My alarm goes off. Not the electronic squawking one that annoys me into greeting a new day, but the internal one that makes me lumber off my bed, bumping into walls as I feel my way to the bathroom. Before returning to the warmth of my covers, I grab for my cell phone, force an eye open and manage to make out that it’s 4:30 a.m. Sounds like the perfect time to climb a mountain! That’s really what goes through my mind, as I’ve been enthused by the latest nighttime hiking craze. The cover of dark is full of perks: it’s cool outdoors, with limited trail traffic. There’s no chance of sunburn, so you don’t need to bring a hat or to lather yourself with sunblock. It’s a peaceful time that naturally induces reflection, without the buzz of day interrupting.
The thoughts foment into a coffee-like rush and before I know it, I’m shuffling out the door with my headband flashlight and camera. I glide over the Pali, park off a dead end road by a trailhead in Lanikai and am surprised by 3 other cars relieving themselves of a dozen passengers equipped for hiking. As I said, this hike-in-the-dark thing is a craze, and when it comes to a Hawaii sunrise, well, apparently Diamond Head isn’t the only place crammed with early risers eager for a vision of those golden rays as they first peak over the horizon.
I hurry past the elderly bunch as they begin the tough ascent up the steep, dusty, rocky path to Lanikai Pillboxes (WWII bunkers) at the top of Ka‘iwa Ridge. One lady grumbles, “This better be worth it,” as she grabs onto a rope and heaves herself forward. I don’t even need my flashlight as I nimbly billy-goat my way up the hill. I’ve done this trek many times before in the daytime, and the rope that dangles from tree to tree up the hillside, acting as a railing, really helps. It’s definitely worth it, I think to myself. An early morning hike alone is worth anyone’s while, and in lovely Lanikai … There’s not much better hiking anywhere on the island ? it’s a fast jaunt to the top, and in the light of day, the view of the sparkling ocean is unparalleled.
Within 20 minutes I’m at the peak, sitting on a pillbox, watching a slew of fellow devotees, who have also abandoned the sandman in favor of the pilgrimage to worship the glorious Hawaiian sun, work their way along the trail. I’m plenty early and use the time to savor the network of lights glowing across Lanikai, Kailua and Kaneohe towns, turning them, from this distance, into a miniature magic-land. All the while, a chilly wind whips over me.
The first hint of silver begins to line the clouds at 6:30 a.m. and all along the path are silhouettes standing transfixed, cameras at attention. I drink in the beauty as the pale sun illuminates a purple sky and gradually turns more and more fiery. Soon the horizon is a furnace of red and orange. As the molten orb climbs, it’s theatrical display mellows, and the crowd comes to life, filing into a line along the trail, retracing their way back to their cars.
I choose to continue along the loop that follows the ridge line, past a second pill box, through a parched landscape of myriad stunted, spindly, green-less trunks. As I come to a final peak, I look out at the vivid blue waters, so clear you can see the reef. Just off the shoreline sits the twin Mokulua islands. It’s a picture-perfect vista.
The descent is a tough scramble down crumbly rock, with not much to grab onto as you slip and slide your way to the street. It’s nearly a mile’s walk through the sleepy neighborhood back to the car, but I take a detour, and walk the few yards to the beach, find a spot in the shade, smile in happy repose, and, even as the morning’s warmth spreads across the beach, I greet my sandman.
TRAIL: Ka‘iwa Ridge Trail (or Lanikai Pillboxes) LENGTH: 1 mile round-trip? to the pillboxes, or a 3- to 4-mile loop HOW TO GET THERE: From Waikiki, get on the H-1 Freeway heading west. Take the Pali Highway (Hwy 61) exit and follow it as it becomes Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy 72), and then becomes Kailua Road (Hwy 61). As the road forks, veer right to stay on Kailua Road, and then turn left just after Kailua District Park to stay on Kailua Road. When the road dead-ends into S. Kalaheo Avenue, turn right and follow the road as it curves along the shoreline. At a fork, veer right onto Aalapapa Drive, and right again onto Kaelepulu Drive. Park on the right side of the road just after the entrance to Mid-Pacific Country Club. The trailhead is across the street, between two houses.