Cuckoo for Koko Head

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Koko Head Crater Trail, long has it been on my bucket list. Dubbed the stairs of death, I now understand why. With 1000 steps (could it only be that many?) and an elevation gain of almost 1000 feet, I was not prepared for what was in store. I’m not a hiking expert, but neither am I new. Having hiked the back way to the Haiku Stairs and two of the three peaks of Olomana I really thought this would be a walk in the park. After only 15 minutes of continuous ascension, my stamina gave out. Eventually I made it all the way up and down and it was completely worth the challenge!

The “steps” are what’s left of the tram the military used to haul supplies to the top of the crater for the pillboxes during World War II. The ties themselves are as disintegrated as you would expect after 75 years. There have been some cinder and wood blocks set in places where the ties are entirely missing, but otherwise the trail is not maintained. When I imagined stairs I thought of the typical seven inch rise to my second floor. Not so. I stretched, climbed and scrambled over the wood beams. There were places the incline was so steep I used the rail to hoist myself up. Nothing technically hard, just exhausting.

I soon realized many of my fellow sojourners were making stops along the way. There

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were several groups with whom we played leap frog on the way up. Not only did the regular stops allow my husband and I to catch our breath, we could take in the views and some water. Unlike many hikes I’ve done, this one really requires continual focus on the stairs ahead. So unless we stopped, we really couldn’t fully appreciate the hike. I’m more of a “journey” traveler than one fixated on the destination. So just slogging up a tram track isn’t much fun. But the views are beautiful and the trail is unique, so the stops were not only necessary but enjoyable. A side note about water: Whatever you plan to take, double it. We went on an overcast day in the spring and guzzled almost three 16 oz bottles each, and could have used more.

Just over half-way, when I felt like I was dragging 10 pound weights on each leg we came to the tressle. An open bridge that

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spans roughly 100 feet with what I’m told is a 40 foot drop. I can’t confirm, but it looked far enough that a fall would ensure a serious injury. We tiptoed and balanced across it going up, but we did see others taking a side trail around. We took advantage of that on the way down and made better time. Anyway, I’m not sure my legs would have carried me across on our return.

The top is beautiful, breezy and big. Plenty of room to explore, climb and rest. We found the motor used to bring the carts of supplies when the tram was used as well as a number of structures. The historic novelty, unique “trail” and pretty views at the top made it worth the exertion. Not to mention the humbling of my perceived hiking aptitude.

Crowd-Free Enjoyment

  • As there is really only one way up and down, this hike requires either going super early, or getting to know fellow pilgrims.
  • At the top there’s enough room to spread out and enjoy solitary scenery.
  • Though I’ve not tried it, I’m told the sunrise from Koko Head Summit is spectacular. And presumably less busy.