Just before we left for the trail, I had read that the Kalalau Trail is one of the ten most dangerous trails in the United States. I knew it was going to be difficult, but didn’t realize how threatening the trail could be. Undeterred, Karel and I set off.
The Kalalau Trail adventure began on a Sunday with a packed house at the trailhead parking lot. Hanakapiai Beach is about a two-mile hike from the trailhead and is quite popular during the weekends. We had hiked no more than a half-mile and I recognized a familiar face on the trail in the distance. As she came closer, I recognized her to be Anne Hathaway, the Oscar winning actress (an Oscar winner, Jerry!). Karel says he was looking at his feet the entire time, so he didn’t see her. Most of the beaches in Hawaii are quite dangerous, especially during the winter months. The riptides can be life threatening. In fact, I’d read that Anne Hathaway had been rescued from a riptide in Hawaii just a couple days before we saw her on the Kalalau Trail.
As we approached the two-mile mark of Hanakapiai Beach, a wooden sign reminded us of the deadly possibility of the beaches in Hawaii. Before the hike—as we traveled around the island of Kauai—many people told us of the dangerous beaches on the Na Pali Coast. In fact, one adviser said to not even go into the water of the Kalalau Beach, our ultimate destination. We found this warning surprising, but took it seriously.
Hanakapiai Stream flows throughs a lush valley and empties at Hanakapiai Beach. We didn’t even stop at the beach, which is a few yards off of the trail. We skipped over a few rocks in the stream and kept trudging. The trail after this point becomes much less maintained. From here on, the trail was incredibly muddy. In many spots, the trail would have been easier to slide down than walk down.
I have to give a shout-out to Amber at REI in Missoula, Montana. She advised me on my hiking boots and trekking poles. I found the trekking poles to be a complete necessity on the trail and utilized them constantly. Taking strides up and down with 40 pounds your back, the poles were a godsend.
The trail to Kalalau Beach begins at sea level and ends at sea level, but there are many peaks and valleys along the trail. Many of the peaks are between 600-800 feet. I had trained a little bit beforehand, but found the trail incredibly taxing physically. Huffing and puffing in the mud was a struggle. Karel was like a damn burro on the trail, he moved faster up the trail than down it. So I gave him plenty of excuses to take a breather and wait for me to catch up.
In between huffing and puffing for air, we would marvel at the scenery on the trail. Just below one of my favorite backdrops of the trail was a small pool where we filtered some water and rested for a bit. The pool lay at the bottom of an immense black rock wall with vivid vegetation growing within the cracks and crevices. A dramatic background.
With my feet throbbing and darkness creeping up, we decided to set up camp at the 6-mile mark of Hanakoa campground.