Distance Hiked: ~5 Miles (Round Trip)
High in the fog-shrouded hills above Pearl City, at the terminus of a long, lonely stretch of the dead-end Waimano Home Road lies one of Hawaii’s most haunted locations… The Waimano Home for the Feeble Minded. Constructed in 1919, the asylum kept the public safe by incarcerating only the most notorious of Hawaii’s people with developmental disabilities…
Wait. What? That can’t be right?
The Waimano Home for the Feeble Minded (later rebranded, Waimano Training School and Hospital) operated in this remote location for eighty frickin’ years before being shut down in 1999 citing concerns over “dingy conditions and questionable patient treatment.” Rumors I’ve heard of what, exactly, that means are pretty disturbing, so we’ll not get into it here.
Today, the original buildings have been torn down and/or renovated and now house the Department of Public Safety, as well as branches of the Department of Health and appropriately various mental health support offices.
But if you don’t want to visit the DOH, you could always slide behind the border fence to the surprisingly well-marked trailhead for the Waimano Ridge Trail.
One of the number one things that worries me whenever we head out on a hike is what I’m going to do with the car when we get there. Will there be a place to park it? Is it secure? Etc. While I wasn’t expecting a parking lot, I was pleasantly surprised to find a large patch of dirt alongside the road right at the trail head, easily large enough to accommodate a couple dozen vehicles. And while the security question still lingered in the back of my mind, the dirt patch was shaded by a sizable tree, so at least I knew the car would be nice and cool when we got back; even if all the windows were broken and all our stuff was gone. So that was nice.
My wife and I sat in the car and made small talk while my internal monologue deliberated in the back ground over whether there was just enough foot traffic going on to ensure security of my belongings, or too much… Or not enough. It was hard to say, but eventually I bit the bullet, shouldered my pack, and headed for the trail.
The first thing I noticed was the prominently placed “Public Hunting Area” sign. I quickly checked myself to see if I was wearing even a scrap of hunter-orange, and upon determining that I was not, decided that my outfit of drab earth-tones was probably good enough to make me hard to spot, and thus hard to shoot, so I should be alright. My wife was more concerned with a wildlife encounter than hunters, and with good reason. Having spent many years of her youth in Guam, she’s significantly more familiar with potential dangers of feral bacon that I am.
The trail begins with a gradual uphill climb along the perimeter of the chain-link fence separating the trail from the property of the Department of Health. Not far in it splits into “Upper” and “Lower” Waimano Valley Trails. Waimano Valley Trail is a shorter loop trail which begins at the same trail head and was the original plan for the day. After the previous weekend’s adventure at Kammieland, we decided to get the uphill portions out of the way early and circle around to the lower trail on the way back to the car. So, we continued to hug the chain link along the upper trail for a while longer.
About half a mile in the trail finally breaks free of the chain-link’s gravity and begins to climb a hill to a small viewpoint overlooking Waimano Valley. It was at this viewpoint that we were overtaken by a large group of young adults equipped with fishing nets who said they were on their way to a “pool” to catch crayfish. We asked if that was on the lower trail and they said it was not, but rather when we reached the fork we should continue on straight ahead instead of doubling back along the lower route.
Well, I’ve seen my share of “crayfish” in my youth (we call them crawdads where I come from), but I didn’t know Hawaii even had them. So, when the trail turned downhill and we reached the fork a short while later my mind was made up, I wanted to catch a Hawaiian “crayfish.”
I suspect my wife has spent fewer days lifting rocks in cold water streams that I when she was a kid (or they just down have them in Guam) because she asked me what a crayfish was. I told her it was like a tiny lobster, and she was on board.
From the aforementioned viewpoint, the trail maintains a gradual descent into Waimano Valley following the path of an old irrigation ditch. Actually, I can’t tell whether it’s generally up or downhill. The elevation map seems to show a consistent uphill trend all the way to the end, but the trail feels like it’s going downhill… So that’s weird.
In places, you’ll find yourself walking on the man-made wall of the irrigation channel with a rather steep climb on your right, and a similarly steep drop on your left. But the trail is wide and flat with minimal obstacles; so long as you’re paying attention it doesn’t pose any significant hazard.
There are four or five man-made tunnels which were dug to facilitate the flow of water along the channel. If conditions are dry, most of them are large enough for a person to walk through without too much trouble (tall people will need to duck or risk cranial abrasions). If you don’t like tunnels, or the dark, or the man-eating spiders which almost assuredly live therein, the trail itself slinks around the outside edge of the rock faces through which the tunnels pass; though in at least two places you’ll be trading a walk in the dark for a rope assisted climb across a washed-out trail.
Be smarter than us. At least check to make sure the ropes are properly secured and strong enough to hold you before putting your weight on them. We were fortunate, but in retrospect we were also dumb.
In time, we eventually reached the valley floor and “pool.” It must not have rained in the area recently because not only were the irrigation channels dry, but the pool at the bottom was more like a puddle with just a dribble of a stream lazily meandering across the valley floor. But, true to their word, there were in fact crayfish in the puddle though I am either too old, or Hawaiian crayfish are simply too fast for me to catch them; so, I was unable to provide my wife with a feast of miniature lobster that evening.
Since we had planned for a shorter hike and had allocated our time accordingly, we decided that once we reached the stream it was best we turn back in order to reach the car before dark; even though the trail continues for about another mile before the end marked on Alltrails. Round trip we did about five miles that day and when we got back to the car it was nice and cool and still had all its windows.
This trail is easily my favorite of those I’ve hiked thus far on Oahu. Other than the occasional tunnel or rock climb, the hike to the bottom of the valley is a nice, cool, family friendly stroll through the woods; and those little adventurous diversions are perfectly placed punctuation in the poem that is Waimano Ridge. It’s scenery and birdsong all the way to the end. That said, I imagine if you get caught in the rain, this trail could become hazardous with little provocation, so keep an eye on the sky as you make your way.
Oh, also, we did encounter a group of hunters hauling out a large boar carcass; so they are out there. Both hunters and boar.