May 25, 2011 – Watch your step!
I have been intrigued by the 11 mile Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast (‘The Cliffs’ in Hawaiian) since I first visited Kaua’i with my friend Melanie several years ago. We had hiked the first 2 miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach and at the time, I couldn’t even imagine wanting or being able to hike 9 more steep, slippery miles. When Chuck and I were here for our wedding, we got to see the Na Pali Coast by air (helicopter) and by sea (snorkeling boat). And now, we were ready to see it by land. Remote and beautiful Kalalau Beach looked like it would be well worth the challenge and a perfect place to spend our 2 year anniversary.
The Sierra Club ranks the Kalalau Trail a 9 out of 10 on the difficulty scale. Throughout the trail, there are extremely narrow and eroded sections, steep switchbacks (up to 5,000 ft of elevation gain/loss), river crossings, loose rocks, and large step-ups (ones that I had to literally crawl up, which was difficult with my backpack and the cliffs spinning below me). There is vegetation on parts of the trail but it only provides you with a false sense of security – on some sections, it’s masking sheer cliffs below.
I did a lot of research to prepare for the hike: read blogs/Facebook pages about the trail, watched ‘You Tube’ videos of people hiking the scariest sections – and watched the movie ‘A Perfect Getaway’. In my research, the most common words used to describe the hike were ‘strenuous,’ ‘challenging,’ ‘treacherous,’ hazardous,’ and ‘dangerous’. The more positive comments (which outweighed the negatives for me) were ‘majestic,’ ‘magical,’ ‘dramatic,’ ‘breath-taking,’ and ‘jaw-dropping’. And we would find it to be all of these things.
On the trail, you literally have to watch every single step that you take. Chuck and I had numerous close calls – slipping, tripping, twisting, and almost falling down a cliff (or 2). Also, I am horribly afraid of heights – I get vertigo, my feet go numb, the whole bit. Chuck also voices trepidation when it comes to heights but as far as our past hiking adventures go, I’m usually the one crying while he’s trying to ‘talk me off the ledge’ so to speak and I haven’t seen his fear firsthand. Before our trip, and all the way up to the end of the trail, Chuck kept saying that we could turn around whenever we (or I) didn’t feel comfortable – but I kept saying that wasn’t an option – we were going to make it to the beach. This was definitely going to be a big challenge/accomplishment for me – or ‘my own personal hell’ as Chuck kept saying throughout the hike. All in all, it was really rough at times but I didn’t cry once and the scenery is absolutely STUNNING.
Miles 1 – 2 – Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Beach
The first 2 miles of the trail were in good shape and much less muddy than the last time I hiked it. There are beautiful coastal views along the way – very well worth a day hike.
Miles 2 – 6 – Hanakapi’ai Beach to Hanakoa Valley
We hung out at Hanakapi’ai Beach for about 45 minutes and then continued on. Next up was an 800 ft climb up steep switchbacks out of Hanakapi’ai Valley, then onto traversing through Ho’olulu and Waiahuakua Valleys, and entering Hanakoa Valley. Lots of ‘up the trail’, ‘down the trail’, with some sketchy cliffside sections in the mix to keep us on our toes.
Based on my earlier research and not wanting to push ourselves too hard on the first day, we decided to camp at Hanakoa Valley and then continue on to Kalalau Beach the next morning. The camp at Hanakoa was nice and had cool agricultural terraces to check out – but it had a lot of mosquitoes. The highlight here was Hanakoa Falls – absolutely gorgeous!
We made friends with our camp neighbors Glenn and Deena – they were full of Kalalau tips, which we very much appreciated, as they have hiked the trail every Memorial Weekend for the past 5 years.
May 26, 2011 – Don’t look down!
Miles 6 – 11 Hanakoa Valley to Kalalau Beach
I had woken up at 3 AM – partly due to my slow ease into Hawaiian time, but mostly nervous about the upcoming section of the trail: the infamous ‘Balcony’ or ‘Crawler’s Ledge’. I kept visualizing myself easily hiking through but I knew that might not be the case – sometimes my fear of heights takes over my whole body and it just won’t cooperate.
