ECO-ZINE.COM
Where travel and ecology meet.
Front Page
Na Pali Hike part 1
How to Pick an Ecotour

A Walk with Time: Hiking the Na Pali Coast  Part 1 
Story and Photos by Scott Burch


R
iley and I flew into Kauai first thing in the morning and hit the road. If you divided up all the hours of how we each spent our summer, it would show that both of us had spent the majority of our time guiding trips in boats. The Rye spent her summer rafting in Grand Canyon for Arizona River Runners, and I spent mine kayaking to the Mokulua Islands for Mokulua Kayak Guides. Nothing better than messing around in boats, but it was time for some hiking. We went out to the highway and stuck our thumbs out, hoping to get a ride to the Na Pali trail head 40 miles away.

We figured hitching would be a good way to meet some interesting people and make our trip streamline and adventurous. After the first 5 minutes we started to come up with alternate plans...justifying our hitchhiking with "at least we tried," and
" we have all day," and "we can always go back and rent a car." Five minutes later Aaron picked us up. A cool guy, he even had a caribiner on the floor of his truck. "You a climber?" of course I had to ask..."no." No? Hhhmmm.

He stopped at a gas station for us so we could fill the stove fuel bottle. He’s a glass blower by trade and we stopped by his gallery in Kapaa while he did a few chores. He was headed to Hanalei and, in spite of the fact that he did take a few moments to impart his Midwestern wisdom about lazy island people to us, the ride was quick and easy. Ok, maybe he wasn't as cool as we thought, and certainly the carabiner was just for looks, but we were well on our way thanks to his ride.


Hanalei
Hanalei, what a place. A huge waterfall (over 1000ft.) was gushing off the mountains just south of town, which drew more than one explicative out of both Rye and me. As we drove towards Hanalei, from a distance of 15 miles you could see it first as a white shimmer on the cliffs. Its position was so unbelievable I had to ask Aaron the dumb question, "is that a waterfall?" He replied non-challantly, "yeah, its pretty here."

We got dropped right in town, and though we wanted to hang out and check the place out, we knew our next ride was uncertain so we stuck thumbs out again, hoping we wouldn't kill valuable hiking time by waiting. The first vehicle to go by was a front loader, and he and us both got a laugh at the idea of us riding with him. Right behind him was a new SUV with surfboards on top that stopped so quick for us we weren’t sure what to do. "10 seconds, that's our wait? But we don't want to leave Hanalei yet."

We got in. In hindsight these guys must have been CIA or something. They didn't look like surfers, and when I asked them "you guys live around here?" one said "no," and one said "kinda" and then they looked at each other realizing the giveaway in their inconsistent answer. I commented on the boards..." you going surfing?", "no," hhhmmm. "Been surfing?" "No." Posers with a budget big enough to rent boards just for the look? Maybe. At least the boards fit in around here better than the carabiner Aaron was posing with. Talkative they weren’t and we never found out what the deal was there. We didn't really want to know. Before we could gleen more clues about their mysterious mission we were at Ha'ena and the trailhead.

We filled our water bottles, hung out at the beach and ate a snack, and then hit the trail. We were still wearing our flip flops and thought we would change into shoes when we got to the hard part. After all, my friend Beth had told me that some cool magazine, I forget which one, rated this trail as the second hardest hike in the USA. Of course we were skeptical of the magazines opinion, but we were prepared. Lots of people on the trail with big boots suitable for Denali...ok, maybe not Denali, but Rainier anyway, were all giving us such pitiful looks. I guess our footwear gave us away; we weren't REAL hikers now were we? We even saw a guy in gaiters. Now we were suspicious.

Hanakapi'ai
Way too quickly we got to Hanakapi'ai, our first nights camp. A nice little stream comes down a big valley into the beach and makes for an idyllic spot. There was a sign on the trail just before we got to the beach that tallied how many dozens of people have died in the treacherous currents there, and when we arrived at the beach there was a fierce shorebreak...so of course we jumped right in. Fabulous water.

No deaths in our party yet, so we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the sea caves and then in the evening walked up the valley. In the creek we found a dozen or so feisty crawdads. Hiding under rocks, they all came out with claws raised as we crouched down to look at them. Tough guys. Dumb introduced water bugs; didn't they know we were hungry? We figured as soon as we caught one the rest would freak and run, so we just took fotos and played with them a bit. Next time we'll bring a trap and plan on a breakfast of crawdads.

We also saw some indigenous Hawaiian Gobi's, O'opu Ohune, in the pools of the stream, and a string of their eggs freshly laid that evening. Maybe the crawdads were challenging us in order to defend their upcoming Goby egg feast. If we brought a trap next time we could help save an endangered Hawaiian Goby from introduced predators and enjoy fresh mini-lobster at the same time. Tasty conservation work if you can get it.

