Saturday, November 30, 2019

Lanikai Pillboxes

Next up we're doing the Lanikai Pillbox Trail, along Ka'iwa Ridge in Kailua, a suburban beach town on the windward side of O'ahu. You're hiking from close to sea level up to a series of WWII pillboxes along the top of the ridge, so the initial part of this trail is fairly steep. But it's also a very short hike with amazing views, so it's usually packed with people; by some accounts the first couple of pillboxes are the most popular Instagram spot in all of Hawaii. I have no idea whether that's true, or how I'd go about finding out, but it seems at least believable. The trail continues on along the ridge top after the second pillbox, curving away from the ocean, and the crowds quickly thin out after that. I did the full length of the trail, which ends up at a second trailhead on Kamahele St., just outside the gate for one of those gated communities built around a golf course. I did meet a handful of people on this part of the trail, mostly going the other direction, like maybe they were taking the back way to the pillboxes. There was one group of Japanese teenagers that I remember quite clearly, not because of the serious hiking gear they had, or the very polite way they asked me to verify they were going the right way, but because one of them was lugging a boombox along, blaring dubstep of all things. Dubstep has never struck me as ideal hiking music, exactly, but whatever gets you up the hill, I guess.

I haven't seen anyone else remark on this, but there is one spot along the trail where you can (and I did) take a wrong turn. On the map above, see the little kink in the trail where it stops heading south and heads due west to the second trailhead? At that point a side ridge joins on to the main ridge, and it's big enough that an unwary hiker might think it's the main ridge and continue along what certainly looks like a ridgetop trail, albeit not as well maintained as the previous parts of the trail. I think I went a few hundred yards in that direction before checking GPS and noticing I was nowhere near the official trail, and was pointed directly away from it, and decided to backtrack. It was a nice and scenic bit of trail, I have to say; I just have no idea where it goes or how long it is, and the fact that it appears to head straight toward a nearby Air Force base was a real disincentive to go blundering around aimlessly in that direction. I've searched the interwebs since then to see if anybody has at least mentioned this deceptive little side trail, but I haven't come across anything like that so far. If anybody out there knows, feel free to leave a note in the comments below; I'd kind of like to know where I would have ended up if I hadn't had that gut feeling I was headed the wrong way.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Wahiawa Botanical Garden

A photoset from Wahiawa Botanical Garden, in a flash flood-prone ravine in the town of Wahiawa in central Oahu. The town's home to a huge army base & is otherwise surrounded by pineapple and (I think) sugar cane farms, so the garden is one of the very few reasons to visit if you don't live there. Apparently the garden began as a hobby of local plantation oligarchs who had nothing better to do, and eventually the county inherited it & has run it ever since. It's actually a very peaceful & scenic spot, if you can ignore all the signs warning that you might be swept away to your doom if it rains (and it rains a lot here).

Monday, September 30, 2019

Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden

Photoset from O'ahu's Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden, in Kane'ohe on the windward side of the island. It's not actually that amazing as far as tropical gardens go; if you want to go look at some tropical plants exactly once, the Foster Botanical Garden is the place to go. It's also quite car-oriented: It's a long walk from the closest bus stop, and within the park you mostly have to walk along the main road and hope drivers see you in time. Which I guess isn't surprising given that the place began as a 1980s Corps of Engineers flood control project (hence the big lake in the middle, behind a barely-disguised earthen dam.), so aesthetics and visitor-friendliness were not really the main drivers behind the project.

All of that said, I thought it was worth visiting anyway; it sits almost directly at the foot of the Ko'olau Mountains, and it was worthwhile just for the view. If you also think things can be worthwhile just for the view, you'll like this place, otherwise not so much. One surprising detail is what you don't see: There's actually a busy freeway between you and the looming sheer cliffs, along with a couple of golf courses, but somehow you don't see or hear any indication they exist, so maybe the Corps of Engineers gets credit for that particular detail. Or at least I didn't notice any freeways or golf courses. But I live near a busy freeway and am rather good at not noticing freeway noise, so your mileage may vary, I guess. A late great aunt of mine -- who had lived in Honolulu since the early 1930s or so -- once explained to me that the H-3 freeway was not only a pointless waste of money, it was also cursed, and she was determined to never drive on it. She got her wish, in a way, in that construction dragged out literally for decades (wiping out at least one species of bird in the process), and in the end she died of old age several years before the thing ever opened. I am not superstitious by any means, but she was generally a rather wise person, so I've never driven or ridden on the H-3 either.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Lahaina Pali Trail

