Friday, March 7, 2014

Climbing Diamond Head: A Pictorial Review

What motivates you?

When faced with life’s challenges, it’s interesting to me to see what motivates people to push on…to go beyond what they think they are capable of…to rise above (perceived, in most cases) obstacles and reach their goals….

Way, way back in college, I always found motivational psychology extremely fascinating…if I’d pursued my career in psychology, the study of motivation would have been the avenue I would have gone down. What does it take to get people to do something they don’t necessarily want to do?

Is it the promise of fame? Of fortune? An intrinsic reward, perhaps? Or possibly it’s not a reward at all, but fear that motivates someone – fear of being ridiculed if they DON’T meet the challenge…?

What motivates you?

Recently, while visiting Hawaii and faced with a personal challenge of hiking up Diamond Head, I discovered what motivates me…and it’s probably not what you would think.

Diamond Head…the most recognized landmark in Hawaii. It was believed to have been formed about 300,000 years ago during a single, brief volcanic eruption, leaving behind an example of what scientists call a “tuff cone.” It got its Western name in the late 1700s, when explorers visited the island and mistook the calcite crystals on the crater for diamonds.

It’s now an official state monument, and offers visitors from around the world an opportunity to hike the trails to it’s summit. From the trailhead to the top, the hike is .8 mile one way, and climbs 560 feet from the crater floor. Although it’s not a particularly lengthy hike, the trail follows an uneven and steep terrain requiring caution – especially when the rocky slopes are wet, either from rain or dew.

It was a beautiful sunny Saturday morning in February that I decided to give this hike a try. I had NOT climbed Diamond Head on my previous trip to Hawaii, a decision I had ever since regretted. With my new mantra of living life with no regrets, I knew I would not miss out on this experience for this trip. I was doing it.

My hotel was a good distance away from Diamond Head, so I knew I needed transportation to get to the trailhead. One option was to take the public bus, but I had heard that the bus parks a good distance from the trailhead, which could add another mile (or two) to an already long hike. After some research, I ended up booking a guided tour, which included transportation, through Oahu Nature Tours. For a cost of $27, I had pick-up/delivery from my hotel, bottled water, and a guide that would point out sites of interest during the hike, as well as supplying lots of history and trivia, which I devour like candy.

Promptly at 9:00 am that morning, Rana, our guide for the day, pulled up at my hotel in her mini-bus. A native Hawaiian (which is rare, it seems!), she was spunky, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable about all things Hawaiian. Right from the get-go, I knew we were in for some fun times. At her invitation, I hopped up in the shot-gun position in the bus, and we quickly made two more stops along the way, picking up a grand total of five additional people for our hike.

As we were maneuvering through Honolulu-traffic, which can normally be a nightmare, but wasn’t too God-awful bad on a Saturday morning, Rana gave a brief overview of the hike we would be doing. She mentioned that there were three separate sets of stairs: the first set at 74 steps; the second flight at a more difficult 99 steps; and an easy metal spiral staircase of about 30 steps.

And here’s where I got nervous.

I hate climbing. I especially hate climbing stairs. What if I got too winded and couldn’t finish the hike? She then mentioned the rocky, slippery terrain, which caused even more anxiety…what if I slipped? (I’m prone to do that, due to my Queen of Klutziness title). Seeing the anxiety on my face, since I’m pretty terrible at masking my emotions, Rana quickly tried to assuage my fears.

“You’ll be fine,” she promised. “We’ll go at a pace that is comfortable to everyone.”

Taking a deep breath, I took a look around the van to see if I was the only one who was having doubts about their ability to make the trek…and soon realized that I was the youngest person in the van. Yikes. THAT sort of put things into perspective. And if that wasn’t enough, it dawned on me that one of the ladies was using a cane.

Yes. A cane.

And she was going to climb Diamond Head.

Um. Okay. THERE’S my motivation to not fail.

Dad gummit, if an elderly lady with a CANE can climb a volcanic cone, then by golly, I CAN, TOO!

Hey. Whatever it takes.

Arriving at the parking lot, Rana passed out water bottles…and then insured that everyone had a backpack and was ready to make the climb. I had brought my own backpack, but if you didn’t have one, she was quick to loan you one that the company provides. Removing some “dead weight” from my backpack, I packed just the essentials: water, Trail mix, and sunscreen…along with my iPhone/camera.

Ready or not…here we come. (Remember - if you want to see any of these photos up close, or larger - just click on the photo and it will enlarge.)

Rana points out our ultimate goal…climb. Climb really high. Climb to that point. EEP.

