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Diamond Head: The classic hike

by Rody Rodriguez, staff writer

Despite the beauty and splendor of this geological masterpiece, what makes people want to come from around the world to ascend the overcrowded, short hike to the top of the crater that is Diamond Head?

As the most quintessential monument that symbolizes Hawai‘i, the hike to the top of Diamond Head is certainly the most popular hike in all of these islands. Therefore, due to the popularity of this renowned trek, the march to Diamond Head’s peak must be addressed.



Diamond Head is believed to have been born some 300,000 years ago. It was formed during a single, brief eruption. Since that time, the crater has eroded because of the constant weathering of rain, wind, and surf. Diamond Head is not a volcano as some believe, but a tuff cone, formed by steam explosions that sent rocks high into the air which fell back to Earth.

Diamond Head takes its name from late 1700s Western explorers who mistook the calcite crystals in the rocks on the slopes of the crater for diamonds. Nevertheless, despite its now most identifiable name, the original Hawaiian name for the crater is L’ahi because of the crater’s resemblance to an ahi fish’s forehead.

When I first hiked Diamond Head with my wife two years ago on our honeymoon, the price of admission was only a dollar. I thought at the time, “Wow, what a deal!” considering how overpriced everything already is (I guess being in paradise one has to pay paradise prices). If you come on The Bus or walk to Diamond Head, the price of admission is still a dollar. However, if you drive yourself, it will unfortunately now cost you $5 to park. Talk about inflation!

After parking (if you decide to drive), you begin the short hike to the peak. The hike is approximately 1.6 miles (2.6km) roundtrip. The peak is also only 761 feet (232 m) high. However, the view from the top makes this short summit appear massive.

As one undertakes the scramble to the top, one can witness the many tourists huffing and gasping for clean Hawaiian air in order to combat the relatively gentle hike to the top. When these aerobically-challenged individuals see the first set of stairways (totaling 74 stairs), they usually stop at the many lookouts along the hike in order to muster the energy needed to conquer the hike or to just take a smoke break.

After ascending the first stairway, a person enters a series of tunnels. Before the end of last year, a person had to equip him or herself with a flashlight in order to see inside the tunnels and spiral stairways along the hike. Now, these areas are illuminated with $240,000 worth of lights. I still say that a cheap flashlight would have been better sufficed than these high-priced lights. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to pay $5 if they kept the tunnels without light, but whatever.

The next set of stairways encompasses 99 additional steps. Here, if you are already tired, the stairs will drain the remaining energy you have left. If you are in relatively good shape, this will just feel like a mediocre Stairmaster.

Continuing on, the hiker will enter the Fire Control Station that was housed on Diamond Head. This station was constructed from 1908-1910 in order to protect the island from any hostilities. The station was used to direct artillery fire from the many batteries that were formally installed in proximity to the station.

There are several floors to the station. At the top floor, which was formally used by the battle commander to coordinate artillery fire, is now housed a man, that for a few bucks, will sell you a certificate that will note your completion of the hike (it even comes with a seal of authentication). I guess you can’t escape the clutches of capitalism.

If a hiker thought that the last set of stairs was the last, he’d have another thing coming. A last stairway, consisting of 54 stairs, is the final challenge left between the hiker and the peak. Nonetheless, the stairs are not as demanding as the others. And with the peak in sight, it makes the hiker muster all he or she has in order to complete the test.

When a person finally reaches the peak, a new adventure unfolds. This adventure entails locating a spot so he or she can take in the wonderful view that the Diamond Head peak offers. After fighting the tourists, photographers, and locals, one can finally take in the astonishing panoramic view. To the east, one can see Waikiki, downtown Honolulu, and the Waianae Mountain Range. To the west, a person can observe Koko Head, Hawai‘i Kai, and on a clear day, one can even see Moloka‘i and Mau‘i.

If you have a chance to experience this hike, do so. It is one of the events one can experience that is truly Hawai‘i. Yes, you will have to contend with the tourists, the crowds, and the hike itself. But with the history, geology, and the panoramic view you are rewarded with at the top, it is definitely worth the sacrifice.


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