Here are a few photos from earlier today while hiking Maui's Lahaina Pali Trail (ok, the west half of it), on the dry, windy SW corner of the island. The trail follows the route of a ~200 year old road, as a way of reminding present-day locals that their ancestors had knees and ankles of steel, ascending to about 2/3 of the way up a row of enormous wind turbines.

A couple of quick travel tips:

  • The articles and all of the comments say to bring more water than you think you need. I'm going to go way out on a limb here and tell you that everyone who says this is right. Rule #1 is you need more water. Rule #2 is that, taking rule #1 into account, you still need more water.
  • Standard advice also says to go early, without defining what that means. I am here to tell you that 10am was not early enough.
  • The landscape looks a lot like some arid parts of the western mainland US, places like Oregon east of the Cascades (but hotter and more humid). So I found myself scanning the ground constantly looking for rattlesnakes. I kept reminding myself there are no snakes to look out for, but it hasn't helped yet. Your mileage may vary, so here's your reminder there are no snakes to watch out for here.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Herman Creek & Nick Eaton Ridge

Ok, so next up we're taking a look at a few trails at Herman Creek, in the Columbia Gorge at the east end of the town of Cascade Locks. This is of the lesser-known corners of the Gorge; it doesn't have any waterfalls close to the trailhead, so it gets overlooked. On the other hand, the Eagle Creek fire didn't completely incinerate this area, so the trails are open, while more famous spots like Eagle Creek and Wahclella Falls are still closed indefinitely. I had visited once before sometime in the early 90s, but bailed out early due to a combination of not enough instant gratification, and not having a good map and worrying about getting lost. Going back hadn't been a top priority, but it was open, so I figured it was worth another look. I came away really pleasantly surprised; I keep wanting to describe it as "Eagle Creek without all the waterfalls", if that description even makes any sense. I mean, there are a couple of waterfalls there, albeit not on the main creek, and my plan was to visit both of them, even though this involved a bit of backtracking. Leg one involved most of this route, as far as Pacific Crest Falls, and then backtracking to the Herman Bridge Trail - Herman Creek Trail junction. Leg two starts from there, following the main Herman Creek Trail to Nick Eaton Falls.

That was the original plan, but I was ahead of schedule and didn't feel like going home quite yet, so I added a little side trip on the way back. The trails so far had been fairly flat and mellow, and I decided I was up for something a bit more challenging, so when I got to the junction with the Nick Eaton Trail, I took it and headed uphill. And by "uphill", I mean that the trail gains 2000 feet over two miles, climbing up out of the Herman Creek watershed and onto Nick Eaton Ridge, where the trail sort of flattens out, relatively speaking. The steep part also features a very narrow trail with steep dropoffs most of the way, for a bit of added interest. I was mostly interested in the steep part and the viewpoints toward the top, but I continued along the ridge for a bit just to see what it was like (Mostly burned, unfortunately.) I eventually turned around when I came to a trail junction, as a convenient way to track how far I'd gone, and went back down the same way I came up, which was much easier, and not as scary as I'd expected based on how the trip up went. So let's call this leg #3; if you're following my route for some reason, this leg is even more optional than the first two. It was fairly brutal and I was sore for days afterward, to be honest, but I thought it was fun and I'm glad I made the side trip. Your mileage may vary greatly, of course.