The trail starts on a paved path, before climbing several steep switchbacks leading up to the first set of stairs. The pavement quickly gives way to dirt, and then to rocks. Lots of rocks. Sharp, slippery rocks. BE SURE TO WEAR GOOD HIKING SHOES, as it was definitely treacherous in places. The poor souls wearing flip-flops were quickly regretting their poor choice in footwear, trust me.

This is the "dirt" section of the trail…. This wasn't slippery, but could be muddy, if it's recently rained….

The trail is narrow…very narrow. For most of the hike, it’s a single-file line of folks trudging up, just leaving enough room for the single-file line of folks gingerly making their way down.

The ants go marching one by one…hurrah…hurrah...

More ants…do you see them???!!

You can only hike as fast as the person in front of you, but every so often, there would be enough trail space that the faster hikers could quickly pass the slower ones before merging back into the single-file line. At this point, I have to say that I was pretty darned impressed with Carol…the lady with the cane. She was hiking along at the same pace as everyone, not causing any kind of a slowdown behind her.

Showing how narrow the path can be….

Up, up, up we went…stopping every so often to catch our breath, or to enjoy an occasional lookout point, taking photos of the beautiful countryside surrounding us.

So far, so good…I'm still smiling…!

At one point, we had to go through a very long – and very dark – tunnel (225 feet long), which is NOT good when you’re claustrophobic. As long as the line of hikers keeps moving, it’s okay…but if the line should come to a dead stop…such as it did on our way back down, for no apparent reason…it can be FREAKY. Being trapped…in the dark…with a mountain of earth and rock above my head…is NOT exactly pleasant. After two minutes of not moving, I was pretty much in full hyperventilation mode…but fortunately, Rana was there to "talk me off the ledge", and soon we were moving again. Whew. Panic attack averted.

Ugh. I hate tunnels.

It's right after you exit the tunnel that you come face-to-face with the 99 steps. However, there's good news: there's an alternative, if you want to skip these…an alternate, winding path that will allow you to avoid the stairs. As a team, we took a vote and decided to go for the stairs - wanting to push ourselves to the limit. Carol was just as eager to do the stairs, so we gave her a bit of a head-start, and we followed behind….

Carol is the lady in blue…about mid-way up….

Here's some photos from the bunkers:

Before I knew it, we were at the summit…along with 10,000 other tourists, all clamoring to get the perfect photos of Waikiki Beach below. Okay, perhaps I’ve slightly exaggerated on how many tourists were actually at the top – but it was definitely crowded.

And it was definitely awesome.

To make it even more awesome, I witnessed a marriage proposal at the very top. During the proposal, about 9,000 other tourists whipped out their cell phones and began recording the event…but I thought that might be a big creepy/stalkerish, since I didn't exactly KNOW these people. So, I waited until we were making our way back down the mountain, and then I snuck in a photo from behind them, because that’s not creepy/stalkerish at all. Hee.

In case you weren't sure if you were at the top, they have thoughtfully posted a sign telling you that it's time to go back. You're done.

We spent about 20 minutes at the summit, before gingerly making our way back down. All too soon, it was over.

I had climbed Diamond Head.

And so had Carol, the lady with the cane. She made it ALL the way to the summit, not letting stairs, slippery rocks, or impatient climbers behind her get in her way of her goal. She was awesome, a true inspiration.

I was back at the hotel by 12:30 that afternoon, hot, sweaty and ready for a well-deserved and well-earned refreshing dip in the ocean. Which was pretty darned awesome, as well.

Check out these AWESOME graphics, where a guy named Mark Heringer mapped out the actual hike, using an app on his phone:

I took his graphic and then added some information to be helpful…

You can see that by taking the public bus, you will be adding quite a bit of a walk to an already LONG hike…

Tips for Climbing:
1. Go EARLY in the morning, as it will get HOT, HOT, HOT. Most of the trail is not covered, so you will be exposed to the elements – and the sun. Wear sunscreen - wear a hat.
2. Wear GOOD walking/hiking shoes. The trail is slippery and rocky.
3. Use a comfortable backpack to carry your water and snacks, keeping your hands free for balance.
4. The path/trail will get more crowded as the day progresses. Go early and beat some of the crowds.
5. Take your time and enjoy the views as you climb. No need to rush – it’s not a race. It’s a beautiful journey to be savored and enjoyed.

I'm checking this off my Bucket List, but due to the fact that it was so enjoyable, I'll probably make a point of climbing Diamond Head on all future trips to Honolulu…even if I'm walking with a cane.



1 comment:

Robbin King said...

I've climbed Diamond Head twice it never gets old. Such a beautiful sight at the summit