Saturday, August 29, 2015

Kauai vacation recap, Day 5: In which we test our adventuring mettle

Outbound view on Kalalau Trail
Friday, August 14, 2015

We knew that hiking the legendary Kalalau Trail, or at least the first two miles of it, was a must-do for our vacation.  The first section of the trail extends from Ke'e beach, which is the end of the Kuhio highway on the island's north side, to Hanakapi'ai beach, which is only accessible via water or the trail.  Less certain for us was the idea of extending our hike by taking the Hanakapi'ai Valley Trail, which is another two miles (each way) from the beach to the eponymous waterfall.  Four miles doesn't sound like much, but various online and print guides described this trail as "difficult," "technical," "can be dangerous," and "for those with the time and endurance."  We had never hiked longer than 6.5 miles together, and that was on two instances: 1) the Awaawapuhi trail from two days prior, and 2) a Pinnacles National Monument trail a couple years prior.  Eight miles with "technical" stretches seemed like, well, a stretch, even with our newlywed honeymoon enthusiasm (go team!).

Near the beginning
The outbound Kalalau hike provides quick satisfaction, as a rapid ascent up along the cliff soon offers big "oohs" and "aahs."  Footing had to be careful, but not dangerously so since we had a dry day.  Crazy views of the coastline and the otherworldly iridescence of the blue water far below:

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Eventually it's a downward hike with switchbacks to the beach, which was quite full of hikers relaxing, and to my surprise also contained a large number of rock towers.  Evidently these are created by hikers, though if I remember correctly, the ancient Hawaiians also made larger rock towers as tributes to the god Lono.

This beach is where the Hanakaipi'ai stream (from the waterfall) flows into the ocean, and it's all very idyllic:

For some unclear reasons involving a back-and-forth of "What do you want to do?" and "Maybe we should try it?" and "Are you sure?," we decided to try out the valley trail to the waterfall.  We initially thought we'd just hike to a point where we could get a glimpse of the waterfall, but as the trail progressed, the waterfall was nowhere in sight, and my mood worsened noticeably.  Let's just say that I was not at my finest in terms of maturity, but reacted by stubbornly insist that we "hike it out."  It was mostly to prove that we could, since we'd already come so far, and we both felt it would be a shame if we didn't get to see the waterfall after all that effort.  (And, I admit, I didn't want to be a wimp.)

Fast forward through a lot of muddy rocks, many pounds of fallen/smashed/rotting guava adding to the slippery terrain (and sometimes perfuming the air nicely if mockingly), much maneuvering over and between boulders, and a couple stream crossings.  We finally got to a point where were quite near to the waterfall and could see it clearly.  This was tantalizingly close to the actual end of the trail, where the waterfall meets its pool below and originates the stream; we were maybe an eighth of a mile away or less, based on later study of the trail map.

Look!  The waterfall!  Let's be extra chipper for a selfie!
But after glancing up the trail and seeing an even more imposing stretch of smooth rock waiting to be climbed, and my involuntary whimper in response, we decided the risk of injury had become too great.  (Actually, I cried a little and said "This is no longer fun."  Andrew was very reassuring about this outburst.)  And so we sat on some rocks in the beautiful stream with terraced pools and smaller waterfalls all around, soaked our feet in the bubbles of clear water, ate granola bars, and reapplied sunscreen.

Best foot spa ever
My husband would, at this time, like to offer his account of this hike, which runs as follows: "We made it [to the waterfall]. It was beautiful, it was paradise, and we recommend it to everyone." (He also thinks that "Operation Kauai Thunder" is a terrible name for an operation.)  We did originally agree that this single staunch sentence would be our shared story from Kalalau day, but my guilt at having actually cried during our hike necessitates the absolution of writing a more honest account for my ~7 readers.

After the bubbly paradise of the hike's midpoint, we turned back toward the beach. At one point we encountered a family with two kids, around 10 years of age, and saw that the daughter had apparently fallen and hit her head on a rock.  She was very upset but seemed physically fine aside from a couple scrapes on her legs, so after a couple easy questions about vision (normal), dizziness (none), pounding headache (none), and nausea (none), we continued along the trail.  Hopefully she was completely recovered after a few more minutes, and I didn't forget to ask anything obvious!

We made it back to Hanakapi'ai beach relatively efficiently, only getting one shoe each soaked during the stream crossings.  At the beach we paused for some more sunscreen and bandaids-on-blisters, and then headed uphill back toward Ke'e beach.  At this point the sun felt particularly strong, along with the humidity - the sea breezes don't extend inland to the valley area near the beach - and we realized that we should have packed more water.  There were two attractive trickles of freshwater coming down to the trail around the last (first) mile, but we didn't think it wise to drink that without filtration.

Fortunately, with some breaks, the eventual strong breezes along the cliffside, and some water rationing, we made it back to the trailhead. Our lunch, packed in a cooler in the car trunk, included some pineapple that tasted like the best fruit imaginable.

It was close to 3:00 pm when we finished, or nearly six hours after we had started.  That works out to about 1.25 miles per hour, which is rather slow, but I think respectable given the climate and trail difficulty, and we passed far more groups than passed us.  Would I do it again?  The first section of the Kalalau trail, definitely yes, as those views can only be seen from the trail or by boat or plane (or helicopter) tour.  With the Hanakapi'ai trail extension, possibly, but with strong caveats: I would want to bring a spare pair of hiking socks in addition to the ones I wore, which were already helpful; an additional 16+ oz of water each; and more mental preparation for the out-and-back nature of the trail.  It might have been good to pack lunch and actually eat that at the midpoint instead of snacking in the middle and eating a late lunch afterward.  Wearing reliable hiking shoes was key (I couldn't believe it when we saw some outbound hikers in flip-flops during our return hike), as was having a great hiking partner.  I will say without reservation that, even with the frustrations mid-trail, it was ultimately a fun adventure to share with Andrew, and I'm very happy that we "conquered" it together.

On our way back to the apartment we stopped at Hee Fat General Store in old town Kapa'a for the first of several shave ices during the weekend.  This store has some of the best shave ice on the island, which I think is because of the fine, powdery ice and also the option for syrups made from real fruit.  Over the next few days we tried the guava, mango, passionfruit, pineapple, and coconut flavors (you can get up to four at once), and always with vanilla macadamia nut ice cream at the bottom.  One shave ice is plenty big enough to share.

For dinner that night we got takeout from Kauai Family Cafe, which advertises local and Filipino food. The restaurant is not much to look at, but prices are very reasonable and the generously-portioned food is delicious.  We got Kalua pork (served with rice and half of a very ripe, bright orange mango) and vegetarian Pancit noodles, and ate all of it with some steamed vegetables and local beer.