Hiking the Kalalau trail to Hanakapi'ai Beach: a rainy day perspective

Na'Pali coast

Kauai, in the second week of October, turned out to be a spur of the moment trip due to an airline fare sale coupled with B's colleague regaling him with stories about hiking and camping on Hawaii's oldest island. We wanted to spend 2 days on the dramatic Na Pali coastline hiking the Kalalau trail which is rated as one of the most difficult backpacking trails in America, and camp overnight on Kauai's beaches.

The first indication that something was about to go wrong was on the evening before we left when I spent a couple of hours researching our trip. Apparently, to camp at Kalalau, you need a permit and it was recommended that people apply for the permit 6 months in advance. At that point there was not much we could have done so we decided to trust in luck.So, the morning after we landed in Kauai, bright-eyed and full of hope we headed to the state department and were told there were no permits for camping until mid-October, but we could get a free day hike permit to Hanakoa. The Kalalau trail is divided into 3 segments - 2 miles from start at Ke'e Beach to Hanakapi'ai Beach, 4 miles next to Hanakoa Valley and then 5 miles to Kalalau Valley. The initial 2 mile segment can be hiked by all, but you need a day hike permit to Hanakoa and a camping permit for Kalalau Beach since it is not recommended to do the full hike (round-trip 22 miles) in a single day.

Severely disappointed we decided to do the Hanakoa hike atleast. Heading to the county department for camping permits we hit another snag. Apparently the Hae'na Beach Park which is a couple miles from Ke'e Beach was closed for undisclosed reasons. This was where we planned to setup camp, deposit our stuff, then walk to the trailhead at Ke'e Beach (since the trailhead is notorious for car break-ins). We settled for camping at the nearby Anini Beach Park, since we were not doing the overnight hike we werent worried about our stuff anymore.

We managed to score a campsite right by the beach at Anini (a gorgeous beach with a calm lagoon edged by a coral breaker and white sand, just dont get here on the weekend), the thrill of which was somewhat marred by families with screaming children (I am tolerant of kids but not when their parents allow them to run around yelling at the top of their lungs in an extremely crowded campsite at 10 in the night) and drunken idiots who insisted on loud talking and playing their boom-boxes well beyond midnight. A special shout-out goes to the other fidiot who imitated a rooster call, very realistically, at 4am. Way to endear yourself to people, folks!

Waking up to a view of the sunrise over a gently rolling Pacific did away with all the illwill of a sleepless night for about a couple of minutes until we went to the washrooms and found that more fidiots had messed up the washrooms, re-routed water from the drinking water fountain (we saw someone taking a shower with this water supply later in the day, while the rest of us went waterless) and B cut his finger when trying to turn off the tap to the secondary outlet. At this point à la Eric Cartman we decided 'Screw this sh1t, we're checking into a hotel' and spent the morning driving around to see if there were restrooms available.

The original plan was to start our hike (round trip 12 miles) at 7 in the morning. Because of all the snafus we didnt get to the trail until 830 am. We could have avoided the restroom hunting, Ke'e beach did have some decent washrooms supplied with water, no soap though, and I didnt see any place for drinking water. Anyway, by the time we reached the trailhead it was raining cats, dogs and bonobos (keep in mind Kauai is tied with Cherrapunji, India -or Mawsyngram now- as the wettest place on earth). We were going to wait the rain out, but when we got there the parking lot was full so we decided to start hiking too.

Muddy trailThe Kalalau trail was created back in the 1800s for horses and goats and the high rate of erosion on these cliffs has ensured that the trail hasnt been maintained. Consequently it's an uneven, rocky, muddy, slippery, narrow trail with portions having the rain forest on one side and straight drops hundreds of feet into the ocean on the other. The first two miles are the easiest though.

The first half mile is an uphill climb withKe'e beach view from trail beautiful views over Ke'e beach. Also, the trail is edged by the most fascinating flora- saturated with flowers, loads of exotic fruits, berries and forests of sweet-smelling guava trees. The guavas were so ripe they had fallen off and gotten trampled underfoot with the result that the trail smelled of a heady mix of wet soil and fruity guavas. We picked a handful of guavas for a snack for when we reached the beach.

After the first three-quarters of a mile or so Na'Pali coast viewwe finally held our breath at a mist-covered ethereal glimpse of the famed coastline. All this time the trail was rocky but now it became muddy and at this point, it started raining very hard and we were soon encrusted. My shoes were ruined in a couple of minutes; I must mention that this trail needs a hardy pair of hiking shoes. B and I were prepared even with hiking poles which were a great help, but we were flabbergasted by flip-flops and Crocs on the trail. One adventurous couple were barefoot, something I would have thought twice about with the leptospirosis danger due to feral goat and rat urine in the streams. Everyone seemed in good spirits though.

