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Taking a Hike Up Diamond Head

August 09, 1987|JERRY PAYNE | Payne is a free-lance writer living in Laguna Beach

HONOLULU, Hawaii — The newly opened trail up Diamond Head is a walk in the sun you'll long remember.

This world-famous symbol of Hawaii, which looks like a well-fed lion cooling its paws in the sea, is pictured on three times as many post cards as the beautiful sarong-draped wahines that visitors love to send to the folks back home.

Our guide, Steve Boyle, was a happy and knowledgeable soul who made us feel as if we were starting on a trek through Katmandu.

We met at his "base camp," the parking lot of the Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, which he manages. Boyle was quick to tell us that Robert Louis Stevenson had slept there. He admitted that his climbing experience consisted of conquering every mountain in Iowa, none of which was higher than the family barn.

The lot was a short walk from Waikiki along Queens Beach and Kalalaua Avenue, past swaying palms and bright hedges of yellow and red hibiscus. On this shady street is the Outrigger Club, where there's still reserved parking for the late Duke Kahanamoku, a surfing hero who ranks with royalty.

Walk Not Well Known

The scenic walk up the switch-backing path to the rim of the crater is still not known to many tourists. The Army has kept the area off limits for more than 50 years and just lately has opened it to nature lovers. It is about as primitive as it was when, in a shower of steam and lava, it spouted out of the sea about 150,000 years ago.

Once inside the crater the steep walls rise all around like a giant castle. Twenty football fields would fit in its middle. Barely visible on the 790-foot summit are some abandoned observation posts.

We began our ascent on a wide dirt trail rutty and slippery from its daily diet of rain. As we skidded along, the trail became narrower and steeper and started to switch back and forth.

Suddenly, from around a bend above us appeared a trim woman in faded shorts, an oversize shirt, neatly braided hair, bright blue eyes, a shy smile and scuffed-up tennis shoes. She was carrying a bulging plastic trash bag.

She said hello to Steve and smiled at the rest of us. We stood silently to one side as she went past and out of sight down the trail.

"No one seems to know her real name," Boyle said. "But every Sunday she climbs to the top, and on the way down she picks up whatever junk that hikers carelessly toss away. So everyone calls her 'The Nice Lady.' That's all we know about her."

Single File

We fell into single file along a ridge. The thoughtful Army had put pipe rails on the downhill side. High to the right, the red cliffs were as straight as the sides of a hotel.

Boyle pointed to burial caves scooped out of the steep walls that seemed impossible to reach. Chances are that those burial sites wiped out more gravediggers than the corpses they were tucking away.

To make sure the honored dead weren't lonely, and depending on a chief's rank, a certain number of beautiful maidens were tossed over the same cliffs to keep the men company in the next world.

We made a few more sharp turns and soon were faced by the entrance of a dark and narrow tunnel, which we stumbled through for about 50 yards.

Finally out of the tunnel, we faced 99 steps as steep as a fireman's ladder. Next came a dizzy climb up an inside spiral staircase. From there we panted into the Blue Room, an old observation post. Outside was our reward . . . the summit.

Ocean of Many Hues

Out to the horizon, the Pacific Ocean curved out of a light blue sky. The closer the sea got, the darker it became. Then a few miles offshore it changed to lime green as it bubbled over coral reefs and spent itself with a white curl of foam along the sand.

Over the sea a few high-flying birds practiced hang gliding, while off in the distance small puffs of those special Hawaiian clouds playfully rode the trade winds.

In a long, breathless sweep the view went from Molokai floating out of the mist to Black's Point 1,000 feet below and on past a lonely white lighthouse blinking its message of cheer. Farther on was the forest of hotels along Waikiki Beach.

Beyond Waikiki was Honolulu and the slim spire of the Aloha Tower by Pier 10. One hopes it was still hanging on to fading memories of laughter and tears of days when ocean liners such as the Mariposa and Lurline used to dock there as ukuleles played and lovely hula hands waved welcome and goodby to paradise.

But this view was ours alone in all the world. If it could be wrapped as a gift, it would be the perfect present for someone you loved.

Walking back down the trail, someone said: "I feel like a whale watcher who has spotted triplets. You never know if you'll see its likes again."

Back at base camp, Boyle presented each of us with a certificate that made us members of the Diamond Head Climbers Hui (club).

My number is 2073.

Diamond head and its trails are maintained by the state and open to the public at no charge. No guides are necessary. If a hiker desires a complimentary certificate of his climb, contact the Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel at (808) 923-1555.

For further information, contact the Hawaii Visitors Bureau, 3440 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90010.

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