as well as being a near-expert (and I’m not sure about the qualifier) on the history of the ancient Southwest, the purpose of our trip.

We saw an amazing set of things. Flying into Durango, we were wisked off to Mesa Verde, home of the most famous of cliff dwellings, Cliff Palace (which is closed for renovations). First up is Balcony House. A couple of ladder climbs (30′ and 60′ !!!) later, we’re looking out over the valley from our own cliff house. Amazing that people lived here. Indiana Jones features: a tunnel leading both into and out of the cliff-house – this would not have been easy to attack, and indeed it’s believed that the move into cliff houses (from the mesa top) was primarily a defensive move, during a time when drought made competition for food an ugly business.

Through a happy set of circumstances, we were able to get a tour through Square Tower House, only open 5 times a year. Underneath a huge cliff overhang, with a natural water flow into the compound, Square Tower is an incredible fortress. (see the crow’s nest up there?).

Then it’s off to Spruce Tree House, and enormous complex with 130 rooms that goes back into a cave nearly a small city-block. And had 130 rooms and 8 kivas (underground rooms for ceremonies and living space.)

After doing more hiking and touring, we’re off to Hovenweep, one of the loneliest places I’ve ever been. (Hovenweep is Ute for “deserted valley”, so it seems appropriate). The Anasazi fled here from Mesa Verde and other places, fleeing the drought and conflict from further south. I’ve been here twice, and the first time I was literally the only one there, miles and miles. Closest I ever came to hearing ghosts. This time, the sun is up, and I have people with me. A bit less spooky but still amazing. And it’s spring in the desert – I’ve been out here a lot and I’ve NEVER seen the flowers like this before. And lots of turkeys! The Anasazi kept domesticated turkey as a food source.

Finally we’re off to Chimney Rock. Settled in the early 900s, a Chacoan Great House was built on the peak likely near 1076 AD, as the northernmost outpost of the Chacoan empire. I used the term empire advisedly as not every agrees there was an empire. But it seems likely. It’s established that signal fires, smoke and mirrors were used to communicate between the Great House and Chaco canyon 85 miles away (http://stevelekson.com/2011/09/09/regional-scales-how-big-was-chaco-%E2%80%A6-and-does-it-matter/). And the imposing presence of the Great House at the top of the mountain, when green and fertile river earth was available in direct sight, clearly indicates an imposing presence (military / religious empire?), rather than simply a good place to live. In addition it’s also established that the moon rises between the twin spires of Chimney Rock every 18.6 years during the Lunar Standstill, likely guiding religious ceremonies as well as planting seasons. (http://www.chimneyrockco.org/mls.php).

Finally, after our fill of ancient history, we’re back to the “modern” era – a last night at the Strater Hotel in Durango. The Strater is a old west hotel – the Diamond Belle saloon, period furniture and history of unique guests. Louis L’Amour wrote a number of his novels here. We content ourselves with a last night of bridge (we’ve been playing every night and I’ve been getting cards like I’ve never seen before). The hotel graciously finds us a room in the basement to play – wow – it’s filled with green velvet, vintage photos and mirrors – I feel like I’ve wandered onto a an old-west poker movie set. And, there’s a bluegrass band warming up next door. Too cool!

Struggling with a conundrum? Looking for insight? Take a few days off. The answer might be right under your nose….

And if you want insight into the Ancestral Puebloans, you could do much worse than House of Rain, by Craig Childs.

The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen



Mourning the loss of his wife to cancer, Peter Matthiesen joins George Schaller on a trek to Nepal to study the Himalayan blue sheep and in hopes of glimpsing the rare Snow Leopard. His trek will take him from the slums of Varanasi to the roof of the world, both literally and figuratively, in Nepal.

Part contemplative travelogue, part Buddhist primer, The Snow Leopard reminds me often of [Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance], with the constant switching between observant travel writing and the pursuit of deep ideas. But it has a lot more zen than Pirsig’s book. He has a way of writing about Zen that encompasses both the deep philosophy of Zen and the esoterica that surrounds it, but also captures Zen in the daily moment:

My foot slips on a narrow ledge: in that split second, as needles of fear pierce heart and temples, eternity intersects with present time. Thought and action are not different, and stone, ice, sun, fear, and self are one. What is exhilarating is to extend this acute awareness into ordinary moments…for this present – even while I think of it – is gone.

The Snow Leopard is a deep book, by turns joyous, philosophical and melancholy. Matthiesen’s preoccupation with death runs through the book, starting on page 2 as he crosses paths with a dying old man in Varanasi.

The old man has been ravened from within. That blind and greedy stare of his, that caved-in look, and the mouth working, reveal who now inhabits him, who now stares out.

I nod to Death in passing, aware of the sound of my own feet upon my path. The ancient is lost in a shadow world, and gives no sign.