On the initial part of leg #2, the trail is unusually wide and graded like a road, which is because a few decades ago it was a road. This stretch is part of the old Herman Creek Road, which began somewhere east of the present-day trailhead and ended up at Herman Camp, which is still a campground and doubles as a big multi-way trail junction a few hundred feet shy of the Nick Eaton trail junction. So at one point visitors were driving large midcentury cars and trucks all the way up here, on what for them would be a narrow, windy Forest Service road. I can't say I'm surprised they eventually closed the road off. The Oregonian database doesn't indicate there were any gory car accidents along the road (and doesn't even say when the road was finally closed), but the possibility must have been in every driver's mind on the way up and back down. Yikes. All things considered, I'd much rather walk it.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Mount Defiance

Ok, next up we're off to the Columbia Gorge again for a hike up Mt. Defiance, a few miles west of Hood River. This is the highest point in the Gorge at 4960 feet, or at least that's the most common number I've seen, though Wikipedia now says 5010 feet, based on 1988 survey data. Either way, the views near the top are incredible. This is as good a time as any to go page through the Flickr photoset above to see what I mean.

The problem is that the trailhead's basically at river level, about 130 feet above sea level, and reaches the top in under six miles, which should give some idea why the trail's widely regarded as the toughest day hike in the area. I had done this trail once before, about 25 years ago, because I was 23 and it seemed like a good idea, and I wanted to be able to say I'd done it, on the off chance I met someone who'd know or care what I was going on about. I was sore for about a week afterward. It occurred to me recently that it had been a quarter century since I'd done this, and I wanted to know whether I could still do it -- because this is the sort of thought that occurs to you a lot in your late 40s -- and I was annoyed at 23-year-old me for not bringing a camera last time (which would have been a clunky old film camera, because 25 years ago). And truth be told, I did it because I'd originally planned to do the Larch Mountain Trail but left too late, and the Multnomah Falls parking lot was full & closed off when I got there, and for some reason this seemed like a reasonable Plan B. Once again I was sore for about a week, but I pulled it off, and now I'm set for another 25 years or so, I guess.

Anyway, the trail starts at the Starvation Creek rest area off I-84. A short path takes you to Starvation Creek Falls, just steps from the parking lot. It's not really part of the trail to the top, but it seems kind of silly to skip it since it's right there. This is the first of four waterfalls you'll see during the hike, and they're all during the initial part so if you're just interested in waterfalls you can bail out early before things really get ugly. The first part of the trail follows part of the old Columbia River Highway, so it's pancake-flat and recently repaved. Along the way you'll pass Cabin Creek Falls. Eventually you'll hang a left at the "Mt. Defiance Trail #413" sign, and at first it's also flat and paved. There's even a little picnic area with benches, recent signage, and some stonework, and just beyond that is Hole-in-the-Wall Falls, which was constructed back in 1938 (long story). After that, the uphill part begins. Switchback up to the BPA powerline corridor and turn right where the Mt Defiance trail splits from the equally tough Starvation Ridge Trail (which is still on my todo list; I tried it once, a bit before I did Mt. Defiance last time, but bailed out part of the way up). Along this stretch you'll come across Lancaster Falls. It looks kind of puny from this standpoint, but apparently this is just the very bottom of a 250 foot waterfall. That's what the internet says, anyway. It seems that if you want to see the whole thing, your best bet is to pull off at the ODOT weigh station on westbound I-84 and take your photos from there. Note: I have never done this and am just taking the word of internet strangers at face value here. In any case, you will appreciate this waterfall a lot more on the way down, especially on a hot day.

After leaving the powerline corridor, it's time for steep and seemingly endless switchbacks through dense forest, typically with steep dropoffs next to the trail, and a couple of viewpoints so you can confirm that you really are making progress uphill. You're doing all of these switchbacks to get up the side of a ridge, and once you're on top of it the trail flattens out (relatively speaking) for a while, which is the little break that makes the trail tolerable, as far as I'm concerned. Then it kicks back up to Excessively Steep for Excessively Long, but this time you're going straight up along the ridge top, and there aren't any dropoffs next to the trail, so it's physically tough but mentally you can kind of do this part on autopilot. Views are few and far between, but part of the trail passes through the Eagle Creek burn zone, and there will likely be amazing views at some point once some of the dead trees fall over. The burn zone was actually a lot less depressing than it was on other recent hikes, since the forest floor was covered with flowers and other new growth. I'm sure it helped that I visited in late spring instead of midwinter. And maybe I'm slowly getting used to the Gorge's new normal, I'm not sure.

