Probably the best backpacking trip I have ever been on!
My friends Jane and Luke got Maui'd but had a family-only ceremony so there was no way I would turn down an invitation to their backpacking honeymoon. After all, the Na Pali Coast is one of the most scenic and iconic stretches of coast on Earth, featured in dozens of movies, tv shows, etc. The 4000 foot peaks surround a stunning beach and valley that is inaccessible except to those willing to make the 11-mile journey by foot along a trail that is equally challenging as it is scenic.
Big thanks to John and Claire for signing up for this one and putting up with my slack planning early on. With a full week on the island, we managed to cover a lot of miles in a variety of settings, but the Kalalau Trail was, of course, the highlight of the trip. Hell, it was the highlight of all trips!
We started out a couple hours after the others since I figured that an 11-mile hike couldn't be too bad. While we did catch up with them just before arriving at camp, this hike is an absolute ass-kicker. It took us 7 hours to make it those 11 miles, and that was with perfect weather and totally dry trail conditions. The trail has a lot of up and down, rising from sea level to about 800 feet and back down, dipping in and out of various valleys. Claire once commented it was like the Tonto Trail ... another drainage to cross ... a zipline would be so much easier!
While the ups and downs, ins and outs took their toll, the views along the way are nothing short of incredible. With year-round temps around 80, and pleasant trade winds providing cool breezes, the weather was perfect. It can (and does) rain here frequently, but we had the good fortune of having a dry hike to camp.
Mile 7 features the most challenging terrain, including a feature called "crawlers ledge". There's a set of switchbacks that descend a loose scree slope (I lost my footing
but fell safely on my ass). That probably didn't instill any confidence in those following me. Next the trail traverses a narrow cut along a cliff a few hundred feet above a violent ocean below. It's mostly mental, but sure is easy to get in your head! (I think Backpacker
has it listed as top 10 most dangerous hikes in the world.)
After the cliff section there are a couple of cuts across eroded slopes of loose red volcanic sand. A bit reminiscent of the Nankoweap Trail, but something about the ocean below makes for a different looking mind
than those we usually deal with here in the desert.
Eventually the trail makes the final descent into the Kalalau Valley, crossing a picturesque stream before reaching the beach. A large camping area in the shaded forest adjacent to the beach provides ideal camping conditions, and two composting toilets help keep this popular location mostly clean. A waterfall at the far end of the beach is great for showering and getting drinking water.
The Kalalau Valley features dozens of "outlaws": people who live here full time. Technically you are not permitted to stay more than 7 days and must have a permit. From time to time, the residents here are rounded up and removed, but they just come back. They've actually got a pretty good setup and all those we encountered were friendly and helpful. Apparently if you carry in cigarettes you have a valuable currency. Fires are not permitted, but the locals are usually burning something, and hot coffee was offered in the morning!
On Monday we did an easy dayhike through the valley exploring the multitude of use trails. The two main trails lead to Big Pool and Outlaw Pool -- two nice spots for swimming. Big Pool features a rope swing below two picturesque cascades and is highly recommended as a destination. The hike upstream from Outlaw Pool was an outstanding journey along a stream of endless cascades, waterfalls, and swimming holes. The gem of the valley however, is Community Garden. At least an acre in size it is a wilderness farm maintained by those who live here illegally. It is absolutely gorgeous! Bananas, avocados, peppers, tarot, potatoes, and a bunch of other things provide easy sustenance all year long.
The ocean at Kalalau Beach has dangerous rip currents and shore break making swimming difficult. Most of us managed to get in about waist deep but didn't risk going farther. There's a scenic cave at the far end of the beach, with sea water that you can swim through to a sandbar in the deep, dark end. The beach is an amazing place for sunset, and the night moonlight was pretty cool too!
Tuesday we started early on the long 11-mile hike back, again taking 7 hours. This time the weather slowed us as it rained for a few hours on the last 6 miles creating treacherous conditions with slippery footing with mud and leaves. I was happy to have my trekking poles and would recommend them to anybody who makes this trip. Luckily the rain was light and there was no problem crossing any of the flood-prone streams.
Finally back at the car, we made plans to meet up with the others later, and all headed our separate ways, with many more Kauai adventures planned in the days ahead.
I really can't recommend this hike enough. It's among the best.