Hiking the Koolau Mountains

Koolau Conquerer: One man, one backpack, one mountain: Chase Norton recently hiked the entire summit in one go.

Chase's 46.8-mile route along the demanding ridge tops.

Illustration: valentino valdez


This spring, 27-year-old Chase Norton hiked the entire summit of the Koolau Mountain Range, from Pupukea to the Makapuu Lighthouse. According to the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club, he is the only person ever recorded in its 102-year history to have done it in a single trek. The hike, which boasts some of the most challenging weather and terrain on Oahu, took Norton eight days and seven nights to complete, and four years to train for.


What inspired you to take this on?

In 2009, a year after I moved to Hawaii from Georgia, I was at a bar with a friend and we got on the subject of hiking the entire crest of the Koolaus. He said it wasn’t possible. I was outspoken and belligerent and said, “I can do it; I can do anything.” The next day I started to look into it.


What condition were you in?

I had never really hiked at all. I was 30 pounds overweight, a heavy drinker and I had just quit smoking cigarettes after eight years of two packs a day. If you asked me what my hobby was, I would make something up, but really it was going to the bar.


After you learned that this was no easy task, what kept you going?

When you start planning something that ends up taking four years, it has to turn into an addiction at some point. After a couple of months of hiking, I realized what was in store and that this was going to make me into a different person. From there, I let the hike become my obsession.

Self-portrait of Chase Norton on the trail.

photo: courtesy chase norton


How else did you prepare?

To do eight days across the Koolaus you have pack as light as possible and know your gear like the back of your hand. For example, I spent six months studying tent stakes. Eventually, I went from a 65-pound backpack to a 7.8-pound pack.


What habits did you have to let go of?

I learned that less is more, and that being covered in mud from head to toe is OK. Life goes on. It’s almost refreshing when bugs are crawling on you; it gives you that direct connection with nature that you might be looking for.


What have you taken away from this experience?

I think we all underestimate how powerful we are. It’s almost mind blowing to me what we can accomplish if we are dedicated and focused. Maybe not everyone can do the entire Koolau summit but there is something just as incredible in your own world that you can tap into. What started as a drunk argument that night into who I’ve changed into four years later is beyond what I would have ever imagined for myself. 


View Norton's web exclusive photos from his journey here.