In any case, eventually the vegetation sort of peters out into a rocky area with mostly smaller, gnarled trees. This is the point where you can see forever* (*on a good day, and figuratively, not literally or mathematically) and you can start telling yourself that the last few miles were totally worth it. Looking north you can see Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier in the distance. If you squint a bit, just to the right of Mt. St Helens you can just make out even more snowcapped mountains in the distance, which far as I can tell would have to be the Olympics. This really surprised me; Google says the Olympics are 176 miles away, which seems kind of far, but it's not like there are a lot of other snowy mountains in that particular direction, so who knows?

As you approach the top there's a fork in the trail. As of spring 2019, a temporary US Forest Service sign explains that going straight ahead is the easier trail, and going off to the right is the more scenic route. I hope they continue this on the sign's permanent replacement; it reminds me of the late, lamented "Difficult/More Difficult" sign at a Hamilton Mountain trail junction. I am honestly not sure why there are two trails here; it's a bit late in the process to start picking easier trails, if you ask me. The scenic route curves around the mountain, and for the first time in the whole hike you get amazing views of Mt. Hood to the south, while to the east you can see the entire Hood River Valley and behind it the beige desert country of Eastern Oregon stretches off to the horizon.

At the very top of the mountain, you're in for a little surprise: Radio towers, humming and buzzing, fenced off, with signs warning trespassers to keep out or else, and more signs warning of RF radiation hazards. And then you realize all of this is here because there's a service road to the top, and the crazy thing you just hiked up is somebody's occasional commute. One sign even lists "Top of Mt. Defiance, Cascade Locks OR" as the summit's street address. Still, this makes for some interesting photos, so you do that for a bit but soon realize that horrible little black flies are attacking you, and it's intolerable, and it quickly dawns on you that the journey was the reward, and the real summit was the friends we made along the way, and/or it was in our hearts the whole time, and it's time to head home.

So you can head back the way you came, or take a side trail over to the Starvation Ridge trail I mentioned earlier, or -- as it turns out -- you could take another side trail heading south that goes to a different trailhead, just 1.6 miles away and 1145 feet below the summit. But, I mean, doing it that way is obviously cheating, somehow, and it can't possibly be any fun anyway, plus my city-slicker midsize sedan hates rustic gravel roads, and I'm not about to buy a giant SUV no matter how outdoorsy the commercials are. Sunk cost fallacy? I have no idea what you're talking about.

Anyway, the way down is a lot faster than the way up, but not necessarily easier, since you don't want to go too fast, especially on the sketchy bits with the dropoffs. I am still kind of amazed I didn't blow out a knee or two on this part of the hike, and your mileage may vary, and hiking poles may be really helpful here no matter how goofy they look. You might meet a few people slogging their way up the hill on your way down. I just smiled and kept moving; I was actually kind of worried someone would ask how much further it was to the top, or whether the hard part was over, since there's just no way to be both truthful and encouraging on those questions. Luckily I was just greeted with thousand-yard stares, one after another. Come to think of it, I may have been doing that myself on the way up, since my recollection of the really steep parts is... somewhat less than vivid.

Anyway, I made it down the hill and back home, this time with photos, and have now started wondering whether I need a tent, sleeping bag, and so forth. I mean, I already know I don't have that kind of free time, and I haven't forgotten what the weather's like here 9 months out of the year, but it still has a certain appeal. So who knows.

Friday, May 31, 2019


Next up on our tour of Famous Maui Places is Haleakala National Park, where I had the singular experience of driving from sea level to the top of an enormous 10,000 foot shield volcano and then hiking down into the mountain's wild, eroded crater. The deal with the hike is that it's downhill into the crater, then uphill to get back out, with less oxygen thanks to the altitude, and no familiar landmarks to help judge distance, plus it's always about 30° F colder at the top than at sea level. The usual advice is to budget twice as much time on the way out as on the way in, so I did that, and chose a point to turn around based on that. It turned out that it took me the same amount of time on the way up, I think because I kept stopping to take photos on the way down, so time & distance budgeting was not the exact science I'd been led to believe. Also the altitude didn't seem to bother me at all; the thing that was a problem was the sun. You'll see warnings about this, explaining that you need extra protection due to both the high altitude and low latitude. I thought I had taken extra precautions, but my SPF 30, coral reef friendly sunblock was no match for the sun here, and I got burned a.) through my sunblock everywhere I had sunblock on, and b.) right through my hair, where I didn't think I needed sunblock. I probably ought to have worn a hat, honestly. Which is not something that usually occurs to me, since I've never found a hat that looks good on me, and some years ago I concluded I just don't have a hat head. I couldn't tell you what a hat head is, but I'm quite certain I don't possess one. Still, an ugly hat is better than sunburn. An ugly brimless hat preferably, since it's also really windy at the top. I'll remember next time, and there's going to be a next time, because this time was amazing. Highly recommended, except for the sun part.

