Kalalau Trail – The Na Pali Coast

Hey friends – it has been a couple of weeks! Thanks for checking back in! Last week, Clay and I returned from a most-epic trip to Kauai! Between then and now I have been showing friends around Kailua and getting back into the swing of work and normalcy. And now, I find myself updating my blog and sharing the wonders of the Na Pali coast and Kalalau.

Maybe you have heard of the Na Pali Coast. It is one of the oldest, most rugged, and beautiful sections of coastline on the Hawaiian Island chain. Kalalau is a magical place. It is a secluded beach that lies at the end of an eleven mile trail – a trail that winds and hugs the cliffs of the Na Pali coast, a trail that sometimes dares you to stare down the hundreds of feet of sheer rock face and the crashing waves below you. Part of the allure of this beach is the remoteness of it. Accessible only by walking, kayaking (in the summer months), and an occasional saving-grace Zodiac boat and Jet Ski, this beach is often reached only by the adventurous.

Our week long trip to Kauai was planned to consist of 5 days on the Kalalau Trail, followed by two days exploring the rest of the island by car. On October 1st, Clay and I set out with our friends Matt and Isabel who were to join us our first day on the trail. We hiked the first two miles of trail – heavily trafficked by day-hikers – and decided to take a quick break at the first beach we came across – Hanakapiai beach – before trekking two miles into the valley to Hanakapiai Falls. The trail from the beach to the falls was wet and slippery, and required several stream-crossings. After what felt like much further than two miles (in comparison to the first breezy two), we arrived at the falls. They were absolutely stunning. We took in the view and quickly agreed to go for a swim (a breath-taking bone-chilling swim at that) to check out the view from behind the veil.

Behind the veil of Hanakapiai Falls
Behind the veil of Hanakapiai Falls

After enjoying the waterfall, we pumped and purified some stream water before heading back down the valley to Hanakapiai beach. Clay and I said goodbye to Matt and Isabel and made the decision to camp at mile two, despite the camping limitations and our goal of reaching the campsites at mile 6. We feasted on Gouda cheese, salami, and club crackers before enjoying the first of many stunning sunsets, and retreated to camp just as dark set in.

Sunset on Night One
Sunset on Night One
The camp set-up!
The camp set-up!

The next day consisted of a long, nine mile day. I knew it would be long not so much because of the distance to be covered, but because of the characteristics of the terrain that I knew lay ahead. For anyone who knows me or has hiked with me, you may know that I have a fear of heights. Not a fear of heights in the normal sense where you’re scared but get through it, but the fear of heights in the crippling sense where my ability to move eludes me. I had known about this section of challenging trail, beginning at mile 7, before deciding on this hike. I had looked at photos, read blogs, and spoken with friends who have trekked it. I thought that I was mentally prepared to get through the stretch referred to as Crawler’s Ledge. As Clay and I approached this treacherous section, I moved slowly and paused to let other hikers pass. It occurred to me that other hikers – hikers also in their twenties, and even middle-aged couples – seemed to give this nerve-wracking section of trail little to no thought. I carefully planted each foot and took hold of the rock wall in each hand while they confidently strode quickly across Crawler’s Ledge. I felt like an outlier, to say the least. Throughout our second day on the trail I quickly discovered that I was one of few hikers, if not the only hiker, embarking on the Kalalau Trail with a fear of heights to the scope that I indeed have.

Creeping across Crawler's Ledge, slowly but surely.
Creeping across Crawler’s Ledge, slowly but surely.

I sighed with relief once I knew Clay and I had completed Crawler’s Ledge. Clay had been patient and encouraging as I slowly worked my way across the exposed ridge line and now, I was thrilled to be through! As we continued on the trail, however, I quickly realized that I was not through. Not through at all. Despite all of the advice from friends, the blogs that I had read, and the photos I had seen, none included the exposed, ridge-line trail beyond Crawler’s Ledge that continued along the edge of a cliff. For another mile and a half, I slowly crawled along the trail. At this point, I was physically and mentally tired from the stress and fear that the trail had induced, and continued to induce. We finally took a break just before mile 9. There was a nice, small campsite as well as a helicopter landing pad. It was 3pm and I was exhausted and drained. Clay and I deliberated whether we should continue on – and I secretly deliberated if I should have made it this far in the first place. I refused to think about the return trek now. We met a kind couple on their way out who described the remaining stretch of trail, telling us that it was all downhill from here, except for one spot – possibly the worst spot on the trail – that was made of loose dirt looming above a 200ft drop-off into the ocean. They guaranteed that reaching Kalalau would be worth it, and that we could make it in time for sunset. Clay, being the gentleman that he is even offered to make two trips and to carry my pack across the section of loose dirt for me. Wanting to make it to camp that night, I agreed to press on. To say that the upcoming section of dirt was “sketchy” was to put it lightly. I approached the ledge with dirt crumbling beneath each step. With Clay right behind me, he gently pushed me along the sloping, crumbling trail. Once I made it across, I sat down, took deep breaths, and waited for him to hike back for his pack and return. Finally, the ledge portion of the hike was done. Two more breezy miles and we finally reached the paradise of Kalalau.

