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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

A Hike Up Diamond Head

Everyone warned me, but I wouldn’t listen. I mean, it’s a climb of less than 600 feet straight up the side of an extinct volcano, what could go wrong? I’m from Colorado after all, I know how to hike; and 560 feet really isn’t that big of a deal, when it comes to elevation gain. Sure, I thought, I’ll bring a little water, but I don’t need everything else people have told me to take. But, the helicopter rescue I witnessed at the start of my hike made me think twice.

As part of a U.S. Army Coastal Artillery defense system, Diamond Head was designated as an optimal location for gun emplacements in 1904 due to its fantastic panoramic views of the island. Construction on the batteries began in 1908, taking approximately two years to complete. But, well before that – up to four million years to be more precise – volcanic eruptions formed a shield volcano, thus beginning the creation of the island of Oahu and what is now called Diamond Head State Monument.

It was my goal to climb the old volcano on my final full morning on Oahu; the next day I would fly to the Big Island to experience a different part of Hawaii. It was all part of my Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau sponsored trip, most of which was suggested to me based on my interested. And since I was unable to make trail time on my last trip to Oahu, I was keen to do so on my return visit and hit up one of the most well-known trails on the island in the process.

I awoke early, grabbed my stuff, and drove up the small highway to the Diamond Head State Monument. I was the first car turned away, though, since the parking lot was already full – my hike would now begin at least another mile lower in the parking lot of a small community college. I didn’t mind, since it was a beautiful day, as most are in Hawaii, and I had plenty of energy to burn climbing up a volcano.

The oxygen was thick in my lungs – having come from a mile above sea level just a few days before – giving me plenty of jump in my step. I passed hiker after hiker on the road leading to the monument, many of who were already huffing and puffing, tired and likely second guessing their decision to take the longer hike. It was quite the opposite for me; I was pleased at having been turned away at the parking lot, since I was able to extend my time enjoying the park.
As I appeared from the Kahala Tunnel, I could see a helicopter carrying a load on a rope far below its rotating blades; it was just beyond the toll booth where I was turned away. Someone had to be rescued from the trail, likely due to heat exhaustion, as another hiker speculated. It didn’t seem all that hot out yet, at least not to me, and the wind offered a lovely cooling effect. But, everyone takes trails different ways and it is completely likely they turned an ankle and were unable to walk down.
I practically ran up a paved portion of the trail and cut up a series of unpaved switchbacks (above) leading to the top. My legs had plenty of energy that made it possible for me to continually pass one hiker after another, many of who appeared to be regretting their decision to hike to the top of Diamond Head. Only once was I passed, and that was by a man who actually was running up the trail. I had no inclination to go any faster, though, content in enjoying the rocky slopes that I knew would give way to a stunning ocean view at their crest.

It wasn’t long before I came to pair of staircases – separated only by a dark, cramped tunnel – with a total of 225 steep, narrow, and sometimes winding, stairs. The view was worth all of the stooping and wedging between the handrailing and other tourists I had to do, though, as I discovered the reason for Diamond Head’s popularity from inside the uppermost emplacement:
I wasted no time enjoying the view, instead opting to climb through the small opening and out to another trail leading to an observation tower on the summit. It was a quick walk and of no difficulty, considering what everyone had just hiked. Here, basking in the sun and a cool ocean breeze, I drank in my quick accomplishment and, just as I was told, the stunning panoramas of Oahu and Waikiki Beach.
Leaning against a handrailing, gazing out on the island, I smiled in contentment. Whether it was to the sea or out toward Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, I was more than impressed. It was nothing short of spectacular and worth the whole trip in and of itself.
I squeezed back through the emplacements, down the stairs, and hunched through the tunnels, returning to my car past the trailhead. All downhill, the walk was easy; I was thankful for this, since the sun was beginning to gain in strength as it climbed higher toward noon. I didn’t care, though, as I drained my first bottle of water at the trailhead, since I was coming down on my own and not in a helicopter, now understanding why everyone I met recommended so many precautions for such a short trail.

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  1. Remembering My Pearl Harbor Tour | Jason's Travels - December 6, 2012

    […] but I was yearning to more thoroughly explore the structures, something I would do more of on a hike up Diamond Head on another trip to Oahu, and get on over to Pearl […]

  2. The View From Diamond Head | Jason's Travels - May 17, 2013

    […] …is worth all of the steps to the top of the state park. […]

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