Kalalau Trail-KauaiThis is a little known trail located on an island just a wee bit southwest of LA so a trail report definitely belongs on this site. With that said this was my second trip to Kauai and I really wanted to knock this trail off my to-do list and hike the Na Pali coast.
It is exactly the same length as Whitney at 22 miles round trip with slightly less elevation gain at just ~5,000 but half of it is on the way back. The reason why this trail is much more difficult then Whitney is the first six and half miles are hiking through jungle in mud over roots and up rocks. Depending on rain you can be sucking mud for almost this entire section. The mud can be as thick as "oh shit where did my shoe go" to "how did I land on my ass" slippery. I noticed a significant difference between the morning after evening rains and late afternoon when things had dried out considerably.
The hike begins at the end of the road on the NE coast at Ke'e beach known for many films being shot there such as Bali Hai. The first two miles are the most used section of trail leading to the first major valley, Hanakapi'ai where a beach and a two mile hike inland to a waterfall are options. This is the only hiking that can be availed without an overnight permit or so the rules say but people don't follow the rules much in Hawaii as we will see later. I started at 6 just as the sun was coming up and found this section of trail in good shape albeit steep climbing up lots of rock. After 500 feet of climbing its a drop back down to sea level, get used to this roller coaster because that is the whole hike in a nutshell.
From here you have a hard four miles to the next major valley Hanakoa which is the first location that is available for camping. Views open up as you leave one valley and contour to the next. The sections in the valleys themselves are uninspired jungle hiking. There are I believe four hanging valleys that you get to climb in and out of before getting to Hanakoa which is only noteworthy due to its more significant water flow. There is also a waterfall that you can hike up to from this camping area.
From here you are at mile marker six and finally things start to get more interesting. After a half mile you clamber out of this valley and get a great look down to the ocean with minimal vegetation. This is the infamous Crawler's Ledge which has a nice drop off directly into the ocean. The hiking is straight forward except for those acrophobically inclined. This section is a pleasure to hike as you get nice ocean breezes and consistent great views. The only annoying part is all the sightseeing boats and their loud speakers blasting from the guides. As I crossed the ledge, I had a boatload of appreciative tourists cheering me across, I felt like a zoo denizen.
The next mile is on eroded hillsides but great views and less vegetation. At mile marker eight its back to crossing off hanging valleys with some relief here and there with drier areas. Finally before you reach mile marker ten you cross one last barren hillside and crest Red Hill looking down at your destination the Kalalau beach and valley. Red Hill is potentially a slippery steep clay-fest down but there has been lots of work done here to put in steps and when I got there it was also dry making it a non-event to walk down a steep 1/2 mile and 800 feet elevation.
You finally reach the Kalalau stream where I met two young ladies with one who was just in the process of removing her bikini bottom. The Kalalau area is overrun with young hippies who are all naked and smoking jay. They live there for long time periods until the rangers come out and try to root them out until they come back again. They may want to be considered natives but their presence on the land is very evident with lots of garbage around the camping areas.
The beach itself is gorgeous with a waterfall that falls directly on to the sand. The area is marred by the tour boats but it is relatively easy to ignore them. I washed down in the pool below the waterfall after my mudfest. I had a chance to chill out for an hour at the beach and watch the nudist frolic in the waves. The hike in had taken a hard 5 1/2 hours.
The hike back was going to be unpleasant as temps reached the high 80s and humidity was off the charts. Let's just leave off descriptions of the hike back as I could not stop the misery of the humidity getting to me. Sitting in the shade was irrelevant you just kept on sweating. I had drunk a gallon of water and a pint of Powerade as I got back to mile marker 6 at the Hanakoa Valley. The two steepest climbs were behind me as I filled up my bladder at the stream, fortunately water is never an issue here. I finally slogged back in to the last valley and basically took a swim in the river to cool off for my final climb. By then the sun was setting and temps were finally cooling down. I finally crested the last hill and headed down to my car finishing just as the sun set a perfect coda to my start at sunrise. The entire hike was the longest of my storied career at 13 hours out on the trail in total, eclipsing my Rabbit/Villager of 11.5 hours.
This trail is very variable due to ever changing weather and hiking season so my account could be very different from others. For most hikers doing this as a two day hike is considered challenging knocking it off in one day made it all that much more sweeter. The scenery didn't hurt either.