We started hiking at 7 AM and shortly thereafter, we made it to ‘The Balcony’
The hike down to this section was my very least favorite terrain – very steep with loose rocks. Did I mention that the trail isn’t level either? It slants toward the sea in a lot of spots…
Glenn and Deena caught up to us before ‘The Balcony’ and after some encouraging words to us, we watched them hike through. Glenn was such a gentleman that he had gotten up super early that morning to hike Deena’s backpack to Mile 8 so that she could hike the narrowest section without it. Chuck said that wouldn’t happen in our case… chivalry is dead.
After we saw Glenn and Deena make it safely, off we went, with Chuck in the lead. I got in my horse-blinder mode: focused on the trail ahead, head down, step, hiking pole down, step, hiking pole down, humming the first soothing song that I could get in my head (a song sung by Steve Gold that is always played during yoga practice – yes, I’m earthy). I was feeling fine until, all of the sudden, I started to see and hear rocks crumbling down around me – we had seen some goats earlier above the trail but thought nothing of it. The next thing I know, something large hits the top of my backpack – mere inches from the back of my head – and bounces off the cliff. Chuck just happened to turn around at that moment to give me some encouraging words and saw the softball-size rock hit my pack and bounce over the side. I stopped dead (or luckily, alive) in my tracks and I’m sure my mouth was hanging wide open – the urgency in Chuck’s voice to hurry up was enough to shift my focus from my fear of heights to hightailing it out of there, while rocks were falling down around me. I didn’t have time to think about the fact that I could have been knocked off the cliff by a rock kicked down by goats frolicking above us.
We celebrated at the next valley with water and snacks – onto more beautiful vistas/scary sections ahead…
We caught sight of gorgeous Kalalua Beach around Mile 9 and were instantly rejuvenated.
We arrived at the beach around noon and met up with Glenn and Deena. They had saved us an idyllic campsite overlooking the beach and next to Hoolea waterfall, which would be our source of water and showers (and lots of frog porn – it’s mating season, apparently). After a Top Ramen lunch (to replenish our salt) and a waterfall shower, we walked the beach, explored caves, and played cribbage at sunset. Our day ended with the ocean and the waterfall lulling us to sleep.
May 27, 2011 – Our 2nd Anniversary!
The next morning, our camping neighbors told us that instead of hiking out, they were going to catch a boat back to Hanalei. Since the opportunity presented itself, we weighed our options for the following day: 1. getting up before dawn and hiking 11 miles in one day, muscles aching or 2. taking a boat back in the morning and enjoying Hanalei for the day. The boat ride option seemed a lot easier (albeit less hardcore), especially after a day of extreme relaxation. Plus, it would allow us to fully enjoy our last day in paradise without having the nagging thought in the back of our minds that we would have a very hard 11 mile hike to look forward to.
When the boat arrived offshore to pick up our neighbors, Chuck swam out past the waves to talk to the boat captain and he agreed to come back the following day. Once word got out around camp that we were getting picked up, all sorts of people came out of the woodwork to inquire about the boat – people with knee injuries, twisted ankles, wounds, etc – as we saw, the trail can be brutal. I don’t think that there is a way to track but I’m very curious to find out: of the permits issued to camp at Kalalau, how many people actually make it to the end? From the people we talked to on the trail (several of which had turned around) and others who had made it to the beach (usually without their full group), I’m guessing it’s a little more than half.
Our anniversary was perfect; we laid on the beach, swam (when the waves were low), read ‘National Geographic’ magazines, picked fruit (limes and guava aplenty), and just stared at the pali above – which to me, is a more spectacular view than the ocean. Glenn and Deena shared a few tequila shots with us to help celebrate our anniversary. We finished off our day by watching another amazing sunset.