There's more to the trail than endless volcanic ash and cinders, despite what most of the photos would lead you to believe. I saw a bunch of the iconic silversword plants on the way, along with a couple of baby nene (an indigenous goose, the official state bird) that I didn't get any good photos of. Nene are often described as flightless, but that isn't strictly true. They're still physically capable of fligh; it's just that they usually sort of neglect to fly, whether out of laziness or sheer stupidity, even when that means getting hit by a car or eaten by a mongoose. Some years ago I narrowly avoided running over a whole group of them at the other national park on the Big Island; I remember they just stood there in the middle road, staring blankly at me, I suppose trying to puzzle out what sort of fellow nene or edible plant my car was. I don't want to sound like I'm blaming them for being critically endangered, and I'm sure they were doing fine before people showed up on their islands; it's just that -- like pandas -- they don't really give off a vibe of vigorously struggling for survival.

Speaking of cars, it's too bad I don't have any photos of my rental car in this photoset. I used to roll my eyes about tourists of a certain age and gender who came to Hawaii and insisted on renting a Mustang or Corvette to zoom around on whatever tiny island they were visiting. It turns out that's not quite how it works. I though I had reserved a nice, practical, reliable Toyota sedan, but the agency took one look at me and I was issued a shiny new silver Mustang instead, no extra charge (beyond the additional gas it drank, obvs.) They even apologized that they were out of convertibles. I quickly realized the whole island was packed with late-model Mustangs and similar midlife crisis cars, most of which (I assume) are rentals. So now I wonder if Ford hands out Mustangs to Hawaii rental agencies at or below cost and writes it off as a promotional expense. I dunno. Not that it was the world's most practical island car, exactly. It's fast in a straight line, but there are only a couple of stretches of flat, straight, mainland-style divided highway on Maui, and they cross the narrow central part of the island and are only a few miles long. On narrow, windy roads I kept thinking a car that wasn't quite as long or wide would be nice. It reminded me a lot of the old 1980 Mercury Capri (a rebadged Mustang) that I once owned. More rumbly and more gadgets, but still with blind spots you could hide an oil tanker in, I suppose because the classic Mustang look and feel requires it. It all felt a little silly, to be honest. Overall I don't think Hawaii has been well served by importing mainland car culture, eating up valuable land with sprawling car-centric suburbs and short (but weirdly congested) freeways. On the other hand, the islands were also not well served by the previous model, in which you built juuust enough infrastructure to meet the needs of colonial-era pineapple and sugar barons, and then stopped, which is why rural roads around the state have so many narrow one-lane bridges even today.

I don't really want to wrap this up yammering about cars, so let me also recommend the park's gift shop at the ranger station, just beyond the main entrance to the park. I mostly stopped to sit in my car for a while as an altitude sickness precaution, but the shop had stuffed animals of various endangered species native to Maui, enabling me to play Cool Uncle again when I got home. I say again because I did this when I went to the Everglades last August, which reminds me that I never got around to posting those photos. I'll probably get around to doing that sooner or later; I swore up and down that I was going to focus on posting new stuff, and while I've been doing that, I haven't been doing it anywhere close to often enough to keep up, such that I now have a backlog of new photos to work my way through. On the bright side, my current software project wrapped up earlier today, so just maybe I'll have a bit more free time in the upcoming few months, and just maybe I'll devote some of it to Ye Olde Humble Blog, versus all the other things I wish I had more free time to do, like reading actual books, or more travel... although that leads to more photos, and me falling even further behind on them. Oh, well. I do the best I can with the time and attention I can spare, that's all I can really guarantee. For blog posts, or anything else, really.