The Moanalua Valley Trail
The Moanalua Valley Trail is 9.3 mile long trail that then continues further into the Haiku Stairs, aka the famous “Stairway to Heaven”. We were able to reach the peak of the Moanalua Ridge, which we claimed as our victory as we had to come to our senses and realize continuing the hike any further was too dangerous. We knew we were probably within about a half of a mile from the stairs, but with extremely limited visibility, and knowing we would have to return through the near 3ft deep trenches we faced.
There’s two things that seems to be a constant for the hiking situations Brandon and I get ourselves into. One is that without fail, for every “serious” hike we do, it rains. Not just a drizzle, typically a nice downpour, often including high winds. This hike definitely would’ve went smoother without the weather we faced, but alas, we try to follow the motto #NoBadWeather. The second thing that seems to be consistent in the hikes we chose is that we aren’t really “qualified” to do them. The Moanalua Valley Hike is rated by AllTrails as Hard and says in its description “only recommended for very experienced adventurers”. What defines a very experienced adventurer? We tend to get 75% of the way into these hikes and say to ourselves “How did we end up here?”. No matter if the hike is biting off a little bit more than we think we chew, we always go into it with a mind-over-matter mentality and know that quitting is not an option. I wonder how many of these “very experienced adventurer only” hikes we will conquer before we see ourselves actually falling into that category.
The Moanalua Valley Trail in the parking lot of small park with a playground in the back of residential neighborhood. It is a very misleading and not intimidating start to what the rest of the trail holds. As soon as you get past the first 100ft or so from the parking lot, you are instantly transported into a rainforest paradise.
It’s lush, green scenery for all far as you can see. The trees are huge, and you can just feel their power, being able to sense how long they’ve been there and all they’ve been through. There are vines hanging from nearly every tree and leaves nearly half our size.
The trail continues through rainforest for about 2-3mi before it starts climbing up the mountain. We had a lot of fun on that stretch, but even that was no walk in the park. It had rained a little bit every day for the past 4 days, so even though the skies were clear at that point, the ground was still saturated. We had to find the best way around pits of mud (and quicksand), trying to avoid mud filled shoes before we even reached the mountain.
There were also lots of areas on the trail where their was a creek overflowing the pathway. Some had plenty of rocks spread across we could jump over, and some not so much. We realized it was going to be impossible to keep our feet dry. Even though there was rocks would could’ve thrown down to aid us across the flowing water, its important to remember to leave no trace, as we have no idea what impact a partial damn would cause in that forest.
When we reached the point to start going up, it started off pretty simple. There were some uphill spots but they weren’t too muddy, and there were lots of roots to use for support. At this point, the weather was still holding up, but it was starting to get cloudy.
The trail then continues onto the ridges of the mountains. It gets very narrows and we pretty much have to continue single file for the rest of the way up. The views were beautiful from what we could see, but eventually the clouds came in and all we could see was gray.
The ridge of the mountain the trail follows is about two feet of dirt across, with another few inches of grass or brush on each side, followed by a steep drop. It was actually probably better for us to have a clouds reducing our visibility, or else the height factor may have spooked me a bit. The ridge has some areas surrounded by trees, but the further you hike, the less trees there are, and the narrower the path gets.
Somewhere along these ridges the rain came. We just thought “of course, it wouldn’t be a normal hike for us if it didn’t rain.” So we trekked on. And then the wind began to pick up. We definitely didn’t have to worry about getting hot on the trail, that’s for sure.
Probably about a mile or so up the mountain, we came in contact with the first and only other hikers we saw on the trail. It was two Australian women, probably about our age, maybe a little older. They were heading away from the peak, but we quickly learned they never reached the top. They told us how it eventually became a straight climb up the mountain and was too dangerous with the rain and mud. You would think this would be a sign for us to consider doing the same, but we were determined to keep going and knew that if we were going to have to quit that we had to do so on our own accord.
They were right, the hike definitely got steeper uphill, and the weather progressed in the negative direction. We started to reach point where there were ropes attached to trees or bolted into the mountain to assist hikes. They definitely did their job. Especially in places that were essentially walls at a 75 degree angle.