May 28, 2011 – Na Pali by sea
I had woken up in the middle of the night and heard the waves crashing loudly – I asked Chuck what time it was (2 AM) and hoped that the waves would die down by morning for our swim out to the boat. I had carefully packed my camera and our other electronics in drybags and had my backpack in a garbage bag. Chuck decided to channel McGyver and had the idea of wrapping both backpacks in a tarp (wonton style) and ‘floating’ both backpacks to the boat together. Luckily, Glenn volunteered to help Chuck get our backpack-wonton contraption past the waves and swim them to the boat as he would be swimming out anyway (to arrange a ride out for him and Deena on Monday).
The waves were about 6 – 7 feet; not horribly large but they were breaking very hard onto the shore. We were waiting with a group with various injuries and many other campers had gathered to watch the upcoming spectacle. One particular British camper was hilarious; he was hoping to secure a ride back the next day and was regaling us with stories on how the trail ‘made grown men cry’ and other great quotes.
Our boat captain arrived a little before 8 AM and motored about 20 yards off the shore, just past where the waves were breaking. We waited for a few large sets to roll in and the captain and his 2 passengers waved us in. I immediately dove into a wave and immediately felt the strong current start to pull me – I then proceeded to panic. I feel fairly comfortable in the water but I couldn’t believe how strong the current was! I turned to look to the shore just in time to see Chuck, Glenn and our tarp-wrapped backpacks get pounded back onto the sand – the wave was too tall to push the packs over the top. I swam as hard as I could to get to the boat and was so exhausted when I go to the ladder that I could barely pull myself up.
Luckily, Chuck and Glenn persevered and reached the boats with our packs. A few of the remaining potential boat passengers started to swim theirs and other’s backpacks to the boat; a majority stayed on the shore, probably a little hesitant to get into the water after seeing our struggle. The 2 existing passengers on the boat (besides the captain) actually had signed up for a tour so we took a quick jaunt farther down the coast to check out the scenery – a Kalalau pick-up and a tour? Awesome.
It was so cool to see the trail by the water and seeing where we had hiked. About a half an hour into the journey, the sea got pretty rough and it started to pour. The further along we went, the happier I was with our decision to go for the boat ride. I can’t imagine hiking some of the steep, muddy sections in the rain as you would have no traction whatsoever.
Once we returned to Hanalei, we rinsed off the salt water at Black Pot Park and changed from our swimsuits into our damp clothes – the wonton-tarp idea didn’t work so well and our backpacks and contents were soaked. Luckily the drybags did their job and the electronics stayed dry. We headed to Hanalei Gourmet for burgers and beers and then to Dale and Joan’s house to pick up our luggage and hose down anything that was soaked with salt water (which was pretty much everything).
May 29 – 31, 2011 – Epilogue in Hanalei Town
We spent our last few days on Kaua’i relaxing in Hanalei. We visited Makua (Tunnels) Beach and spent most of our time hanging around Hanalei Bay: beach cruiser-riding, swimming, cribbage-playing, and sunset-watching.
Aloha and Mahalo Kaua’i! A hui kaua…
Trip Details –
Where we stayed:
VRBO.com, baby – Islander on the Beach in Kapa’a and ‘Stone’s Throw’ studio in Hanalei – I highly recommend both of these budget-friendly places
Where we ate (restaurant highlights):
Java Kai, Kapa’a and Hanalei – we visited almost daily for their Acai Bowl (but why don’t they have it at their Hanalei location?) and Surfer Sandwich
Polynesia Cafe, Hanalei – Acai bowls while in Hanalei
Lighthouse Bistro, Kilauea – revisited our ‘after wedding’ dinner spot; Love, LOVE their Coconut Crusted Pork and Ginger Crusted Fresh Catch
Monico’s Tanqueria, Kapa’a – great mexican food
Brick Oven Pizza, Kapa’a – tasty pizza but a little expensive
Restaurant Kintaro, Kapa’a – amazing Japanese food; I even liked the sushi
Some images available for purchase here.
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Weddings, Portraits, & Travel
site design by mesmerizing designs
Wow!! AMAZINGLY beautiful pictures! I love the self timer shot of you two. I bet it was hard getting back to work after that. Your blog is great
Amazing photos…. Blog, great too, thanks for sharing.
