Tricia and I had been really looking forward to this trip to Kauai. This winter had been particularly tough on Tricia as she is leaving her current job and is in the process of figuring out her next move. We hoped a trip in February away from the drearily rainy Seattle would bring a ray of sunshine to disrupt our winter gloom. As Morpheus said in Matrix, “Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.” In the week before we boarded the plane to Kauai, we checked the weather forecast: Sunday, thunderstorm; Monday, thunderstorm; Tuesday, thunderstorm; Wednesday, strong winds, rain; Thursday, rain; Friday, rain; Saturday, rain. Uh oh! And Seattle? Sunny every day.
I was fully prepared for torrential rain when we landed in Lihue airport on Saturday night. When we arrived we met a drizzle, but no thunderstorms. Good. On Sunday, we went on a short hike up to Pihue, which looks out on the Kalalau Valley. It was so cloudy that we could barely make out the rugged mountain ridges below. The mud was a big problem for us on this hike which got me worried about our Kalalau Hike. There is an infamously narrow region of the trail called Crawler’s Ledge around mile 7 of the trail. Would we be able to cross it if the trail were muddy and slippery? And flash floods are known to happen at some stream crossings. I was nervous going to bed that night.
On our first day on the trail our plan was to hike 6 miles to Hanakoa Valley, which is roughly the halfway point to camp. We slept in and had a full breakfast before leaving our hotel around 10 am. The drive from our hotel near Lihue to the trailhead took a little under 2 hours. The parking lots on the North Shore of the island are known for frequent break-ins. This is an annoying but important concern to anyone hiking the Kalalau. We debated where to park or whether to leave the car unlocked to avoid a broken window when we return in four days. Tricia dropped me off at the trailhead with our bags then drove back a mile to park at the Ha’ena Beach Park for safer overnight parking (the lot has a light and the beach has campers, which we hoped would improve security). While Tricia went to park the car, I took the easy gig of hanging out with the backpacks. That’s when I had the first encounter of the vicious mosquitos. I had at least a dozen bites by the time Tricia got back to the trailhead.
We finally started on the trail a little after noon. We had the company of many day hikers, who were headed for Hanakapi’ai beach, which is two miles from the trail head. The start of the trail immediately led us upwards unrelentingly for a quarter of a mile. I was enjoying myself as the steps were rocky and not muddy. It wasn’t raining but the clouds were dark and hung low in the sky. The stream near the Hanakapi’ai beach has history of flash floods and had made me nervous the night before. When we got there, it was perfectly tame and clear. We took off our shoes and crossed without trouble.
We kept on marching after crossing the Hanakapi’ai stream. The crowds thinned out noticeably because hiking beyond the stream requires permits. Rain started to come down as the trail zigzagged upwards. The trail undulated up and down the cliffside and was extremely muddy following a week of rain. Most of the time we were under the canopy of a tropical jungle with occasional waterfalls coming down the cliff side. Mosquitos were unrelenting even while we were moving in the rain. Every once in a while, the trail turned towards the coastline. We emerged from the jungle valley and found ourselves standing on top of a cliff overlooking 180 degrees of the Pacific Ocean’s blue waves crashing violently against the shoreline some hundreds of feet below us. Behind us was a stunningly forested mountain with steep ridge walls formed from millions of years of erosion.
It was about 4:30 pm when we arrived at the Hanakoa Valley campsite. There were already three tents at the site. Hanakoa Valley used to be a terraced farmland for a hidden tribe of Polynesians. The evidence of its past is hardly visible today as the area seems to be entirely covered by tropical vegetation. The campground was wet and muddy from days of rainstorms. We were surprising tired from a short day of hiking. I scouted around the campsites and found a flat- not so muddy area- and called it ours for the night. The rain kept drizzling down that evening. I crawled into our tent at 6:30 pm, when it was starting to get dark and passed out by 7 pm.
We woke up next morning fully refreshed after over 12 hours of sleep. We were both excited knowing that we would get to Kalalau Beach today, which was the goal of this adventure. As we were leaving our campsite and crossing the Hanakoa stream, we made friends with a couple of fellow hikers, Amanda and Mark, a couple from Vancouver. We clicked immediately. Since we had similar pace, we kept over taking each other at breaks all the way into Kalalau Valley. It was also comforting to me knowing that someone was not far from us when we crossed Crawler’s Ledge in Mile 7.
Crawler’s Ledge is notoriously dangerous because it’s a segment of the trail literally chiseled on a cliff wall a couple hundred feet above the jagged rocks and ocean below. There were no ropes or any other rescue device available. Tricia, being the fearless leader as usual, led the way onto the ledge. I stayed behind and snapped a few photos before following her onto the ledge. It took us no more than 5 minutes to cross the narrowest section, but I was very glad to have crossed it safely.
Mile 8 of the trail continued to be undulating on a cliffside. Some of the sections in mile 8 felt more dangerous than Crawler’s Ledge because I wasn’t sure how stable the red dirt trail was under my feet. There was evidence of recent landslides that wiped out sections of the original trail, which did not make me feel any safer. By mile 9, we went back to the usual muddy jungle trail weaving in and out of the tropical forest. As I trudged along wondering how much longer this trail was going, the view all of a sudden opened up to a huge valley: we’d arrived! I could see the beach! Happiness abounded.
From that point on, it was another mile of descent onto the beach and the campsites. When we got to the beach there were three to four people laying out and playing frisbee. They greeted us as we struggled to hike on the sandy beach wearing our muddy hiking boots and carrying our large backpacks. We had chatted with other hikers on the trail who told us that to find the best campsites we should hike to the end of the beach, near the waterfall. We took this advice and found our home for the next two nights at the end of the beach next to a palm tree. We spent that afternoon exploring the beach and the waterfall and the evening chatting with our new Canadian friends. It was wonderfully relaxing.
It took us about 7.5 hours total to go from Kalalau trailhead to Kalalau beach. I was a long journey which many people conquer in one day. I was very glad that we split the trip into two days. I felt no reason to be rushed: after all, we were in Hawaii! Keep on following us on our adventure into the valley tomorrow where a big surprise awaits.