A hiker’s journey over the Koolau Mountain trails

The Koolau mountain range, as majestic as it appears today, ascending skyward like a verdant curtain of green on Oahu’s Windward Coast, looked very different just 500,000 years ago.

Then the western half of a million-years-extinct massive caldera—which extended eight miles between modern-day Kaneohe and Waimanalo, and four miles east to Kailua’s Mokulua islets—the range was part of a large, Oahu-dominating volcano, Koolau (Hawaiian for “windward”). A cataclysmic landslide event a half-million years ago changed the landscape of the island and the volcano forever, sweeping the latter’s entire eastern half and most of its caldera into the ocean.

The Koolau we now look upon in awe, then, is not a true mountain range, but the breathtaking result of eons of wind and rain erosion post-landslide. The combination of these forces of nature reduced what geologists believe was once a 9,800-foot shield volcano to its current 3,100-foot-high point, Konahuanui, and carved the signature fluted cliff face of the Koolau’s windward side.

Many of Oahu’s best hiking trails are here, ascending valley ridges rising inland from metro Honolulu and Central Oahu to the Koolau’s flora-rich summits and roughly 37-mile windswept spine, luring adventurers with the promise of complete escape into unsullied nature, remarkably close to modern urbanity.

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