My friend and I did this hike back in may 2011, it been about two months and we I ware the shorts that hike the trail with it brings back memories of the trail. My friend and I just looked at are photos again with friends over this past weekend. As we tried to describe the trail my friend and I always pause at some point look at each other and smile for we know words will never capture or describe the true beauty and danger of this amazing trail
beautiful pictures! I love the self timer shot of you two. Your blog is great.
Thanks John! I know what you mean; my husband and I had a hard time describing our experience – it’s a magical place.
your pictures were great to look at..my wife and i are planning on doing it september….i wanted to know who the boat company was that picked you up..my wife and i was thinking of that but didnt know if anyone offered it..
Thank you Jacky! I’ll send you an email with a phone number for the boat captain.
What an amazing post! Can’t wait to visit this magical place! Please email me the info on the boat captain as well.
Loved the quality of the photos…you really caught the moments! We live here on Maui and will have the privilege of taking Denise to Kauai for the first time Dec 22- Jan 3 2011. Thank you for posting where you liked to eat etc…that is great being we dont know much about where to go in Kauai. We will be hiking to Kalalau Dec 28 and will be prepared to hike out Jan 1st but would love to make arrangements with a captain to be picked up if conditions permit. We will be during rough sea conditions and it is likely not available but would still like the option if it happens to be calm and the captain can make the journey. Info on your captain would be great as well as the equipment you used. We will need to get light weight backpacks, tent, stove etc. If you have suggestion that would be great. Perhaps we could return the favor and have you enjoy our vacation home in Maui some day.
Mahalo for sharing!
Thank you for the nice comments! I will send you an email with some information that hopefully can help you out…
Your pictures are amazing, and I loved reading about your experience on the trail. My husband & I are planning to hike it in about 3 weeks, but we haven’t had much time to train so I’m a little worried about trying to hike both ways (we only have 3 days). Could you possibly send me the contact info for the boat/captain you hitched a ride with? Also, do you think it would be safer to arrange a ride to the beach and hike back, or is it reliable enough to plan a pickup once we get there? We do have permits already,which I’ve heard is a must. Also, appreciate the tip on the garbage bags/tarp in preparation for the swim to the boat. Sounds like quite an experience!! Really appreciate you sharing your story and any help you can provide.
Thank you – I’ll shoot you an email with answers to your questions.
these shots are amazing.. the story telling is equally amazing..
i shared the experience here, about 2 months prior to your visit, and your telling of the story and details are spot on.. so closely similar to the story my girlfriend and i share…
i took some shots, most similar to the ones you shared, with a Nikon DSLR that i recieved as a gift.. i really admired your shots and the technique and was wondering if you could provide any feedback on a few of mine, i attached the link below and im more than certain youll recognize the shots from kauai and the trail specifically..
here is the link, http://www.redbubble.com/people/joshwillins/portfolio
again, appreciate your story and the sharing of it!
Thank you for the compliments – I appreciate it!
Your pictures are great – love the Kaua’i Pool one.
Hello, I too would like the info for the boat captain. We plan to do the trail the end of December with our nine year old son. If there is any possibility for a ride back out,(December Sea’s are very rough) I’m sure we would take it.
Your pics are awesome!
The captain that we went with no longer does the Kalalau pick-up but I’ll send you an email with another contact.
Your photos are amazing and truly capture the beauty of the trail in a way I have never seen before. Thanks for sharing. My boyfriend and I hiked the trail last year and it was an amazing experience for us as well. Your photos brought back some amazing memories.
Thank you so much – I really appreciate your comment!
[…] well (or shaky bridges) but I may have conquered my heights fear (or reduced it a bit) on our Kaua’i hike – surprisingly, looking down 230′ from a moving bridge didn’t bother me at all! […]
Love the pictures and the blog Jamie!! Greg and I are going to Kauai to shoot photos/video for a client, so I showed him your pics to get inspired! They’re so good! Think you’d do that hike again? It’s on my list of things to do. Any chance you’ll be heading back to Kauai soon??? Might be able to trade you some images for their website for a couple nights at their Hanalei house if you’re interested?? Check it out http://www.bamboohale.com
So stoked to see your photography and editing progress! You’re super talented! Let me know if you guys want to come hang out on Oahu, we can shoot photos and play in the sun.
