A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle


Today I’m in Houston, in the middle of a 6-day trip for United Airlines. It’s my second layover. The first was in Honolulu. Not bad duty, especially when there’s snow on the ground in my hometown of Centennial, CO.

I’ve had the great good “fortune” (in quotes for those who are familiar with my book) to enjoy many layovers in Hawaii over the years. As is the case with any layover city, once you’ve seen all the well-known attractions in Honolulu, you start to wander a bit farther afield. Which is how I found myself climbing the Koko Crater trail yesterday.

Koko Head is a volcanic mountain on the southeast corner of Oahu. There are a number of popular and interesting formations there. Hanauma Bay, known for its snorkeling, and the Koko Crater, a cinder cone that stands sentinel over this part of the island, are two of them. Koko Head’s strategic location provided a great radar site for the US military from 1942 until its decommissioning in 1966. There are still remnants of the site’s concrete and steel foundations at the top of the mountain. But that’s not the attraction.

Today people go to Koko Crater for the climb. It’s a fantastic cardio workout. And the view from the top of the mountain is spectacular. Diamond Head and Waikiki are in the distance. Hanauma Bay and Hawaii Kai are nearby.  IMG_20140123_110806

When it was an active radar site, the main base was at the foot of the crater. The operational facility at the top was accessed by a rail tram that ran directly to the top, climbing some 1,200 feet along the way. All that remains of the tramway today is the track.

Back in the day, the track’s users didn’t mind the grade. Passengers and supplies were winched up by machinery easily capable of taking passengers in a straight line – no switchbacks required.

Which brings us to yesterday. There I was in the company of a couple hundred of my closest friends climbing those railway ties. There are over 1,000 of them. IMG_20140126_092723

The climb starts gently enough. The first half is deceptively easy with a relatively shallow grade. But just after the 500th tie, the track crosses a ravine. It was constructed for rail cars – not humans, so exposure below the ties wasn’t a concern. But as one hikes across the ravine, one needs to tread carefully.


There’s nothing between those 64 ties except the rails themselves, and a misstep looks as though it could be disastrous. This is challenge number one. And it is the end of the day for many. Those who simply cannot stomach the idea of exposure to a fall through the ties turn back here.

Then comes challenge number two. Here the trail bends upward and becomes much steeper.

IMG_20140126_091947And the crowd really begins to thin at this point. Climbers who didn’t understand what they were undertaking have a reality check and many turn back. Those who are not ready physically or psychologically, or who are not properly dressed, or who didn’t bring enough water, or who are too old or infirm to climb a steep grade stop here or shortly after. They give up. They know they can’t climb another 500 railroad ties up this massive incline. From here on, the number of climbers heading down to the parking lot is greater than the number going to the top.

None of these people get to enjoy the feeling of meeting this challenge. They don’t feel the endorphin rush that accompanies the last step as they reach the top of the mountain. They won’t know the “wow” factor of the view out over the endless Pacific Ocean in all directions from the rim of the crater.

All because they couldn’t climb to the top.

Really? Did any of them have to climb to the top to reap those rewards?

Well, no, actually. All any of those people really had to do was climb one railroad tie. Not all of them. Just one.

In part 2 we’ll talk about how I saw this reality applied in dramatic fashion on another hike on Oahu. More importantly, we’ll start to think about how this applies to challenges you are facing today.


#symphonyofyourlife #wheeloffortune


Link to Mark’s Book: They Symphony of Your Life

Mark Hardcastle graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-777s around the world, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Contact Mark today to schedule a keynote or workshop for your organization! Email mark@symphonyofyourlife.com or call 720.840.8361

One thought on “How Big Is A Railroad Tie? Part 1

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