Kolekole Pass, an exclusive trail in Wai‘anae, ascends to a plateau with sweeping views all around.
I grew up in Wahiawā, a once-sleepy plantation town surrounded by fields of pineapple and bookended by O‘ahu’s two mountain ranges. To the east, the distant Ko‘olau Mountain Range was dusky, mysterious, and often covered in clouds. I preferred looking west when I was a child, to the bright ridgeline of the Wa‘ianae Mountain Range. My cousins and I had been told by our elders that the range was a woman lying down in leisure repose. Romanced by the idea, we imagined the ridges and slopes as the curves of the feminine form, a sleeping woman draped in a kapa of mountain forest. Anyone who couldn’t see it was offered a tip: See the lowest spot in the ridge, where it makes a V? That is her hip. Start there.
The dip is Kolekole Pass, a natural cleft in the nearly 4-million-year-old range, which links Wai‘anae to O‘ahu’s central plains. The area is rich with cultural and historical significance: The pass provided a path to the Kūkaniloko birthing stones, served as a battleground for warring chiefs, and was used as a cattle transit route during Oʻahu’s burgeoning ranching industry. In 1937, the U.S. Army Third Engineer Battalion constructed a road through the pass linking Schofield Barracks and Lualualei Naval Magazine, O‘ahu’s primary military munitions depot. Legends tell of a mysterious woman named Kolekole who guarded the pass and of a large, fluted boulder rumored to be an ancient sacrificial stone. Interestingly, Kolekole translates to “red” or “raw.”
Today, the area is a training ground for the U.S. Army but the hiking trail through pass is open to the military ID holders and their guests on select days. It’s a short hike but one I know well. In my youth, my father had been stationed at Schofield Barracks. I spent countless weekends visiting Kolekole Pass, drawn to the forest song and the solace to be found there.
I returned to Kolekole Pass one winter morning after nearly 20 years. It was chilly when I arrived at the trailhead. I followed the series of stairs —dug into the earth and fortified with wood stubs—that wound upwards, following the pitch and yaw of the terrain. Then I started upon the well-worn track that wove further into in the forest. The trail felt intimate and familiar: a path hedged with tall guinea grass and shrubs beneath a canopy of ironwoods and sweet-smelling eucalyptus. It was largely silent, save for the rushing wind.
A few moments later, the trail emerged onto a windswept plateau. An amphitheater of cliffs rose, majestic against a misty sky. To the east, the Leilehua plains unrolled like a bolt of green velvet. To the west, the leeward coast glittered gold and blue. I turned my face to the wind, feeling the same breathlessness and wonder I did as child. It’s easy to feel the power, or mana, that resonates at Kolekole Pass. It’s easy to feel its raw beauty.
More: Kolekole Trail Status