The trail becomes steep incline, followed by a stretch of ridge, and repeat. At this point, its raining steadily, and the winds are extreme. Something we learned is that gravity laws are compromised on top of a mountain and that wind in a certain direction and makes for uphill rain. As in rain coming from below us at a diagonal, following up from the angle of the mountain. I know it sounds unrealistic, but it happened, I promise. The other crazy phenomenon we came across was facing what we determined to be about 30mph winds while walking across a 2ft wide trail with thousand foot drops on either side. I can’t count how many times there were that we literally had to crouch down and grab onto the nearest shrub to stabilize ourselves waiting for some serious gusts to finish blowing through. At this point we started to realize “maybe those girls were onto something, this is pretty sketchy.” But still we continued.
The further along we got the more literal “climbing a mountain” became. There were spots where it was literally both hands on the rope, and both feet on a vertical side of the mountain. Very close to the peak there is a spot that is the longest stretch of vertical climbing we came across. It is only rock and dirt and is pretty darn close to being at a 90 degree angle. That spot was where I was most proud. I thought to myself “An amateur hiker from suburban Baltimore, literally climbing the side of mountain, nearly 3,000 feet in the air. That’s badass.”
After a few false summits, we saw what we knew was the real peak. And we persisted, and we made it. It had the official marker and everything. 3,051ft, we had made it. I’m sure the views were breathtaking, but instead we got a wall of gray as our backdrop. Caked with mud on our hands and up to our thighs, we were filled with a sense of accomplishment. We took a chance to hydrate and eat a granola bar before attempting to reach the haiku stairs.
We knew they had to be close, and we wanted to reach them so badly. It was a destination we dreamed about since finding them on Tumblr together, back in 2012. We started down the next stretch of muddy mountain, and we faced with trenches that we deeper than knee height. It was still rainy and windy, and climbing in and out of these trenches seemed daunting. We came to our senses and realized that we needed to not push our luck too far, the conditions were becoming too dangerous.
Everything that we had just climbed up in the rain, we would also have to climb back down. Still in the rain and wind. And with double the mud that was there in the first place. We thought coming up was hard but man, coming down had it beat. Everything had to be done with extreme caution because a misplaced foot on the slippery mud could send you down the mountain.
I have to give an immense amount to credit to Brandon. He is the perfect hiking partner. He would test every rope and the downward conditions first, being there with encouraging words and a helping hand (or leg to use as a extra step down) to make sure I got down safely.
That being said, I can not even begin to count how many times I fell to my butt coming down this mountain. Due to the thick mud, all of the tread on our shoes was covered and worthless. We were essentially descending a 3,000ft mountain in slippers at this point. To avoid the impact of falling and to avoid the wind, we stayed as close to the ground as we could, pretty much crab crawling down a huge stretch of it.
Once we got out of the super steep areas, the skies began to clear and visibility opened up a little bit. We were able to stop and take in the views we worked so hard for, and then get our butts off that mountain. The next mile or so was filled with laughter as we were probably becoming delirious from exhaustion. When getting off the mountain, the first thing you come to is a creek of clear, fresh water about two feet deep. We took a quick break to wash the mass amount of mud off of us to continue.
The next two-ish miles of rainforest seemed so much longer than they did when we started. The rivers were even more overflowing now, but at least at this point we were long past the point of having worry about having wet shoes. The mud was less daunting to us too and we just trudged through, so ready to rest.
The 10mi hike took us about 8 hours total, starting at approximately 8:30am and getting back to the car at 4:30pm. No doubt that the weather made this hike even more extreme than it should've been. We probably could've done it in about 6 hours otherwise, and would have been way less exhausted. It wasn't the hike itself, but the mud and the wind were our biggest pitfalls. Rainy and windy or not, this hike is not for the faint of heart. Maybe the conditions were too dangerous and maybe we should've called it quits before going as far as we did, but even after all the mud, the scares, the scrapes, and the falls, we still both agree that the Moanalua Valley Trail was 100% worth it.