Thoughts on the ocean, the environment, the universe and everything from nearly a mile high.

Panorama of The Grand Tetons From the top of Table Mountain, Wyoming © Alan Holyoak, 2011

Friday, February 10, 2012

Kauai, The Kalalau trail and the hike to the Hanakapiai Falls

After a few days of fun and sun on the beach, Kat and I went on a hike.  For some reason, when I go to Hawaii I get the bug to go on a hike.  It can't be just any hike though.  When we went to Oahu I wanted to hike out to Kaena Point, the westernmost tip of Oahu.  My goal there was to see if I could find an endangered monk seal - success!  This time I wanted to go on the Kalalua Trail to Hanakapiai Beach and then on up to Hanakapiai Falls.  That would be an 8-mile hike.  When we told the rest of the group about our plan, Katie and Scott decided to join in on the fun.

The Na Pali coast runs along most of the eastern side of Kauai.  There is no road that spans that side of the island, even though more than one attempt was made to make one.  Each time the engineers and workers had to abandon the effort.  As a result the only way to access the Na Pali Coast is via boat or helicopter.  The Kalalau Trail, however, runs the entire length of the Na Pali Coast.  It is reportedly not a hike for the faint of heart.  It is 11 miles of up and down, and in and out, with no potable water or services of any kind.  So hikers who attempt the whole trail have to take water purification tablets and/or water filtration systems wtih them.  We, however, had no plans whatsoever to do the whole trail.  Our plan was to complete the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail, which ends at Hanakapiai Beach.  From there we would turn inland and hike upstream along the Hanakapiai river/stream another two miles to the Hanakapiai Falls.  It's reportedly worth the effort.

This is what our crew looked like at the beginning of our hike. Note that we are all smiling, happy, and fresh at 7am...our scheduled blast-off time.  And off we went with bottles of water in our bags.

Only about 1/4 mile up the trail we came to an outlook.  In the background you can see Ke'e Beach.  The Ke'e Beach parking lot is located by that beach and the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail.

A little farther along the trail the Na Pali Coast is revealed.  Now that's impressive!  It's rugged, beautiful, and at the same time somewhat intimidating and full of a brooding foreboding.  Yet, we plugged along.  It didn't take long for the sun to rise and for temperatures to climb, and, of course, we started to sweat.  So, we made sure that we took regular water breaks.  The LAST thing you want to have happen to you out here is to get dehydrated and flirt with heat stroke.  But we were still smiling!

Here's Kat "Hanging Loose" with the Na Pali Coast in the background.

Here's another shot of the Na Pali Coast.  Wow! Talk about picturesque!

We moved along at an easy pace.  We didn't want to overdo it...and just under two hours later we arrived at Hanakapiai Beach.  There were warning signs all around warning people to stay out of the water.  This is a small pocket beach with steep cliffs along both sides and a fringing reef along the northern end.  That means that when the surf is up, and it was, there is a strong rip current/undertow that could knock even someone who was just wading off of their feet and sweep them into deeper water.  So, we stayed out of the water.  Even so, there was a small handful of surfers there.  One even passed us on the trail, running along with his board under his arm, barefoot.  When we told him that "He was the man!" all he said is that "he needed to get to the beach before the wind."  He made it.  he was out on the water when we got there.

There were MANY rock memorials at that beach.  These were in the form of stacks of stones.  Some were only a few stones high, while it was hard to see how others didn't topple over.  Kat built a memorial to Peta, and another one to the Bartons who were in Boston for the Boston Marathon.  I made one to commemorate Grant's impending mission, and Kat and I built one for our own family.

These memorials were all over the beach.  The rounded stones show that this beach is subject to heavy surf on a regular basis.  Regular enough and strong enough to grind these volcanic stones down on each other into the relatively smooth, rounded stones you can see in these photos.

After a rest and building memorials at the beach we turned up the Hanalapiai Valley for the second leg of our hike.   A little while later we came upon a grove of bamboo.  This was very cool!  I'd never seen bamboo this big before.

It seemed like the farther we went up the canyon, the heavier the vegetation became.  The trail was, amazingly, easy to see and follow.  Plus, someone had put a LOT of work into developing and maintaining the trail.

We were extremely pleased that there were not too many mosquitoes or other bugs to pester us, especially since we forgot to buy or bring any bug spray with us.  Here we are...still a section of the trail that could be called nothing but "jungle".

With about 1/4 mile to go to the falls there was a break in the foliage and we got our first glimpse of the Hanakapiai Falls.  This ribbon falls is reportedly about 100' tall.  Even from this distance it was impressive, and we were looking forward to getting there, and possibly taking a dip in the pluge pool.

After about 4 hours we arrived at the falls.  They are impressive!  We hiked down to the edge of the plunge pool where we broke out our lunch and sat back in the cool of the shade and spray from the falls.  By the time we were done eating we had cooled down enough, and the water in the plunge pool was cold enough that none of use felt a strong desire to take a dip.  Just before we left the sun rose over the top of the falls and illuminated the water coming over the top in a brilliant display.  It was fantastic, definitely worth the hike.

Though the hike is not what I'd call particularly strenuous, especially after doing some hikes in the Tetons, we were glad that we had discouraged Olga from coming with us.  She and this hike would not have been a good match.  There was some up and down, some slippery spots, and a few difficult stretches that would probably have been too much of a challenge for her.

The person in the water gives you a sense of scale of the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls.  The water was clear and cold, but everything we had read about this hike warned hikers NOT to drink the water.  And we didn't.

Here are Kat and I at the base of the falls.  It was beautiful up there.

Here's another spot where we stopped for a photo op.

By now it was early afternoon and we were headed back. The sun was up, shade was limited and we started to get hot. Again, we made sure that we drank water, but we were running a bit low.
We stopped near the beach to soak our feet in the stream.  On the other side of the creek we could see a man, maybe in his late 50s or early 60s.  He must have taken a fall, since he had gashes on one arm and on his forehead.  He didn't look like he was in very good shape.  Fortunately, though, he was not alone, and someone shared some bandages and things from their first aid kit.

After a little while we crossed the river and started the last 2-mile leg of our hike.  This turned out to be the hardest part of the hike.  It wasn't hard because of the trail, but we were getting hot and we were running low on water.  We had to stop in shade from time to time.  Fortunately, we were able to make it down to the trail head without major incident.  We were hot, tired, and very thirsty.  Luckily, there was a water fountain at the base of the trail and we drank up and drank again!

We were tired, but all of us were extremely glad that he had done the hike.  It was interesting to see something of the interior of the island, and the beautiful beach and waterfall that the trail provided.

Would I do it again?  Probably, if I was with someone who had never been, but I would make sure that I had more water the next time.

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