Kalalau Trail, HI, USA
09 November 2017
HIKING DISTANCE: 22 Miles
VERTICAL: +/- 5,080'
TIME: 16 Hours 22 Minutes
Caught my flight from the Big Island yesterday morning and managed to trim four hours off of my connection in Honolulu by snagging a seat on an earlier flight, so I arrived on Kauai around 11a yesterday. I utilized the public bus system, which allowed me to get directly from the airport all the way out to Hanalei for just $2.50, which put me within 8 miles of the Kalalau trailhead. Way better option than hitching, I thought. Affordable, reliable, low-risk. I arrived in Hanalei by 2p, so I got some lunch and charged my electronics for a few hours before setting out for the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park.
I had planned to just road walk with my thumb out, but I realized pretty quickly that that plan wasn't going to work. There is absolutely no shoulder for most of the 7.5 miles from the edge of town to the trailhead. And there are significant stretches where the road is cut into a sheer roadside slope with a sheer drop-off to the beach on the opposite side. Hardly an ideal road walk scenario, but I wasn't in the mood to just sit by the side of a pullout with my thumb out, so I walked quickly and deliberately the whole length, switching from one side of the road to the other in order to maintain a clear line of sight for traffic. The road walk itself was more dangerous than most of my actual adventures have been. Nevertheless, I arrived at the beach safe and sound around 7p. Setup camp, ate dinner, climbed into bed, and set my alarm for 430a. I was filled with excitement and anticipation.
My alarm was hardly necessary this morning, because I slept so poorly last night. There were headlights and headlamps that disturbed me a few times throughout the night. But mostly it was the humidity and the bugs- mosquitoes and sand flies chewing on me all night long. Perils of not carrying a bug net for my tarp shelter. Really gotta get one before I travel abroad. It's one thing to deal with the bugs for a night, or even a week, but a full-on thru hike? That would be miserable. Finally got out of bed around 4a and hit the trail by 5a under the light of a half moon. I was glad to be moving, leaving the swarming pests behind me. The plan was to stop at a sweet overlook and wait for sunrise to catch some golden hour light on the Napali Coastline. There were some pretty spots along the way, but the dream views - the stuff you see online when you google the Kalalau or the Napali Coast - don't come until about the last two miles of the 11-mile trek into Kalalau Valley. Up to that point, it's just a pretty walk through coastal valleys and thick vegetation. Dime-a-dozen kinda walk by Hawai'i standards. Once the views open up, though, they just get better and better until you arrive. That's the part of the trip that sets the Kalalau apart.
I arrived at Kalalau Beach by 1030a with a companion in tow. There were four or five big dogs at Hanakapi'ai Valley who were all barking at me as I forded the creek at like a quarter to 6a this morning. Guess some folks had illegally camped there last night. One of the dogs, some sort of pitbull mix, started following me after I crossed. I couldn't get her to turn around; she followed me all the way to the Kalalau Valley. She stayed right by my side, barely an arm's length from me at any given point. It didn't take long for me to fall in love. She was tugging at my heart strings. She's an anxious, sweet, beautiful little thing. I'd started entertaining the idea of keeping her if no one claimed her by the time I got back to the trailhead, but there is no way I could manage that with all of my travels and career plans the next 8 or 10 years. Fortunately she found another family while we were down at Kalalau. Really gonna miss that little nugget.
Kalalau Beach was stunning, and there were barely a dozen people there. Totally worth the trip. I spent over six hours there- reading, swimming, and napping. I probably wouldn't have stayed so long except that I was hoping to catch some better light on the way out. (You know I like photos better than sentences.) I never quite got the photos I'd imagined, because the sun set forward of the coastline and not over the ocean as I'd hoped, but I managed to capture some cool shots anyways. There is something really special about looking down on the Napali Coast from the top of Red Hill, the folded ridges reaching skyward and the big blue stretching northward as far as the eye can see. What a scene. I doubt if any conditions would've allowed me to capture that kinda magic.
I left the beach around 5p and turned around frequently to capture as many angles and different compositions as I could. I was basically walking backwards for the first couple hours. Once twilight finally faded to black, I turned my headlamp on, put my head down, and hiked hard until I reached the trailhead. Made great time until I was about a mile from the end. That's about the time that it started raining, although the mud and slick roots suggested that it had been raining and I'd just walked into the weather. I took it slow during the final stretch as I carefully picked my way down the steep, slippery trail. Finally arrived at the trailhead a bit after 9p, completely wiped out.
I took refuge from the rain under an awning near the trailhead where I'd planned to nap for an hour. I'm soaked through with rain and sweat. The humidity is still thick in the air despite the rain, and it's plenty warm out, so the bugs haven't relented. So much for napping. It was still drizzling when I made up my mind to road walk another 5 miles to Pohakuopi'o, a lovely little roadside cove I discovered yesterday, to catch what I hope will be a sweet sunrise tomorrow morning. When I left, I really didn't know if I had it in me. But now I've arrived. It's after midnight, and I'm pooped. Still raining. Still buggy. This sunrise had better be worth it.