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Re: Kauai-bop: Hike 4: The Kalalau Trail

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Kauai-bop: Hike 4: The Kalalau Trail
March 22, 2013 07:52PM
The Kalalau Trail is arguably Kauai's premier trail. It follows the seaside cliffs of the Na Pali coast from the road end at Ke'e beach and leads to previously-viewed-from-above Kalalau Valley. Kalalau Valley is about 10 miles from the trailhead, making it a popular backpacking destination, and an ideal trail for a stiff in-and-out day trip. The wife, recovering from an injury, kindly dropped me off at the trailhead around 7:00am.

The first two miles of the trail are normally popular since it leads to Hanakapiai Beach and the spur trail to Hanakapiai Falls. However, when I started out the trail was mostly empty. The trail climbs quickly, and soon there are good views looking back at Ke'e beach:

...and looking forward towards the destination, along the Na Pali coast:

The first segment of trail essentially climbs from sea level to about 500' then back to sea level. Along this first two miles the trail is wide, rocky, and well-worn--think Mist Trail. (As I would learn later, it had been improved long ago so that horses could access a coffee plantation located along the falls trail). The beach, while picturesque, is also dangerous in high tide, with several different danger-delivery methods, something a few dozen signs inform you of.

Camping used to be allowed in this area, but is allowed no longer. After a wet creek crossing, passing the outhouse and the junction with the falls spur, the trail, now narrower and noticably less popular, climbed again, eventually hugging the cliffs dropping into the ocean. The trail was a bit overgrown with brush, especially on the uphill side, leading to a sensation of being pushed towards the downhill side, with the rough ocean a few hundred feet below.

Along the way were a few areas with signs of ancient terraces, built long ago for taro cultivation. Without the trail these places would have been virtually inaccessible, yet in times past they were actively farmed.

To be honest, this section of the trail was a bit of a slog for me. I felt I was not making good enough progress through the brush along the overgrown trail to make it to Kalalau beach and back in time. I entertained thoughts of turning back at Hanakoa Valley, which I got a decent peek at near one of several clearings along the trail created for emergency helicopter landings:

The trail spirits must have read my mind, for right after Hanakoa Valley, the nature of the trail changed, quickly and steeply climbing out of lush Hanakoa Valey. After cresting a ridge, the trail was much more open, and I could see it drop down an open, rocky slope then start to... well, I couldn't really tell what it did.

I could see it traverse a cliff a bit, then it must climb back up to safer ground, although there was that really small-looking ledge that almost looked like it could be a goat trail...

Once closer, I could see that the trail was a generous 2.5' or so wide, and only maybe 200' vertically above the waves crashing into the cliffs below. Having the ocean and cliffs move differently past my peripheral field of vision while carefully navigating this stretch of trail created a bit of a sense of vertigo. Fortunately, after a half mile or so, the trail widened a bit, entering country that reminded me of what I had seen on the Nualolo trail. Still, there were several stretches where the trail tenuously clung to a loose, steep hill which was slowly eroding directly into the ocean below.

I also heard other voices in this area? Other hikers? Not that I could see... Eventually it dawned on me: I was hearing voices from the tour boats not far off shore.

Along this stretch the trail crossed several nice little streams that were in small hanging valleys. I took a break where the trail ascended one a few hundred yards to a nice waterfall, then checked my location on the GPS. Surprisingly, I was much closer to Kalalau valley than I had estimated, and soon I passed a few outbound hikers who greeted me saying "almost there!" And after a final climb to a particularly red hill, I was at the rim of Kalalau:

From here, the trail descends the red hill--seen a few days earlier from Lolo Vista--to Kalalau beach. I estimated I was maybe 1/2 mile or so from the beginning of the beach, yet my GPS indicated maybe 9-9.5 miles of travel... perhaps the 11 mile figure was to the far end of the beach...?

Rather than descending to the beach, I decided instead to hang out at a nice viewpoint just past the welcome sign--I'm much more into views than beaches. That said, the beach was tempting--shade was sparse, the sun was bright, and the air still.

On a distant ridge (center right below) I could see the sparse trees near Lolo Vista:

I enjoyed a leisurely lunch and a short nap, set a chick-on trap (no results, then rested a bit before I had to do it all again, in reverse... (Note: from this hill Inmarsat-4 F1 can be reached low to the southwest, roughly in the direction of Lolo Vista... a fact I used to confirm my trailhead pickup time...)

One thing I noticed only on the way out: there were rocks into which the trail mileage from Ke'e Beach had been carved:

I remember seeing only 8 through 5. Certain parts of the trail still looked like they were tenuously clinging to the hillside:

Since other backpackers were hiking in while I was heading out, careful choreography was required in the places where the trail was on a narrow ledge. One party would find a safe place to stand off the trail and let the other party pass.

Also, later, as I neared Hanakapiai Valley, I noticed that some backpackers had exceptionally large loads. I have to assume that while Googling "Na Pali Trek Packing List" they got the results for "Nepal Trek Packing List". (Later, I would learn of a more likely scenario: they may have been hauling in provisions for an extended--and illegal--stay in Kalalau valley...) I also observed that I was not dressed appropriately; the local hiking dress code appeared to be flip-flops, board shorts, a backpack, long hair, and not much else.

I arrived at Ke'e beach right around sunset, maybe 15 minutes ahead of my 6:00 estimate. It was definitely a great trail, and I look forward to doing it in the future with my wife, perhaps taking more time to enjoy Kalalau Valley itself.

More Pictures

Red tape: Overnight use along the trail is allowed only at Hanakoa Valley (approximately six miles in) and at Kalalau Valley/beach (10-11 miles in). Permits are required for overnight use. In addition, permits are required for any travel past Hanakoa Valley--even day use. This trail is popular and permits can sell out weeks if not months in advance, so be warned. That said, I never encountered any state park or forest preserve officials during my trip, and the locals suggest that enforcement is lax--the rules mostly exist so that the permanent residents of Kalalau Valley can be legally "evicted" from the valley from time to time. In the past, permits were hard to get, but there is now an on-line reservation system.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/22/2013 07:53PM by basilbop.
Re: Kauai-bop: Hike 4: The Kalalau Trail
March 22, 2013 10:00PM
Glad you made it back safely. Visitors especially fail to heed the beach warning signs. Ten--seven visitors (two crossing streams) and three locals--have already drowned this year on Kauai. The rotary club is raising funds for a new ocean safety video to play at the baggage claim area at the airport. The safety experts say that tourist behavior has changed over the years; i.e., "people really want to get [way] out there".

On Kauai, when it rains it pours:

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 04/26/2013 02:53PM by KenS.
avatar Re: Kauai-bop: Hike 4: The Kalalau Trail
March 24, 2013 11:48PM
Thanks for another great trip report of your travels in Hawaii.

If I could have found a nice high paying job on an island other than Oahu, I would have probably moved over there a long time ago.

Of course, I think the waterfalls in Yosemite are just a bit more spectacular. Okay... a whole lot more spectacular than those found in Hawaii (and that's saying something since the waterfalls of Hawaii are darn nice in their own right.)

Re: Kauai-bop: Hike 4: The Kalalau Trail
February 13, 2014 11:57PM
I finally made it out to the Kalalau Trail a couple of weeks ago. basilbop's report kind of inspired me to push forward with doing the hike, so I thought I'd share my own report in appreciation.

Kalalau Trail hike Jan 2014--

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