Just two more breezy miles, much like this, left!
Just two more breezy miles, much like this, left!

Clay and I stopped to take a picture next to the Kalalau sign, where I realized that my hands were still trembling and shaking. I showed Clay and then shook it off, happy to have made it at last. Clay and I found the perfect campsite, arranged our hammocks, and headed to the beach to watch the sunset. That evening, we built a fire and cooked a Ramen Bomb – a delicacy that I learned to create back in college with the Mountaineering and Whitewater Club. It consists of 1 pack of Ramen and 1 pack of Idaho instant mashed potatoes. (The Chipotle Bacon Cheddar kind is best. Brace yourself for a warm, filling goodness and exploding taste buds! With these ingredients being lightweight and cheap, nothing beats a Ramen Bomb.)

We made it to Kalalau!
We made it to Kalalau!

The next two days were spent exploring the beauty of Kalalau and the valley behind it. Clay and I hiked up the Kalalau valley and explored the big pools; swimming in the refreshing, ice-cold water. We shared Ramen Bombs, camp fires, rum, and chocolate with the people that we met in Kalalau. And these people were wonderful. We met some whom were there for just a few days like us, some who had been there for months, and one gentleman, an middle-aged engineer from North Carolina, who comes to Kalalau each October to soak up paradise before returning to the real world. We also met a woman named Jill, who had even met our former coworker and dear friend, Deanna, in Kalalau earlier this spring. Jill joined us for a snack of Gouda cheese, salami, and crackers – a delicacy which she had not enjoyed for some time after residing in Kalalau for several months. (Cheese and crackers often don’t endure a long hike or long span of time!) On our last day at Kalalau we stumbled upon a man wearing a tee-shirt for Wet Planet Whitewater, the company that Clay and I had worked at the past two summers prior to moving to Hawaii. I quickly recognized him as being affiliated with the company First Descents. He and his girlfriend were fellow whitewater boaters. We chatted with them, shared our stories of the hike in and our time so far in Hawaii. Our time spent with all these people in Kalalau was the perfect reminder of what a small world it is.

Swimming in the big pools with our new friends.
Swimming in the big pools with our new friends.
Funny running into Ben. Hey - I like that shirt!
Funny running into Ben. Hey – I like that shirt!

While Clay and I were enjoying our time in Kalalau, I was also deliberating and considering alternative options to hiking out. As we got to know the locals, I asked about substitute ways out of the valley. Don, our new friend from North Carolina, described the Zodiac boat that often comes to take visitors in and out, but said that the boat hadn’t been by lately because of the double-overhead surf. We spoke with a few more people and determined that if we were patient in waiting a few days, a boat and Jet Ski pair would surely come.

Sure enough, Saturday evening I watched in amazement as a jet ski skidded up on the beach, beating the double-overhead waves to shore. I introduced myself and quickly met two local boys, born and raised on Kauai. They were partners with the man who owned the Zodiac boat, and said that the swells would be coming down that evening and during the following day. I quickly expressed my interest in a boat ride out and jumped at their offer to make a trip on Sunday afternoon. The boys camped at Kalalau that night and loaded up on the Jet Ski first thing in the morning with the promise that they would return that evening with the Zodiac, and that we had a spot. Sure enough, around four P.M. I spotted a boat and Jet Ski in the distance. Clay and I had packed up camp with the hope of their return. (Clay, who would have preferred hiking back out on the trail, was relieved to not have to assist me at a crawling pace for three miles, and to spare himself the stress of my well-being on the trail.)

That afternoon, we met the gentlemen on the beach and loaded up our packs on the Jet Ski. The local boy took us out one at a time on the Jet Ski to the Zodiac boat, timing the Jet Ski’s launch in respect to the overhead waves perfectly. Once on the Zodiac, it was a beautiful ride. The perspective that we gained from admiring the cliffs and ridges of Kalalau and the tiny paradise beach was amazing. As we cruised south back to Hanalei, I took in the ridge-line and the trail that crawled along it. Boy, was I happy to be on that boat.

Taking in the views of Kalalau.
Taking in the views of Kalalau.
On our way! Our Captain, Emily, pictured at the stern.
On our way! Our Captain, Emily, pictured at the stern.

Before I knew it, we were back in Hanalei. With having no itinerary or an idea of places to stay, I asked the captain, Emily, about hostels and hotels in the area. Sure enough, she herself owned a bed and breakfast and offered for us to stay at a great deal. Our new acquaintances dropped us off in Hanalei to get some L&L – hot, greasy, fried food that we hadn’t had in days – before heading into the valley where she lived. All in all, everything worked out for the best and the Na Pali coast was one hell of an adventure!

The trip of a lifetime with my best friend.
The trip of a lifetime with my best friend.

One thought on “Kalalau Trail – The Na Pali Coast

  1. Hayley!!! SO much to love about this – your sunset photo (omg!!!), facing your fears, Clay’s patience, Wet Planet, your hammocks, connections, exploration, etc. It all sounds utterly amazing. My heart was racing while I read about your treacherous hiking! Save some adventures for my visit, please. 😉 I’m so happy that you’re experiencing so many adventures and acts of kindness and quality time with Clay – it makes my heart happy. ♥

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