Well, well. I have returned, alive I might add, from my Great Backpacking Adventure on Kauai. The alive part could very well have been called into question by various sections of the Kalalau Trail (such as Mile 7, Mile 8, and Mile 9), but thankfully was not. So here I am.
I've actually been back since April 30, but my ego had a heart attack when I checked my blog and saw one whole message in the comment section of my last post, thus prompting me to wonder if perhaps my "legions of readers" are not so legion as I would hope. Either that, or I am not as missed as I like to believe.
(A second comment appeared a few days after my return, for which I personally was profoundly grateful, but my ego was still in shock and therefore took little notice. Oh well.)
Anyway, it's taken awhile for my ego to get back on its feet, which ought to explain why I have not updated my blog. I've also been busy. If you are not satisfied by my explanation, that's truly unfortunate and I sympathize. Feel free to make up one that you like better; I won't mind. After all, I am not satisfied by lots of things, so I know how it feels.
I am happy to report, however, that I was more than satisfied by the beauty of Kauai and the challenge of the Kalalau Trail. Even more satisfactory, I did not get any blisters on my feet! (Although a couple toenails did come loose and will doubtless fall off soon—big surprise.)
Instead, I got lots of cuts and scratches on my arms and legs. I am not sure what the $10/night permit fees are going toward, but I can say with a fair amount of confidence that they are not going toward anything that might resemble "maintenance" along the trail. Most of the plants were wildly overgrown, and we bemoaned our lack of machetes on an occasion or two. Or three. Or, well, kind of a lot of occasions, really.
We started the trail on Tuesday, April 24. We parked our car at a campground about a mile from the trailhead (all the advice we got included the words: "Do not park your car at the trailhead" so we didn't) and set out for the campground at Mile 2. We figured we'd sort of ease ourselves into the hike that way. Unfortunately, "ease" was not really a good word to describe the uphill climb fraught with mud, mud, and more mud. There was some downhill, too, but that's no fun when the ground is super-slippery. We made it to Mile 2, however, without incident and set up camp next to a guy who very kindly offered us wine from a box. (I could only wonder how much extra weight THAT added to his pack.)
The next day, we set out early, knowing that we had a lot of ground to cover between Mile 2 and Mile 11—specifically, nine miles. (See, I CAN do math!) We'd been going for about an hour when a man caught up to us. He asked if we were going on to the end, and we said yes. He said he was heading there, too, but that his toe was sprained so he would have to go slow. He then said goodbye, and disappeared rather speedily, which made me wonder if he knew what the word "slow" actually means in English. Because last I checked, it sure didn't mean "speedily."
Somewhere along the way to our destination, we also met a couple hiking out. "Don't be afraid of the one-eyed man at the end," they said, apropos of nothing in particular. "He's really very sweet." "OK," we said, while I mentally gave that short conversation a Frogg Award for Most Unexpected Sentence Ever.
We had a few river crossings, which were fun, if by "fun" you mean "really annoying." I hurt my toe during one of these, and also lost my walking stick, which made me sad. But our wine-toting friend from our first night of camping fared a little worse than we did—he actually fell in one of the rivers, pack and all. And yes, the box of wine got wet.
But the rivers were nothing. What concerned me most about doing this trail before we even left was an infamous stretch known ominously on various blogs as Mile 7. According to these accounts, Mile 7 winds along the side of a cliff with a whole lot of nothing at all between you and some nice pretty rocks at the bottom—sharp rocks getting pounded by big ocean waves. Well, it turns out that, for once, the Internet was in possession of some frighteningly accurate information. Mile 7 looks exactly how I'd heard it described and oh, so much more. The entire mile is fully exposed, with plenty of loose rock and not so much of a trail, just to keep things interesting; oh, and there is no brush or vegetation to keep you from seeing all the (terribly long) way down to the sea below. No doubt it looks very rugged and picturesque from any one of the dozen or so helicopters we'd see passing overhead on flightseeing tours. From our vantage point, though, it just looked scary. Or rather, I should say that was the vantage point of two of us. The other one of us (and it wasn't me) wasn't frightened at all, but thought Mile 7 was "cool." (On the other hand, her hip and her feet were causing her a lot of pain, which might have been playing tricks on her sanity.)
