Hiking Kalalau Trail Hawaii’s Most Dangerous Hike
We landed in Kauai rather late after hitching a ride to the airport with Kalei’s ex-boyfriend. As we walked out of the airport I sensed a more laid back environment than Oahu. Maybe the rural, scenic highway walking down Route 56 skewed my judgement, or maybe walking straight for Kalalau Trail from the airport without a shuttle, taxi, or bus did it. I did not know.
But, that first night walking past the WalMart, wild camping off in the jungle with Kelly felt more memorable than ever. We slept at the top of an embankment off the highway with vines, palm leaves and roots all cattywampus around our bivy sacks.
Despite the drastic temperature change from Oahu, I slept well. Our only plan for Kauai involved hiking the Kalalau Trail off the Na Pali Coast. I heard about its beauty from a few buddies at Pacific Skydiving and it felt like the hike of a lifetime from all the stories they reminisced.
We walked down the coast, planning on taking the bus or hitchhiking, with no definite timeframe in mind. The weather held up nicely as we trucked our packs along on our first backpacking adventure together as a couple.
Kelly did not backpack. She did not really hike or hitchhike, but she joined and surprisingly did quite well for her first time.
After a few food stops and a gas station, we quickly learned the only way to Kalalau Trail without a rental car was by hitchhiking as the bus took people as far as Princeville. We thought about taking the bus, but shortly after leaving the gas station, strapping on our packs for the road, two hippies pulled off the road and gave us a lift. They noticed the sign I rigged up earlier in red marker, “Na Pali Coast Trail” in bold capital lettering. They just completed the trail recently and agreed to take us to Princeville. The driver told us tales of the valley. His wavy, brown long hair, and scruffy five o’clock shadow resembled that of a Senator Morra lookalike from Limitless. We felt the love in the air, the spirit of travel, the wanderlust, as he told us of the people whom lived in the valley at the end of Kalalau Trail.
Before the annexation of Hawaii a small community of locals lived off in the jungle of the Kalalau along the Na Pali Coast. They lived off the luscious, soil-enriched land, with dense tropical vegetation from native guavas, nuna, java plum, and limes to non-native species planted by man. The terraces stretched for miles into the end of the valley of Kalalau with mango trees, jackfruit, bananas, etc. So much fruit you could taste its essence in the air by sticking out your tongue, like a mist of sugar in a chocolate factory.
But after getting pushed off their land, the terraces and goats became an abandoned relic of the past, a hidden gem in the valley. Hippies from all over the world took this opportunity to grow fruits and help fix the terraces, living in the valley off the land. The past 50 to 60 years all different types of travelers got lost in the valley, finding themselves in an oasis of epic proportions with godly views of the Na Pali Coast. With that tale you can bet we held on for an adventure.
The passion and love flowing in the conversation took us further than Princeville. It took us to the start of the Kalalau Trail. With five hours of daylight left we set up camp off the coast underneath palm trees overlooking the thrashing ocean.
We just missed the rain, but not for very long. What no one told us about the Kalalau Trail, we completely overlooked the obvious, jungle climate. The first six miles we trudged along the coast on a six-inch wide path of muddy, slippery rocks and sludge overlooking cliff-face after cliff-face. I did not fear heights or the squishy, slick, narrow pathways, but Kelly looked terrified, with a fake smile plastered over her ghostly grin.
It felt like eternity hiking up and down and around these mountains along the Kalalau. It took much patience on my part to accept Kelly’s less than thrilled enthusiasm for this hike. But, it was not the hike itself she disliked. She just hated the steep, chilling fear of getting vertical close to the edge of a devastating dangerous ledge, which felt endless. Probably because it was…
For the first six miles we completed them in just under seven hours. I lost much of my patience watching her lollygag behind me, but I truly did not know she feared for her life. She pushed her limits to the max and it made me appreciate how much she loves me.
I sat on that thought for the rest of the night while I set up camp under a lemon tree by the restroom. We stayed pretty dry with the tarp shelter I rigged up. Although, the massive rainfall left our campsite in a ponding mess of puddles like mud-pie craters sprawled across the ground, somehow we managed.
The whole hike felt damp, misty and wet with mud brushed across my legs and wrinkled, moist feet. My boots felt like five pound weights that got heavier with each daunting step through the harsh jungle mud. Kelly endured my pain equally, but she stood firm with her decision to end her hike at the six-mile mark. Crawlers Ledge, the more open cliff-faces, excessive erosion and limited food supply solidified her decision to stay behind.
So I kept on hiking and to my surprise she made the safe choice. The hike intensified as I crossed rivers thigh deep in fast flowing water in flash flood hazard areas. I maintained my footing, bracing myself with my walking stick as much as possible. I tried not to look down at the huge drop-offs overlooking the swell crashing against the rocky walls of the ledge I scrambled past, but that’s where the view lay. So I looked. My heart thumped slowly, but as I kept a steady pace any fear subsided as I gained confidence along the way.
Surprisingly, after the 8-mile mark the rain subsided for the first time on the hike. I hiked free. I hiked alone. I hiked at my own pace. It felt relaxing and heart-breaking at the same time. Since all I thought about was my wife’s well-being and how she held up at the 6-mile shelter. The path finally dried up and for the first time I walked on solid, stable, ground, free of potential landslides and rockslides or any slippery escapades to my demise.
I squabbled along the ridge looking out at the erosion sheared next to me, with open root structures freely dangling in the wind. One step might trigger a landslide, or not, but I made it this far so I kept going as the sun winked its rays in approval.
The mountains felt infinite in both directions as I circled in a panoramic view of the coastline from a few hundred feet in the air. Their silhouettes stacked in the distance enduring an eternity of crashing breaks from the heartaches of Mother Nature. It’s no wonder the park service closed the trail whilst we hiked it. Erosion, landslides, fallen down trees, and rock slides occurred frequently in damp, rainy weather. I lucked out as I stood there overlooking Kalalau Beach without a tear in the sky.
Although, my presence on the 11-mile beach felt short-lived this hike goes into the memory bank as not only my most dangerous hike, but my most cherished because of the moments I shared with my Kelly. She stuck it out, in the cold, in the rain, wild camping, hitchhiking, hiking and walking like a champion. I am very proud of her and the many more random adventures we will share throughout our travels around the world.