Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kalalau Trail

Typical Na Pali View


A BIG Waterfall

Vicki on the Trail

Kaua'i is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, much older than Hawaii. The lava is greatly eroded, and there is none of the sharp a'a nor smooth pahoehoe of the newer islands. And there is vegetation—much of its transplanted from elsewhere—everywhere. It is a smaller island, but has two major scenic attractions, the Waimea canyon, aka the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and the Na Pali cliffs along the northwest coast. Other than boat or helicopter, the only way to see Na Pali is to hike the cliffs along the 11-mile Kalalau trail.

We had hoped to do the entire trail back to the beach at Kalalau, 5 days and 4 nights, a leisurely pace, but a variety of circumstances changed our plans. Vicki's knees had not really recovered since the Routeburn tramp in New Zealand. I slipped the first day out and bruised some ribs. The trail—last “improved” in the 1930s—was the worst we have ever seen. It had rained prior to our departure, and the lower tracks were ankle-deep in incredibly slippery mud. The upper tracks, along the cliffs, were narrow (a foot and a half wide mostly), slippery in places, and frightfully exposed, hundreds of feet to the raging sea below.

The bus/taxi/foot transportation to the trail-head took all the morning, and consequently we got a late start. With my injury and the ultra-slow pace required by the poor trail and terrain, we decided to camp well before the six-mile campground. It was a beautiful campsite, probably not authorized—although we had camping permits for the whole trek—where what I will call the Lepsis Creek spills out into Tsunami Beach. Beautiful as it was, the surf raged all night, and we kept listening for tsunami warning sirens (as if!).

Vicki was determined to press on, and the next day we marched, in improving if more exposed conditions, to the six mile “campground.” This is two or three apparent “sites,” a covered cooking area, and a privy, all trashed very thoroughly. We had been warned about the condition of the “campgrounds,” but they were still disappointing. After another cold night in the tent (we left our sleeping bags in Honolulu), neither of us could face an 8AM cold, deep river crossing, so we began our march back out. The retreat was marked by one real gift, watching humpback whales spout and breech and flap their tails in the distance. We arrived back at Tsunami Beach as darkness approached, ate, and settled in for another cool, breezy night. The surf had really picked up at this point, and the constant roar, a hundred feet away, was just about deafening.

We walked back out on the fourth day. We had enjoyed excellent weather all four days, sunny skies in the 70s, with very light rain occasionally in the valleys away from the coast. The breeze had dried out the first two miles of trail to the point they were actually almost decent. We hitched a ride back to Hanalei and then caught the bus back to Lihue and the Kaua'i Inn.

The scenery is indeed beautiful, maybe even “world-class,” as advertised. For us, it was all marred by the condition of the trail and the campgrounds. All were disgraceful, especially in view of the spectacular surroundings. I hope enough people will complain, as I will, to the state government. Alas, we saw no persons of our age doing the over-night hike, and younger folk often just don't have the perspective to see that something is seriously wanting.

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