Story by Rufus Kimura
Photos by Nate Yuen
Hawai‘i is a hiker’s dreamland, a place of lofty summits, panoramic views, fine weather and—best of all—no snakes. Trails abound on all the islands. O‘ahu alone boasts well over seventy, ranging from mile-long loops to marathon ridge treks. Kaua‘i is home to the legendary Kalalau trail along the north cliffs while Maui’s Sliding Sands trail traverses the interior of a dormant volcano, and on the Big Island the Mauna Loa Trail will take you to the top of the world’s tallest mountain.
A group of club members hiking from the third peak of Olomana in 2009; scaling the knife-edge peak requires hikers to use ropes. The Olomana hike is one of seventy-two different hikes HTMC members do across the island each year.
Centuries ago the Hawaiians created an extensive network of trail systems both mauka (in the mountains) and makai (at the coast) that were vital links for communication, transportation and travel. Fleet-footed kükini runners—who served as messengers, spies and errand runners—knew the trails best. One legendary kükini, Kane‘aka‘ehu, is said to have been so fast that he carried a fish from Kona to Hilo and arrived with it still wriggling. But with Westerners came horses and then tramlines, and numerous trails were forgotten and reclaimed by the forest. Thickets of uluhe ferns obscured footpaths, which soon became impassable.
In 1910 an East Coast playwright and journalist named Alexander Hume Ford visited the Islands on his honeymoon and—like many since—he never left. While many of his fellow expats were obsessed with amassing land and wealth, Ford spent his days wandering through the mountains and playing in the surf off Waikïkï, and he founded both the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club (HTMC) and the Outrigger Canoe Club. HTMC was created with the express intent to construct and maintain trails, preserve the forest, promote knowledge of the natural world and cultivate an interest in hiking.
Many of the charter members of the HTMC bushwhacked their own trails, painstakingly clearing the brush by hand and lending their names to the finished products. The Castle Trail, for example, that starts in Nu‘uanu and meanders along the Ko‘olau summit ridge before dropping down into Pälolo was forged by HTMC president William Castle. (Castle is ultimately remembered in Hawai‘i, though, more for destruction than creation; he and HTMC vice president Lorrin Thurston played an integral part in the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.)
This year marks a century since the founding of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club, and the organization has grown substantially in the last 100 years. Today the club is home to some 500 like-minded individuals who share an appreciation for windswept bluffs and lush valleys. Once a month, all members who can gather at HTMC’s two-story clubhouse in Waimänalo to swap stories and socialize. The club also maintains trails and leads weekly hikes that—depending on the severity of the climbs—are open to either the public or to members only. HTMC publicizes all of its activities on its website, www.htmclub.org.