The number one thing in my must-do list while in Honolulu was to climb Lē’ahi, more commonly known as the Diamond Head State Monument. Once an active volcano, it is now the most famous landmark in Hawaii and a popular hiking destination to many tourists.
I woke up my husband and the two boys at 5:30 in the morning. The sunrise that day was going to be at 6:45 am. We had to leave immediately if we wanted to catch the sunrise. But everyone took longer than I had anticipated and by the time we left the hotel it was already 6:05 am. From our hotel, it took about 10 minutes to get to Diamond Head and by the time we were ready to climb it, the sun was starting to rise.
Depending on how fit you are, you can trek all the way to the summit in an hour. From the trailhead to the summit is about 0.8 mile (1.3 km) one way and it is a 560 feet (171 m) climb from the crater floor. The trail starts on a concrete walkway then it follows an uneven and steep terrain of dirt trail with numerous switchbacks. This was originally designed for mules and foot traffic.
At the first lookout, we joked to each other about turning back and to forget about climbing the whole thing. Deep inside, I was tempted not to finish it knowing there are tunnels and steep stairs to climb before we reach the top. Fortunately I am not a quitter and neither are the boys.
A short walk from the first lookout are steep stairways, about 74 concrete steps, leading into the first narrow tunnel. The tunnel is 225 feet long and it is lighted. Initially, I felt claustrophobic because it is quite low (anyone over 6 feet tall will have to duck while walking) but I had to brush off that thought to calm my nerves. Actually, I was more afraid for my husband knowing he has had trouble with enclosed spaces before. I didn’t say anything to anyone to indicate that fear to avoid panic. I told the boys the tunnel was not very long and it was going to end soon.
When the tunnel ended, we were immediately faced with the second stairway—more steep stairs! The phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” usually indicates some sort of relief but in this case, when we reached the end of the tunnel, none of us were relieved. We had to catch our breath and had to sit for a few minutes to restore any energy left before we could climb again–all 99 steps.
At the top of the stairs is another tunnel (not as enclosed as the first one and it’s actually shorter walk) leading to spiral staircases. Finally you get to the observation station, which is the summit.What we didn’t realize was that if we had taken the pathway to our left (the right side were the stairs), it would still lead us to the summit and didn’t have to succumb into climbing those steep stairs (although of course taking the other path would feel like cheating).
Actually we felt more accomplished (and glad) doing the harder path.
And seriously, who wouldn’t feel that way when the prize was this amazing gorgeous view?
We may regret having missed the sunrise but we were proud that we climbed Lē’ahi and witnessed the beauty of the amazing island of Oahu.