Up in the valley we discovered the ruins of a house nestled in a large bamboo grove. Only the chimney and part of the foundation remains. Because the house is over 3 miles from the road, there must be a cool story here somewhere, but I'm clueless. After all I'm still in my flip flops, how clued could I possibly be? Those weren't the last ruins we would see that week. It turns out that most of the valleys along the Na Pali Coast had villages, some with hundreds of inhabitants, until the early 1800's when they were all decimated by disease. Now only Kalalau is inhabited, and
11 miles from the end of the road in this modern day, it’s an interesting crowd living there. More on that later, lets go back to Hanakapi'ai.    

As we settled in on the beach for the night the imature toads that were in the fresh water pool behind the beach started their nightly routine of exploration. Those little toad-a-lys were hopping around everywhere. In the morning we found mama, a big cane toad, queen of the pond. We packed up and started hiking again at sunrise, Kalalau bound.

        

On the Trail
Now we felt as if we were on the trail we had come to hike. Much narrower and much less crowded, we didn't see anyone else for the first couple of hours. Up and down is the nature of the hiking. The trail goes up to skirt the sea cliffs in between valleys, and down and in to the next stream crossing. Six or seven valleys are crossed this way, most of them hanging valleys with no access to the sea.

Of course the vegetation varies with the terrain. On the cliffs it’s dry and exposed with mostly grasses and shrubs. In the valleys it is the lush of lush. Nice Hawaiian rain forest. Out on the cliffs the trail averages 1000 ft or more above the water, putting the hiker in some fabulous places for views of the mountains and ocean. We picked and ate guava along the way, and admired wild orchids and other flowers. For the Rye and I, it was our new favorite trail.

In every valley we could see ruins of low rock walls and platforms, obviously much older than the house we saw yesterday. We didn't take the time to explore too much on the way into Kalalau; after all we were on the second hardest hike ever, according to that magazine, so we felt we'd better make time while we can. We passed a couple hiking the other way and they asked us what time we left Hanakapi'ai. "I don’t know, around sunrise I guess." Appalling, no shoes AND no watch? We were a disaster waiting to happen.

Do You Have a Permit?
Around noon of this, our second, day we lunched on a big rock in the middle of the large stream in Hanakoa Valley. Here we ran into more people, all asking us one question upon seeing us. "Do you have a permit?" I had heard through the coconut telegraph system on Oahu (island gossip) that "nobody gets a permit, just hike in." I had read that there are toilets and other facilities maintained by the Parks Dept. and that sounded like a valid permit situation to me. Then I talked to Beth, who had been here a month ago, and she confirmed that getting a permit was the thing to do.

It seemed like people on the trail were strangely obsessed with the permit issue, especially given the fact that "nobody gets one." Turns out the State Parks Dept. helicoptered into Kalalau that morning and started writing tickets for all those that didn't have a permit, which explains all the upset people coming out. Bummer for those guys.

As we got closer to Kalalau the distant hum of helicopters got more distinct. The trail remained spectacular, and we kept our eyes peeled for the hard part where we would need to put our shoes on. The trail did cross one area that was a little slippery, where a big mudslide had rumbled down the cliffs into the sea in times long ago, but we kept the shoes in the packs. I think someone
once said, "one pound on your foot is equal to five in your pack." Better to carry them than to wear them then, as long as we survive. To keep the record straight, there was one incident with foot wear. My flip flop came off at one point and I had to kick it back right side up to put it back on. Or did that happen to the Rye? I don't remember now. With the death toll still at zero for our party, we pressed on.

Kalalau!
Arriving at Kalalau mid-afternoon we knew we were at some type of destination. Scenic tour helicopters were always overhead, and tour boats buzzed past with loud speakers blaring narration to the clients on board. All this attention was warranted. What an amazing place Kalalau is. Grass covered bench lands 50 feet above the ocean, dotted with ancient ruins, greeted us as we descended the last slope down the cliffs.

Walking along the coast we entered the forest at the bottom of the valley where we soon ran into Rodney. A very friendly and articulate man, he was born and raised in Kalalau, moved around a bit, including college at UH on Oahu, and then moved back where he
feels most at home. He welcomed us to his home, 11 miles from the road, invited us over later for pizza and banana cream pie, and as we continued down the trail, he went off to the community area known as the "sanctuary for wild humans."

Another mile from the bottom of the hill, we reached Kalalau beach and the camping area. After exploring the area and rinsing off in the waterfall at the beach, we moved into a nice little sea cave with a view that made us feel as though we were the only ones on the coast. Thanks to the Parks Department guys chasing everyone out that morning, the beach was un-crowded and tranquil.

Vacation mode had finally set in for us. We hung out in the shade of our little cave, swam in the ocean, and explored the beach while we met and talked to the other campers there. Watching spinner dolphins play as we ate dinner, we were enjoying the good life. The complexities of our twenty-first-century lives were slowly melting away. Life was simpler now and things had more of a timeless nature. Nothing to do but live, nowhere to go but where we wanted to be, and we were already there
.