Length: 1.2 Miles (round trip)
Named after the nearby Kammieland surf spot (also known as “Shitty’s”), the Kammieland Trail has a similar little-gem-under-the-right-conditions disposition about it; assuming you brought along extra knees.
My wife and I were taking a leisurely drive along the north shore of Oahu on a Sunday afternoon. We had the windows down, the radio up, all that good stuff. I glance over at her in the passenger seat and see her pecking away at her phone and I asked her what she’s up to.
She said she was looking at this new hiking app she picked up called, Alltrails. We’d both been talking for a long time about getting out of the house and, instead of hitting the beach which is typically crowded, going up into the Hawaiian wilderness and seeing what’s out there.
We moved to Oahu over ten years ago, but for some reason hiking was just one of those things we’d never gotten around to doing; “The mountains aren’t going anywhere.” we’d tell ourselves an I’d always maintained the idea that if you’re going to go hiking in unfamiliar terrain, you should find someone to go with you who knew where they were going and what they were in for. But, as is typical when it comes to making plans with other people, schedules rarely seemed to line up so it just never happened.
Today was different though. Today it was just the two of us, we had no real plans other than to drive. Yes, the end goal for the day was simply to burn fossil fuels. ‘Murica! It was a frame of mind we’d developed during a vacation to the neighbor island of Kauai which we’d come to refer to as “Adventure Mode!” (exclamation point non-optional) and it involved travelling without aim and stopping to check out anything which piqued our interest.
Today that interest was piqued by a short, one-mile hike listed in a trail app I’d never heard of located dead in the path of our current trajectory. We both agreed that a nice short hike might be a really nice way to spend the day; getting out into nature, away from the people and the general hubbub of hubbub.
There’s a certain implicit escapism to travelling the north shore anyway. Phone reception gets spotty out there for us, which invariably cuts us off from the incessant buzz of social media, but that digital seclusion tends to be offset by the ridiculous traffic one encounters on the northern stretches Kamehameha highway on basically any weekend; rain or shine. Way fewer digital people, way more actual people which is almost certainly worse.
We had some time to deliberate is what I’m saying. The app said the trailhead was maybe ten miles up the road, and it was bumper-to-bumper from Haleiwa to Sunset Beach and beyond. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the detailed map (above) to load due to phone reception, so we were totally unprepared for what we encountered.
Forty-five minutes and one iced tea later we arrived in the parking lot of the Sunset Beach Elementary School.
In the Pacific Northwest, where I’m from, trail heads don’t start at elementary schools. Instead you drive for ninety minutes into the mountains and have long since left civilization behind before you ever hit the trail. Here in Hawaii it’s different. There’s no room for that. I was beginning to have my doubts that this was going to be as isolating and rejuvenating as I’d hoped. But it was a nice day. The sun was out; not too hot. It was dry, with a light breeze, and it felt good to get out of the car and stretch my legs. So why not?
The Kammieland Trail head begins right at the edge of the parking lot. It’s basically a hole chopped in the neighboring trees and shrubbery. This hole is a magical portal. Six steps inside and the rest of the world disappears. You’re surrounded on both sides with spindly tree trunks and thick shoulder-high grasses. The canopy closes in above you and a well-worn trail sprawls out before you, beckoning you onward.
This is what’s known as a honey-pot.
This pleasant, serene stroll through the woods persists just long enough trigger your trail commitment; that line which you cross that says, “I’m already invested in this, I need to see it through.” and that’s when it springs the trap.
Without warning the trail suddenly gets very wide and meandering as it climbs a seventy-degree angle for about the next tenth of a mile. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re like me and haven’t stepped more than a couple feet off the pavement in over a decade it’s a pretty daunting climb. We stopped more than a couple of times to catch our breath on the way up making way for the smiling faces coming down.
As I said, the trail gets very wide on the hill. This extra width serves to facilitate a couple of options for hikers. You can either scramble up the slope, or you can climb the makeshift stairs installed thereon. Stairs are the worst. In general. That’s a personal opinion; but I’d much rather scramble up a loose dirt slope littered with broken glass, barefoot than climb a set of inconsistently-spaced trail-stairs.
I imagine that with any manner of rain on the trail using the stairs becomes non-optional, but thankfully it was a dry day so I was able to avoid the stairs whenever the option presented itself without sliding down the muddy hillside. My wife on other hand was less fortunate. She was wearing slippers which did not afford her the necessary traction to conquer much of the hill without resorting to the stairs. I did not envy her plight at all. She’s quite a bit shorter than me and a number of the stairs are pretty tall.
Once you crest the stairs, though, it’s smooth sailing. The trail levels out significantly. The rocks and dirt give way to a surprisingly thick bed of what looked a lot like pine needles and it becomes soft and cushiony to walk on; a welcome respite from the hill.
At the top, you’ll come across some pretty impressive views (featured above) as well as an elaborately painted pillbox left over from World War II. The metal door is still intact and you can go inside and peer out over the ocean, seeing what the soldiers would have seen as they scanned the horizon for enemy activity.
There is supposedly a second pillbox and a cave a bit further down the way, but the trail enters on to clearly marked private property; though someone has long since toppled the fence intended to keep you out. We opted to turn back at this point.
Coming back down the hill was actually worse than going up. It was faster, for sure, but with gravity helping me the downhill slopes became treacherous. This forced me on to the stairs, in order to avoid a much more rapid descent, which just played absolute hell with my knees. By the time I reached the bottom it felt as though the Menehune had jabbed tiny knives above and behind my knee caps. My legs shook when I stood still, and I audibly groaned when I bent to get into the car.
I tried to be stoic, but the drive home was really unpleasant.
All that said, in retrospect, this is actually a really nice, relatively easy hike… If you’re ready for it. In fact, I’d like to do it again now that I’ve been out on a few more trails since then. The Kammieland Trail also serves as the beginning portion of the longer Ehukai Pillboxes trail, which we didn’t know at the time, so we might actually have reason to go back and check it out.
The pain in the knees is my own personal problem and subsided after a day or two. Though I suspect it will continue to haunt me in the future. My wife was fine, as I imagine anyone else would be unless they’ve a history of knee injury or just spend too much time sitting like I do.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a short, shady day hike and you’re already in the Sharks Cove, Pupukea, Sunset Beach area then go ahead and take half an hour to climb this hill; it really is a beautiful view. It’s not a trail I’d make a special trip for though. The drive out there is simply too long and the trail too short to justify it.