I would also like to point out that people told us this worst part of the trail would last "about 10 minutes." They must have meant "10 minutes as measured in a wormhole or parallel universe" because those were the longest 10 minutes of my life. Also, as I hinted at the beginning of this blog, it turned out that Mile 7 was not the only mile with exposed, cliff-walking sections. Not hardly! Mile 8 and Mile 9 kept up the tradition. In fact, I thought THEY were the worst part of the trail.
I am not the best pray-er in the world (more's the pity), but I got pretty good at it that day.
But we made it to the end without incident (unless you count me stumbling to the ground and nearly falling off the edge of a cliff as an "incident"), and here's where we had one of my personal all-time favorite moments on the trail. We had nearly reached our destination—the beautiful beach of Kalalau—and met a guy pulling a large branch along the trail in front of us. He invited us to a bonfire that night at "Aloha Central" as he called it, and said they'd be roasting goat to eat. Yum! Too bad we'd seen the most adorable baby goat with its mother earlier that day on the trail. Also too bad that I've read Lord of the Flies.
We did not join in the goat-eating that night.
At this point I should explain that there are people who live in the Kalalau Valley, some for months, a few for years, and Mr. Goat Killer was one of these. They are known simply as "the hippies." I don't know if they are real hippies, or if they even call themselves that, but that's what everyone else called them. The few we met seemed nice. Weird, perhaps, but still nice.
Oh, and remember our "slow" friend who passed us on the trail? He joined us for dinner on our first night at the beach, and we learned that he had arrived at the beach at about 1 or 2 in the afternoon, whereas we—who had gotten a head start to begin with, since we began that morning from Mile 2 and he had started at the trail head—arrived at about 6 in the evening. And we didn't even have any sprained toes! (Although between the three of us we had: a sprained ankle, a sore hip, blisters, and a bruised toenail.)
We spent two nights at the beach, and let me tell you, it was worth all the aches and pains (and there were plenty of those). To say it was paradise sounds cliche, but really, that's what it was like. Sharp-ridged verdant cliffs rising in the background, a long stretch of golden sand, turquoise-blue water... it was gorgeous. We also saw two of the most beautiful rainbows I've ever seen in my life, right there in that valley—we even saw the end of one of the rainbows, coming down just behind our tent. (I didn't see a pot of gold, but that's OK. I doubt any of us would have wanted the extra weight in our packs anyway.)
There was a waterfall at one end of the beach, where we bathed and filled up our water bottles. And in the interests of having some useful information in this blog post, I should tell you that the water along the trail has to be treated, because it can contain a bacteria called something that begins with an "L" and ends in "osis" and which I never succeeded in pronouncing correctly. I should also tell you that the hippies don't bother treating the water from the waterfall, and they seem to be OK. Physically, at any rate.
Another tourist tip: if you are not a fan of seeing men walk around buck-naked, you might want to steer clear of Kalalau Beach.
Speaking of which, and in case you were wondering, the one-eyed man really was very sweet, if not always entirely clothed.
We started hiking out on Friday afternoon (April 27) and spent one night at Mile 8 (which is a lovely campsite high on the mountainside, with a spectacular view of the sea). We finished the trek on Saturday, April 28, just in time to lie on another beach (the one at the trail head) before heading to dinner in the charming town of Hanalei (where I had the most delicious pint of Gordon Biersch Marzen that I've ever tasted, along with some less memorable, but not at all unpalatable, food).
The rest of our vacation passed in a blur of lying on yet another beach, and shopping. One last highlight: eating breakfast on Sunday at our hotel while at the table right next to us was... Pierce Brosnan. Yes! I'm absolutely convinced it was him, in spite of the fact that he was wearing Crocs.
If it wasn't, I'll eat a goat.
Labels: backpacking, hiking, Kalalau Trail, Kauai, travel, vacation