Upper Waimano Trail

The Waimano Trail is one of the Na Ala Hele trails maintained by the city / county of Honolulu.  There is an upper and a lower Waimano Trail; the lower is on the floor of a valley, and heds in the direction of a waterfall, and the upper trail mostly stays up on the ridges and heads farther up towards the Ko`olau ridgeline.  The lower trail does link back to and connect with the upper trail, forming a loop and allowing access in the direction of the Ko`olau ridgeline.

This is trail running.  There’s not a lick of cement anywhere along this; no sidewalks, no bike paths, nothing but dirt and the wilds.  In fact, it’s hiking country — it’s not even very good running terrain.  As a hiking trail, it’s probably fair to decent; as a running trail, well, it’s slightly above average.

It’s good, in that it’s shady and features cool temperatures.  It’s good in that some stretches of it are nice and wide with long views of the trail ahead.  It’s good in that it’s a nice climb that it’s a killer. But it suffers for all the roots and rocks and uneven footing. It suffers for the overgrowth that now (JAN 2010) hide the trail itself out past the 3.3 mile mark; the grass and plants are so thing and high, you can make out the general direction of where to go but can’t see the ground well enough to know what your footing will be (it’s described by the country as only being “periodically maintained”).  And it suffers for the thin, thin sections that make swift footed movement a challenge, and it suffers for its mud and slippery surfaces.

This is a route for a Saturday morning 10km run, when all you’ve been able to do is run streets during the week.  It’s a place to go when it’s cloudy without a threat of actual rain.  It’s a place to go when summer is starting to settle in and the temperatures are rising, and you want / need someplace cool to go for sanctuary.  It’s a good 10km running route, and it’s a route that will let you run some as you hike the 15 or 16 miles up to the peak (much less running after the initial 3.3 mile mark). It is not one to run in the rain.

The 10km route — out 3.3 miles and back, all on the Upper Waimano Trail route, I’d give a 7.  Not hard, not in too bad of shape, not too dangerous.  The route I initially did — out and back 6 miles — is a straight up 5;  sure, I do it again, but if there was something better or something else I had not tried, I’d just as soon go do that.

A word of caution.  Not only does this route pose risks from the running surface — you’re very likely to fall off the trail, or trip on something, or encounter aliens — it’s also adjacent to a hunting area.  Between the Waimano Trail and the Manana Trail across the valley is a seasonal hunting area; it’s well worth checking not only the weather forcast for rain / flash flood chances, but also to see if the hunt is on.  A sprained ankle sure ruins a run, but a bullet to the gut would probably be worse.

Oh, and bring whatever you need; there’s no support for this route.  No toilets, no faucets, no nothing.  If you’ve got the trots, this isn’t the run for you.  In 12 miles, I went through my 100 ounces of water.

Here’s the Garmin file (here) and here’s the Google Earth file (here).  Parking is on Waimano Home Road, in Pearl City.  The path is to the left of the gate; you can’t miss it.  There are few signs for the trail along the way, but there’s ample ribbon / tape marking the way.  The Upper / Lower Waimano Trail split happens pretty early on, and the loop itself is not more than a couple of miles total.

Here’s where the trail splits.  Note the chain link fence; the initial part of the Upper trail is run right along the fence and the road.  No, there’s no way to cheat and run the road instead.

There are some stretches of the trail, like this little piece early on in the route, that are downright scary.  This is all of a foot or two wide, with drop offs on both sides — cliff on the right, and water canal on the left.  If you’re sure footed, sure, you can just haul ass right on through this part; those rocks, though, get pretty slick with any moisture.

These two stretches are considered good parts of the trail.  Easy enough to see where you’re going to spot your foot, visibility far enough ahead to keep moving at a decent speed.  This is good running.

And this is bad running trail.  Shoot, this isn’t even good hiking trail.  Any time you need to cling to a rope or wire — and there are several places on this route like that — it’s kind of hard to maintain your running form.  High adventure, sure, but less than stellar running.

And this is the stuff that just plain sucks. Yeah, you can generally see the direction you’re headed, but there’s no way to move at any speed and see where to put down a foot.  It was in sections like this — several times — that I found myself facedown on the ground, hugging the trail, after putting my foot down over the edge and onto nothing.

But mostly it was like this:

Yes, that’s about one meter across, from the wall of the cliff on the right, to where it drops off again on the left.  There’s some trail to see, but not a lot.  It’s not smooth, but instead has lots of rocks and roots and stuff.  You can run, but not at full throttle, not if you want to ensure you don’t go flying off that cliff on the left (those thin trees won’t stop your plummet).

Ko`olau summit

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