Happy trails to you
Stuart Ball has found a wayBy Cynthia Oi
a life on the hiking trail
STUART Ball Jr. logged at least 313 miles to write his book, 313 miles on foot through streams, atop ridges, along muddy paths, over crumbling, sharp lava rocks and across sandy beaches.
Not that he minded.
Ball loves to hike. Since he moved here 25 years ago, he has put his feet on so many trails that his hiking books are widely regarded as the best guides in Hawaii.
His latest is "The Hikers Guide to the Hawaiian Islands," which covers 44 of "the best day hikes on the islands of Hawai'i, Kaua'i, Maui and O'ahu."
Ball is a small man, no more than 5-foot-8. At age 51, he is wiry and trim, his legs roped with taut muscles. Just a few gray wisps weave through his thick brown hair.
He is subdued in speech and manner. If an experience excites him, he describes it as "really neat" or "lots of fun." But his eyes reveal his feelings, sparkling under thick eyebrows as he talks about hiking.
"The Hikers Guide to the Hawaiian Islands" (University of Hawai'i Press), 1999, $19.95, 298 pages, paperback A detailed guide to 44 trails on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii, with lengths of hikes, elevation gains, difficulty index, locations, maps, highlights, trail head directions, route descriptions, notes and color photographs.
TRAIL GUIDES BY STUART M. BALL
"The Backpackers Guide to Hawai'i" (Kolowalu Books), 1996, $17.95, 152 pages, paperback
"The Hikers Guide to O'ahu" (Kolowalu Books), 1993, $15.95, 264 pages, paperback (to be revised in summer 2000.)
Revisions and updates for Ball's books are available at http://www.hgea.org/~lmasu/
Ball first came to the islands in the late 1950s when his father, a Navy man, was stationed at Pearl Harbor.
"I thought it was a really neat place," he said. So after college and a stint in the Navy himself, he returned.
"I thought I'd come over here for a couple of years, but then I stayed and stayed. That was in 1974 and I've been here ever since," he said.
When he moved here, "I knew exactly one person. He was a buddy when I was in the Navy and he was leaving in six months," he said.
To meet people, he joined the Hawaii Trail and Mountain Club. He not only made friends, but developed a new passion.
"I did a little bit of hiking on the mainland but not regularly," he said. Now he hits the trails every weekend and walks during the week.
The strength of Ball's guides has always been in his clear, detailed route descriptions. For example, when he says you'll encounter a grove of 'ohia trees three miles into a hike, you do.
"I try to make it so that I'm sort of along with you in spirit," he said. "I think that's where my book is different from other guide books."
In his latest publication, Ball includes a section of notes with each trail description.
"I've gotten a lot more interested in the native birds, native plants, the geology and the legends and the history of the trails." Knowing these elements make a hike more enjoyable, he said.
He said his goal in this guide book was to provide information on hikes that don't require permits or permission from private landowners, and he doesn't involve himself in disputes about trail access issues.
"I'm not a political person; to me, the political process is frustrating. I leave that to other people," he said.
"The Hikers Guide to O'ahu," however, does include a section on closed hikes, he said, "not to point fingers, but just to say, 'Hey, look, these are the closed hikes.' I didn't say, 'Shame on you, Bishop Estate.' It's just to tell people to keep them in mind and that we should try to get access to them."
Ball considers writing hiking guides a hobby.
"You don't make a lot of money writing these books. It's a little better than break even," he said, "but it's lots of fun."
Until last year, Ball, a graduate of Dartmouth College and Stanford University, worked for Bank of Hawaii.
"I was basically an analyst. My last position there was in the branch division, analyzing branch closures," which resulted in his taking early retirement.
"It seemed like a good time to be off. I wanted to do my book and there were so many changes at the bank," he said. "But I do have to go back to work next year."
In the meantime, he's revising his Oahu book and, of course, hiking.
For the last four years, he's been hiking segments of the Continental Divide Trail, starting at the Canada-Montana border. He's completed the segments through Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness and next year will do the Scapegoat Wilderness.
He's not doing it for a new book, but "just for fun -- it's totally different from Hawaii."
He sees hiking as an essential part of his life.
"Getting away from the crowds, especially in Hawaii, is really important because the island is so small and a lot of it is very crowded, and yet the mountains are not.
"Hiking is great when you're doing and when you finish. You come back pleasantly tired. Very relaxing."
Ball is a low-tech hiker; no fancy global positioning system gadgets, telescoping titanium trekking poles or cell phones are found in his backpack. Instead, he carries a compass, maps, a whistle and first-aid kit, water and "my lunch," he said.
He wears a cotton shirt, shorts, the appropriate boots -- the Vasques for day hikes, the Merrell boots for backpacking -- and his "floppy hat." The distinctive hat identifies him as the hiker in photos that dress up his books.
"I'm usually in the pictures that my wife takes," he said.
His wife, Lynne Masuyama, accompanies him on most trails.
"I sort of introduced her to hiking," he says. They met while they both worked at the bank "and were good friends for several years."
The friendship blossomed "into something more," he said and the two were married on Jan. 1, 1997.
"What's neat is that we were married on the top of Koko Crater," he said with a wide smile. "Every New Year's Day, our club goes for a hike to the top of Koko Crater so we incorporate our anniversary with that." Really neat.
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