The last leg just before we got to Hanakapi'ai Beach, and after a dire warning of the number of people who had died on a notchable sign (the count was at 84 when we went, the pic alongside is from Wikipedia, wonder when it was taken :( ), we had to cross a fast-moving river to finally get to the beach. B managed to get across without problems, me the shorty sank hip deep. It ultimately took us 2 hours to get to the beach, with a couple of breaks in between. Because of all the warning signs about the strong currents we decided to avoid getting into the water and just continue to Hanakoa without much delay.

After Hanakapi'ai, the trail immediately becomes an extremely narrow path through shrubs and trees (where little bitty mosquitoes hide out waiting to bite unsuspecting bare legs) and there are a series of switchbacks into various valleys with gorgeous views. About half an hour of this, I slipped at the very edge trying to avoid sinking ankle deep into muddy water (foolish me, there was no earthly way I could have got dirtier) and was only prevented from falling off the trail by doing a series of comical hand rolls forward and backward by which time B grabbed me. After this, I turned B's ears blue with a steady stream of invectives (it's my coping mechanism when I'm scared or angry :( ) for about 15 more minutes, when B asked if I wanted to turn back. I put up a token resistance but then agreed.

As we returned it seemed that we were walking a completely new trail-Trail covered with water 3 hours into the hike and it had been raining continuously and heavily. In most places, the trail was completely obscured by water, the little muddy water trickles were now fast-moving streams (see pic alongside) and impromptu waterfalls had sprung up which we had to wade through. The rain let up for some time letting B experiment with different camera angles and exposures, so finally we got back to the trailhead a good 6 hours after we started- completely bedraggled and muddy. We headed back to our hotel for a long, hot soak in the bathtub thanking our stars that the camping idea had been scrapped.

Even though this hike was tough, I totally enjoyed it and would definitely do it again. The only disappointment for both of us was that we didnt make it to any of our milestones. The great advantage with the rainy weather was no sunburn and we didnt get thirsty at all, we carried 2l of water per person and ended up using only about half a liter for the entire hike. We even gave away some of our water to people who had run out just to lighten the load on the way back.

The tantalizing views we had of the coastline (so near yet so far :( ) means that B and I have promised ourselves we'll go back, and all the way to Kalalau Beach. Let's hope the second time's the charm ..... xxx


couchpapaya said...

Before I forget:

Wishing you and your families a very happy Diwali and a fun-filled, prosperous year ahead!

Thanks to all of you who keep dropping in- you know who you are :)

samir said...

That was wonderful !!!, I am so jealous; want to go away on a hiking trip ASAP.
And you are brave to not only contemplate a trip sans hotels but actually implement it. We (our hiking group) always select a hotel first and the hiking trail later.
Happy Diwali to you and your family, and Saal Mubarak (something I learned from Obama)

Angel's Flight said...

What a fantastic post! The pics of the place look gorgeous! I can only imagine what it looked like!


And Happy Diwali to you!

couchpapaya said...

samir - kauai is wonderful for hiking ... we managed to hike everyday, my body is still recovering from all that activity! i'm generally the planned types but my husband isnt, he planned the trip this time. and we didnt really have problems with getting accomodation in places, other than the unknown closure but it's also because we went in the non-tourist time. if it was the middle of tourist season we would have definitely booked! also, the kauai campgrounds dont have specific sites, they have a large area where they let people setup camp as they like. so i got the feeling that they didnt bother checking numbers and pretty much everyone got a permit.

angel - thx :)

Bouncing-Bubble said...

you're REALLY adventurous! and hope u had a great diwali!
nice pics btw

couchpapaya said...

bubbles - thanks!! good to see u, i hope u had a good diwali too. i *tried* to make sweets, the first was a flop so i lost interest in the rest!! really wish indian sweets were easier to make :(

WhatsInAName said...

Wow wow and some more wow.
The snaps make me feel so J. I just can't imagine ever going hiking this way in India. Unplanned and all. The place looks awesome too. lucky you!
btw happy diwali to you and wish you a prosperous new year too.

Smita said...

These are awesome snaps!!! But it must have been disappointing to not to be able to for the proper hiking na??

I so so much want to go to a camping trip. In fact I wanna go to Leh trip, I hope one day am able to!!

couchpapaya said...

WIAN - actually going anywhere unplanned scares me too. u cannot imagine what a big leap of faith this was for me :)

smita - yeah we were slightly disappointed but i think before i attempt it again i need to get in better shape. 11 kms in a single day wiped me out!! u know leh is on our list too!!! hope it works out for all of us :D

Mama - Mia said...

wow!! loved this post!! and as long as you guys had a good time milestones can get done some other time!

great photos! :)



couchpapaya said...

abha - oh i definitely feel a major sense of accomplishment, esp since this is one of those much written trails!! and thanks :) tho all the pics were taken by B ...

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