Manana is one of those demon trails that whipped me when I first began hiking. I remember that first attempt when I aspired to reach the summit, only to turn back, stricken with huge blisters on my heels, exhausted, on the verge of near collapse in the heat and humidity of that summer day, humbled and humiliated, promising myself I'd try again. It comes as no surprise that Manana kicked my butt that first time, for it is a tough five miles of ups and downs, eroded slopes, occasional narrow segments, low-grassed windswept meadows, overgrown sections of uluhe, and mushy bogs.
I kept my promise to myself, and a month or two after that first failed try, I made it to the top. In the years that followed, I've hiked Manana other times, mostly for maintenance work with the Trail and Mountain Club but occasionally on my own to test lungs and legs and heart.
This morning I hiked the trail for the latter, arriving at the Komo Mai Drive trailhead a few minutes before eight. While many on Oahu still lay in bed, I readied myself to hike, taking off my slippers and putting on wool socks, New Balance trail runners, and gaiters. In my pack were food and three and a half liters of water. Feeling energetic, I set off, pausing for a minute to sign my name on the register in the hunter/hiker check-in mailbox by the trailhead. I noticed that four others had already signed in, probably hunters since parked nearby were three trucks with the recognizable hunter accessory--metal rack/cages in the bed.
The weather forecast for the day indicated humidity and rain were likely. While I have no aversion to humid, rainy hiking, I prefer a dry trail and cool conditions. While today was never cool, I've hiked in steamier and more scorching circumstances. And while the trail wasn't totally dry, it was far from a mudbath.
The first section of Manana passes along a paved road leading to a water tank. During this initial stage, I focused on establishing a rhythm while tuning in to the feeling in my legs, to my breathing, and to any discernible tweaks I felt. I've recently been experiencing pain in my left shoulder, perhaps a rotator cuff malady or maybe a tendon pull or something else, for the shoulder is a complex joint and problems with it are sometimes difficult to diagnose, or so I've been told by those who know such things. A dull ache was still present this morning when I began hiking, and I hoped the activity would flush blood into the area, helping it to heal or dulling the pain or doing something beneficial. I also realized that I could do something to cause more damage.
Hopeful that I wouldn't do anything to make the shoulder worse, I moved in good rhythm through the first two miles of the trail, passing a couple of brown & yellow directional arrows signs, the down-trail to Waimano Pool, a sign for mountain bikers about an upcoming dismount zone, a lone male hiker stopped to inspect a plant, and a picnic shelter, complete with table and identifying sign, #15 to be exact.
Rhythm-maintaining short, quick steps were what I concentrated on as I faced the first significant climb of the morning. I dubbed this 2.5-mile hill because midway up the grade is the marker, actually the halfway point of the route if--and it's a big if--the 5-mile marker at the summit is to accurate.
Mauka of 2.5-mile hill, as I crested out another pu'u, there was sound of running water coming from the gulch to the west. Scanning for the source of the sound, I spotted a small waterfall and flowing stream, things I'd seen just once before on Manana, and that was on a rainy day and not a clear, warm one like today. I deduced that it must have rained here the night before or maybe in the early morning hours.
The pu'u used as a helipad is, if I recall correctly, between markers 3 & 3.5. Today, I stopped to rest and refuel at the pu'u, a place I once camped with my friend Bill Melemai. That campout was something to remember, for a military chopper--its interior and exterior lights off--hovered 100 feet over us for a couple of minutes on that dark night. We surmised the crew was on a training run and using see-in-the-dark gear, and we hoped the chopper wasn't trying to land and aborted because of our presence there. We never were sure what was up with it.
From the helipad to the summit, the trail became damper and mildly overgrown but nowhere was the path totally obscured. In fact, I had no problem seeing where I was putting my feet. More big hills stood in the way during the summit push, and I kept plugging away at these, trying to maintain the rhythm I'd established from the start. Meanwhile, the nagging little ache in my shoulder never worsened but it never went away either. I just had to deal with it.
Between markers 4 and 4.5, the final approach to the summit comes into view. I was surprised that clouds hadn't covered up the crest by now. Maybe just maybe I'd luck out and top out and have a view of the windward side.
No such luck, however. I arrived at the summit, establishing a strange standoff with a huge bank of clouds damming up just to windward. I had no view of the windward coast, but everything to leeward was open and visible, for the clouds just hung on the windward side of the crest, stopping right there.
It was too early for lunch, so after a few minutes to rest and to call my sweetheart Jacqueline, who made me promise to be careful while she dined on orange juice and waffles at some faraway Zippy's, I re-shouldered my pack, grabbed my hiking pole, and headed down the mountain with the goal of eating lunch at the helipad pu'u.
The return leg to the helipad went without a problem, but since it was still too early for lunch, I decided to continue hiking and stop at the best available spot when noontime arrived. On my way, I came upon an older couple resting along the trail. With a sandwich in one hand, the wife had in her other the Oahu trail bible (i.e. Stuart's book), and upon seeing me she asked how far it was to the helipad. I gave her an estimate of a half hour, and she thanked me.
Noontime arrived as I reached the top of hill 2.5, and I found a flat, shaded spot to sit down to eat my cottage/tuna/curry glop. Though I wasn't ravenously hungry as I often am during midday hiking lunchstops, I still managed to eat all the food I'd packed. Feeling dehydrated, I drank a liter and a half of water, all that remained in my platypus container. I probably had a half liter or so left in my algae-laced camelback (yum!),
After a fifteen-minute lunch stop, I was on my feet again to finish the hike, the day still sunny and muggy with no hint of pending rain. I hiked the remainder of the trail, still keeping a good rhythm and passing a couple local 20-somethings just makai of the picnic shelter, a group of four who just completed the climb of cardiac hill from Waimano Pool, and a group of local teenagers who'd been picking up trash along the first mile. After hiking alone for several hours, I was glad to see all these folks.
I was also glad to see my vehicle at the end of Komo Mai, for after slipping out of the dirty gaiters, socks, and shoes, I was back in my slippers and back in the vehicle for the 30-minute ride home to Kaneohe where waiting for me were a shower, a meal, and an afternoon of watching the UH Warriors win the NCAA volleyball title on TV.