Driving into the Ahupua’a ‘O Kahana State Park, it was overcast, but the surroundings were beautiful. We were in high spirits, anticipating a short tropical hike with a fresh-water swim. We stopped at the Visitor Center where we were greeted by a Hawaiian woman who was full of aloha and smiles. Once on the porch of the Center, we met Lance who beckoned us inside the small house. He showed us a few Hawaiian artifacts and explained their use and how they were made. After chatting for a while, we signed the Visitor Center guest book and looked at the posted maps and read the information about the flora and fauna we would encounter on our hike. We learned that Kahana Valley is the wettest valley on the island of Oahu. I read the warning to always stay on the trail so as not to get lost. I’m not an extreme adventurer. I would NEVER go off a trail. I grabbed a flyer with a map of the Nakoa Trail with additional guidance and information. Lance gave us the directions to the trailhead and where to park. So we started our hike doing everything right. We were prepared, responsible and positive.
We set out on our adventure to explore the 3.5 mile Nakoa Trail. Lance said it shouldn’t take us more than 2.5 hours. We were laughing and giggling as we drove off, looking forward to a great little hike. Our enthusiasm wasn’t hampered by the misty, gray day. After parking in the designated area, we went up a road that had a few rural-style homes.
It was quiet, with only the sounds of forest birds and the rain drops landing on the thick vegetation. At the trailhead, you can go left or right. It’s a loop, so it doesn’t really matter. But I wanted to go left because I had read about a swimming hole that was very close to the trailhead if you started in that direction. And sure enough it was a short walk to the river pool where we encountered three young people playing and swinging on a rope with a tire on it.
We already had our swim suits on underneath, so we shed our hiking clothes and went in for a swim in the clear water. It felt refreshing even though it was a cool and cloudy day. The water was a comfortable temperature, not too cold. We swam, snapped some photos and enjoyed the tranquility of this nice little pool and then decided it was time to get on with our day. Very soon into the hike we were we met with deep mud. My first thought was “Hmm…maybe we shouldn’t do this hike today, it is unbelievably muddy.” I didn’t want to say it out loud because we were there, it had been an hour drive from town, and I didn’t want to be a wimp. So let’s just do this!
After about an hour on the Nakoa trail, I decided I didn’t want to do this trail again for lack of any “openness.” There were barely any views due to the dense rain forest under a thick canopy of trees. The mosquitoes were off the charts! Mia was prepared with repellent, which we brought out quite a few times. But still they buzzed around our ears all day. Interestingly enough, almost every forest hike I’ve been on and read about, mosquitoes have always been mentioned. But up until yesterday, I had never seen any on a hike. At first we gingerly tried all kinds of tactics to get around the mud, but eventually we gave up and just trudged straight through, sometimes up to our ankles. Occasionally the mud was covered with Lauhala leaves and was squishy under our feet. We were in a great mood. This was just a different type of hiking experience to put under our belts. While trekking through the woods, we came across several amazingly old and absolutely huge grandfather trees. We stopped to admire these majestic monsters that are so rarely seen around Oahu.
The trail had markers, and in the beginning it all seemed a no-brainer. We were going counter-clockwise on the loop, and according to our map we passed Station 4 (the pool), then Station 3, then Station 2. And that’s where we went wrong.
We were at the bunkers that were mentioned on our map, and we chose a trail at some sort of intersection that led us into a bamboo forest. It was a well-trodden trail, but after a time it began to get pretty treacherous, and we suspected we might have gone awry. The forest got so thick and dark it just felt really wrong, especially since we had been walking for over 4 hours and the loop was only supposed to take three hours max.
This is where we started to worry. We had a feeling we were on a pig hunting trail…and that’s not good. The path became challenging with slippery drop-offs on one side. There were times where we literally had to climb over and around a large tree on a cliff just to continue on the trail. We were deep in “who-knows-where,” but there were still pink ribbons infrequently marking the trail. Those ribbons became our lifeline; pig hunting trail or not.
Scenic river views were intermittent, and at first seemed very lovely, but quickly became a curse as we must have crossed the river over a dozen times (there are only supposed to be two crossings on the Nakoa Trail), and each time picking up some sort of trail on the other side was getting more and more difficult. Every time we crossed the river we would wash the mud off of our legs and shoes and then search for a ribbon to lead the way. We were losing light. We were getting scared. WE WANTED OUT!!!
While trying to keep our spirits up, a feeling of desperation was taking over. After hours of trudging through mud it became obvious that we were lost. Although we were on a trail, we had no idea where it would lead. It was raining and the forest was closing in and becoming constricting.
The trail wasn’t on the map we picked up at the visitor center. The forest grew dark. Dark as if it could’ve been 7:00 at night. Dark like it was dusk, and that was very disconcerting. The last couple of hours our conversation grew quiet and our demeanor leaned towards helplessness. Mia thought she might try 911, but of course we had no service on our phones. After being on the trail for hours, low and behold, we ended back up at the bunkers where we had started at Station 2 and realized we had just taken about a 5-6 mile detour full of switchbacks and river crossings. My “mapmyrun” says we hiked about 10 miles in around 4.5 hours. Aahhhh!!!
Next game plan: We brought out our little map and read that from the bunkers we could find a way to a water tank. It read: “Going right will take you to the reservoir tank and back down a road to the trailhead (about 1.5 miles).” So if we could just find that road it would be our ticket OUT. There was a tiny arrow nailed to a tree that pointed right and read: “water tank.” By this time it was quite late in the day. We were back on a trail sloshing through the mud under the dark forest canopy. We became uncertain of anything and both of our stomachs were bothering us. That sick feeling inside; a little bit of desperation and a lot of scared. The trail was narrow and seemed to go forever and finally…Eureka! We spotted the large water tank. We followed the fence on the side of the reservoir and found the road. Mia and I literally hugged and cried and jumped up and down for joy. We were lost and now we were found!
It was almost 6:00 in the evening on the Eastside, and on a rainy overcast day it looked liked dusk. In the almost five hours that we were back on the trails we only saw two other people, not including the ones at the pool. I guess this time of year most people know how muddy it is. I had read a review on Yelp, and mud was mentioned, but not of the magnitude that we had trudged through. I suppose August or September would be a better time for this hike.
We didn’t do anything wrong or irresponsible. Taking that wrong trail probably happens to many. Although there were markers, there should be more. Especially at intersections. We kept our wits about us and did not panic (although that probably would’ve come later). While walking down the road, we both shared our thoughts on how we would have managed the night in the forest. We weren’t worried about water, we had brought enough. We weren’t worried about food, a few hours hungry is not a big deal. We weren’t worried about being cold, lucky we live Hawaii. But what we were worried about how we would sleep in the mud. Everything, everywhere was saturated with the rains. The tremendous mosquito population was a concern, as well as centipedes and other crawly things. And then…there are the wild pigs.
Still haunted by the whole experience, I didn’t sleep well, even though I was exhausted by the hike and trauma. I was awake for hours in the night plagued with thoughts of the day.
I texted Mia the map of our route from my “mapmyrun” and told her I couldn’t sleep. She texted back the next morning saying she had dreams of frantically hiking. We were definitely affected on a deep level by this experience. In retrospect, what I could have done better was read more reviews and information on this hike. But it was supposed to be a simple and easy 3.5 mile loop.
I will definitely go back one day to swim in that beautiful clear pool. That was awesome. I’ll be skipping the Nakoa Trail. It has left me with a bad memory that I’d rather not revisit.