Field Notes: Love Hiking? Join the Hawaiian Trail & Mountain Club
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: the Hawaiian Trail & Mountain Club.
A member hiking along Moanalua Middle Trail.
Photos: Catherine TOth Fox, Leah Friel
What it is
The Hawaiian Trail & Mountain Club is a community-based, volunteer-run hiking club headquartered in Waimānalo. Founded in 1910, it’s the oldest hiking club on O‘ahu. The club was organized by Alexander Hume Ford—the noted surfer who also founded the Outrigger Canoe Club in Waikīkī two years prior—as an informal gathering of hiking enthusiasts. Over the decades, it has grown from a dozen members to about 550 today.
The club organizes hikes on Sundays, mostly on O‘ahu, with two-thirds of them open to the public. Hikes range from the fairly easy 3-mile trek to Waimano Pool above Pacific Palisades to the challenging 10-mile trek along the rugged Waiau Ridge above Waimalu. The club is able to access trails that most people can’t, thanks to its strict rules (namely restricting hikers from posting photos on social media and in blogs) and rapport with private landowners.
“Our main purpose is to help people enjoy this outdoor activity and attempt to make that experience as safe as possible,” says Richard Nettell, 67, club president and member since the 1990s.
HTMC’s members range in age from 20 to 90. One of them is 85, lives in Arcadia Retirement Residences in Makiki and hikes just about every weekend with the club. There are slightly more men than women, and the average age hovers around 50.
The reasons people join range from wanting to hike closed trails, to staying fit, to meeting new people. Barney Griggs, a veteran triathlete and marathoner, joined in the early ’80s to stay in shape. He had been hiking on his own before realizing it might be safer to go with others. “I’ve met so many great people,” says the 66-year-old who met his girlfriend, Phyllis Lam, through the club eight years ago. The couple has traveled all over the world with other members on hiking adventures, including treks in Peru, New Zealand and Scotland. “We’ve been able to connect with other people who love hiking, too.”
More than hiking
The club does more than organize weekly hikes. Members maintain trails, including stretches of state-managed ones used by the public. Recently, a crew armed with weed whackers cleared part of the state-run Kalāwahine Trail on Tantalus. It also hosts educational talks at its clubhouse in Waimānalo, does community outreach and removes invasive species along the trails. “The club has always done this, but it’s been a hidden aspect,” Nettell says. “We’ve never made a big deal of it.”
Members are even asked to help with search and rescue efforts to find missing hikers. In 1999, they found two Danish women who had disappeared for more than a week while hiking in Kahana Valley.
In return, hikers get to trek in areas that are normally inaccessible, venturing into pristine areas, meeting people who love to hike, learning about Hawai‘i’s unique mountain ecosystems and witnessing some of the most breathtaking vistas in the world. Oh, and there’s usually food and beer at the end of each hike, too.
“In our modern life, being outdoors is not just good exercise with fantastic views,” Nettell says. “There’s something about the moving human body that’s incredible. … I think that’s what’s so invigorating. It gives you a sort of equilibrium to face the rest of the modern world that is the H-1 freeway. It’s the juxtaposition to the stresses we all face.”
To join, you have to be at least 18 years old and participate in at least three HTMC-sponsored hikes within a year prior to applying for membership. Annual dues are $35. Visit htmclub.org.
Phyllis Lam, 65
“I loved hiking Tiki Ridge in Wai‘anae. I don’t think I could do it again, but it was gorgeous. You’re not far from anybody, but you’re far from everybody.”
Jeannette Vu, 60
salon owner, Moanalua Valley
(with Zora, 9-year-old Jack Russell terrier)
“Being outdoors, being in nature, that’s when all my troubles disappear. Hiking is like meditation to me.”
Barney Griggs, 66
“Sometimes you get up on a mountain and I’ll ask my hiking partner, ‘What do you hear?’ Nothing. It’s silent. I love that.”