Matthiesen’s writing is evocative throughout. “There are no roads west of Pokhara, which is the last outpost of the modern world; in one day’s walk, we are a century away“. If I measure my interest in a book by dog-eared pages, my copy of the Snow Leopard might be one of my winners. Every 10 pages there’s something I marked when I read it. The book is all omens, dreams, portents, and deep thoughts, interspersed with the day to day minutiae of hiking, wet boots, blisters and snow blindness, together with encyclopedic descriptions of flora and fauna of his trip. He captures the dynamic of being on the trail with someone for an extended duration perfectly. After a particularly exhausting climb one day on a cliff, Schaller says something only mildly annoying, and Matthiesen remarks, not entirely joking one suspects, “How easy it would be to push him over“.

While The Snow Leopard is a book about a journey with an objective (seeing the Snow Leopard), as is usually the case, the journey IS the objective. It is a gorgeous book. If you have any interest in zen, hiking or travel, read it.

A Weekend trip to Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur

Had a weekend free during a business trip to California. I decided to take a weekend road trip down to Monterey. Got up Saturday morning and took highway 17 over the mountains and down into Santa Cruz. Near the summit, I pulled off on Madrone Rd and wandered through the mountain neighborhood of Redwood Estates. Gorgeous views, wonderful Redwoods smell, nice houses and winding near-driveways for roads. Really neat area and made for wandering with the windows down, taking in the mountain air. I followed my nose (and a little bit of Scout, and eventually re-emerged back onto 17.

From there drove down to Monterey, to the Monterey Hotel where was I was staying. Nice hotel, great location, not too pricey, with a bit of a Victorian decor and pleasant folks at the desk. But, Ooomph. 4th floor room, no elevator – beware of that if you stay here. There’s a great coffee shop across the street, Cafe Trieste – spent the rest of the morning drinking good coffee and hacking some code.

I headed down to Cannery Row, I hadn’t been there in about 20 years. It’s been gentrified a lot, some pretty upscale hotels and the usual row of shops. The harbor is right nearby and the obligatory sea-otters were everywhere. I was on my own so didn’t dive into the Monterey aquarium, but if you were there with kids, you’d definitely want to do that. Instead I did lunch at Bubba Gump, of Forest Gump fame. Touristy, but they have great shrimp, Lagunitas on tap, and a great view of the harbor. You could do a lot worse.

After lunch, I went back to downtown area and indulged one of my favorite vices, used bookstores. There are two interesting ones in the downtown area, The Book Haven and The Old Monterey Book Company. Somehow I came away empty handed, but enjoyed a few hours of browsing. There’s a couple of “British” pubs near the hotel, one more British than the other. I had dinner at the “real” English pub, the Crown & Anchor; the food was OK but a good beer selection. I figured I would try the other one to see what was up, the Brittania Arms. It was early Saturday night and the place would seat about 40 people – they had 5 (big) bouncers. Apparently Monterey is a tougher place than I thought. I had a cold beer but there wasn’t much going on, so I went to bed….

Up the morning, had breakfast at the Cafe Trieste. As mentioned, great coffee, and I had the Crab Benedict, it’s awesome. Have it if you go.

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Then I hit the 17 Mile road, perhaps the most beautiful (toll) road in the country. Stop at the Lone Cypress. Gawk at the mansions and the scenery. IMG 3107
Drive through Pebble Beach golf course. You’ll come out the other side in Carmel. Park the car, grab a coffee at the Carmel Coffee House and see the shops. More Art Galleries per capita than any place on earth. (I made that up but it might be true).

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After Carmel I decided go south to Point Lobos, so I headed down the Cabrillo Highway. Amazing coastline. I started seeing signs for Big Sur, and I realized the day was still young, so I decided to abandon Point Lobos and head for Big Sur. (Point Lobos is apparently very beautiful too, so if you’re short of time, stop there). I started getting hungry and started looking for a roadside joint to eat at. In 5 miles or so, I ran into Rocky Point Restaurant, which is not a “joint”, it’s a pretty nice restaurant. It’s got amazing views of the ocean, as it’s nestled right on top of a cliff. Grab a burger or grilled cheese, or something fancy (I had the grilled cheese on focaccio, which was great), then hit the road again.

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Route 1 is absolutely a blast to drive, and stunning to look at. After a gorgeous drive, I got to Big Sur and stopped at the ranger station. As I got out of my car, I was hit with crisp mountain air with a strong aroma of Redwood and Eucalyptus, with just a hint of ocean….amazing. The ranger station was closed, but they had a photo of the relatively unmarked road 1/2 mile to the south that takes you down to Pfeiffer Beach. You’ll take a narrow, winding country road down to the park (there’s pullouts for when cars pass in opposite directions). About 2 miles down is the parking lot – from there it’s a short walk to beautiful beach with a view of the setting sun. IMG 3157
Hang out on the beach for a bit, listen to the waves, watch the sun drop, then hit the road back to northern California. It’s about a 2 hour drive, so you can be back in time for dinner if you want, or stretch it by stopping somewhere along the way for dinner.