Diamond Head - a volcano climber's dream. At Hawaiian crater, hikers follow dark tunnels, pass by war bunkers, and get award for reaching the summit

I'm not kidding when I say I know about volcanoes. I've made several dozen climbs of fire mountains on five continents, including Mexico's 17,343-foot Ixtaccihuatl. I met Typhoon Phyllis at Mt. Fuji's seventh station and spent a stormy night bivouacked on one of Mt. Shasta's rock ledges.

In Guatemala, I've listened to Mother Nature's drum-roll beneath my feet on erupting volcano Pacaya. I've been literally shaken by her vibrations and danced to the ping of flying lava bouncing off my hard hat. I was even married in the neighborhood, on the slopes of Volcano San Pedro, beside Lake Atitl'an.

On a recent island journey, however, I experienced my most hospitable ascent: Diamond Head. Hawaii's celebrated landmark is a volcano climber's dream.

It takes less than an hour to walk to the summit. The 760-foot-high, 150,000-year-old extinct volcano has something for everyone: flora, fauna, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites.

From the parking lot the trail winds upward through kiawe and keohole trees. It goes through several dark tunnels and passes pillboxes, gun emplacements, and bunkers built as part of the Pacific defense system during World War II. And at the top is a 360-degree panorama of Oahu and its cloud-cloaked neighbors rising from the Pacific.

This wholesome Hawaiian outdoor experience has been promoted for the past few years by Steve Boyle, manager of the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel. Under his pen name, Sir Edmund Elyob, he has published a 39-page illustrated guidebook, ``How to Get to the Top,'' about the volcano in his backyard. His spelling of his name backward may be symbolic, because you climb the crater from the inside out - by tunnel into the crater and then up the western wall to the rim.

Recently, I found myself tagging along on a breakfast safari led by Sir Edmund himself. We began our trek in the cool, early morning. Radiant orange ilima flowers blossomed along the trail and humpback whales spouted offshore. As I set foot on the summit, trumpets tooted reveille from the Waikiki elementary school far below.

At the highest point on the rim, Le'ahi, where ancient Hawaiians kindled their perennial navigation fires, Boyle produced his breakfast goodies: chilled passion fruit juice, piping hot Kona coffee, and fresh-baked banana muffins.

After breakfast, he invited us to do some petroglyph rubbing, a favorite Hawaiian pastime. He provided crayolas and paper to make an impression of the little brass US Coast & Geodetic Survey marker. Later, back at the hotel (which Boyle calls ``base camp''), he exchanged this proof of our ascent for a certificate proclaiming us members of the Diamond Head Climber's Hui (Club). There's no road to the top, only trails.

Anyone who wants to make the climb can get a copy of the guidebook for $3.95 from the hotel concierge. In a chapter titled ``Getting there is half the fun,'' Boyle details the route to the Diamond Head summit. He describes two ways to get to the trailhead from base camp - the three-mile scenic route along the coast or the 1-mile shortcut on the Waikiki side of the crater. Both can be accomplished on foot or by car.

Along with a capsule history of Diamond Head, the author includes a list of essential expedition equipment: sturdy shoes, sun hat, sunscreen lotion, camera, litter bag, water flask (it is a dry climb), flashlight, and crayon or soft pencil. The flashlight will get you through several pitch-black unlighted tunnels, although local climber R.W. Bone says, ``Some make it through by whistling and keeping a nervous hand on the guardrail. You whistle so you won't be startled by someone else's hand coming the other way.'' Hotel guests are provided with complimentary flashlights, water flasks, crayons, and litter bags. Hikers who want to enjoy a picnic at the top should carry a day pack with breakfast or lunch.

The book's final page is blank, except for directions at the top in bold, black print: ``For the Verification Rubbing.'' You make a rubbing of the Geodetic Survey marker at the top, return it to ``base camp,'' and receive a five-color certificate declaring you are a member of the Diamond Head Climbers' Hui. It's suitable for framing and personally signed by Sir Edmund. If you've accomplished two other famous climbs around the Pacific Basin, he will admit you to Ayers Rock and Mt. Fuji/Diamond Head Climbers' Hui.

Although I made the climb only once, I did hang out at base camp for a few days. The New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel is on Sans Souci beach at the southern end of Waikiki. Hau trees with gnarled, twisted trunks and verdant canopies form natural umbrellas over the oceanside terrace. In their branches, tiny lights twinkle at night. Torches blaze along the antique balustrade, still in place from the old McInerny family estate that once stood here.

Robert Louis Stevenson loved this beach and enjoyed sitting under the same hau trees in the late 1800s. He once mused: ``It's not by any means certain that a man's business is the most important thing he has to do.''

I have a hunch he might have taken leave from his pen and poetry and headed for the top.

Practical information

For more details, contact the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, Base Camp, 2863 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI 96815, or call (808) 923-1555. ``How to Get to the Top,'' by Sir Edmund Elyob, may be ordered, prepaid, by mail for $4.50, including postage.

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