Thank you for all of the nice compliments – I really appreciate it!
We will definitely be coming back to Kaua’i – we’re going to try and do an anniversary trip every 2 yrs or so – it’s one of my most favorite places on the planet! And we will do the hike again – probably in a few years. It really was an amazing experience.
Our next island trip is in January – we’ll be visiting Maui this time. It’ll be such a nice break from the Pacific NW rain!
I’d love to come visit you on Oahu – life is good!
Hey Jamie, love the photos! I’m getting stoked for the hike and your photos made me even more excited for this hike! Like everyone else I was hoping to get the info for a boat ride back from the beach. I’d really appreciate it. You can email me at email@example.com
I’ll send you an email with some additional information…
Hi! I fell in love with your pictures! My husband and I are heading over there in December for our 2 year anniversary and wanted to do this very hike! Was wondering about a boat service that could pick us up from there? Could you send me an email with any possible information about this? I have just been searching and not finding much. We aren’t able to camp but really really want to do this if possible. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you Kate!
I’ll send you an email with additional information…
Your pictures are amazing! We are doing the hike in 3 weeks and would love info on the boat ride out? firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks Chandie! I’ll shoot you an email with the info that I have!
Hi Jamie. I’m so happy to have found your Kalalau Trail experience – it’s just what I was looking for – a little hesitation and a lot of beautiful moments. I live on O`ahu and am planning on doing this trail for my 50th birthday this coming May – but, I would LOVE to have a boat pickup at the end. Would you please share your intel?
Thank you for the photo comments – I can’t think of a better place to celebrate your 50th birthday than Kalalau!
I’ll send you an email with the details that I have.
[…] – I was contacted a few months ago by a fellow hiker (Loren) who had questions on our Kalalau Trail hiking experience. He was so appreciative of the advice that he gave us an incredible deal on our […]
[…] road trip to the Oregon Coast and Crater Lake. Last year’s adventure to Kaua’i and the Kalalau Trail would be hard to top but this trip was close! Through the years… our wedding, Yellowstone, […]
The pictures are so wonderful to look at!! Makes me look forward to the trip even more!!!
I was wondering what is the number of the boat captain that got you guys from the beach, since I was wondering if it was worth it to hike all the way back to the ke beach..
Thank you for the photo compliments – you will have such a great time on your trip!
I’ll send you an email with the details that I have.
I have been getting ready to do this hike for months. You have one of the best blogs I have seen. Sounds like a great trip. My brothers and I are going in August. Would you be able to give me the information to the boat Captain? That sound like a fun adventure swimming out to the boat with your gear.
Thank you for the nice blog compliments – I appreciate it!
I’ll send you an email with the information that I have.
Great job! One of the best blogs with great phtography I’ve viewed regarding the KalalauTrail. We are going back next May and try this as we’ve wanted to on our past visits to Kauai. thanks for sharing.
Thank you Lee – I really appreciate that! Have a fantastic time on your trip in May – you will love the hike!
Awesome blog and pics. I will be doing the Kalalau this Dec. i must say I am scared to do this trail. All the talk about the sketchy mile #7 scares me, hope I survive 😛
Can I also have the info of the boat-captain please?
Thank you for the compliments – you will love the hike! I was really nervous about the trail – especially about mile 7 – but honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I was imagining it beforehand. Just take one step at a time – the reward is well worth it!
I will send you an email with the boat captain information that I have.
Like everyone else on here has already said, your pictures are truly stunning and I’d love to get any you might have on the boat captain as well. I’m going to Kauai for a wedding next month and unfortunately only have limited time on the island but this trail is a must for my girlfriend and I.
Thank you for the photo compliments! I will send you an email with the boat captain information that I have.
Amazing images! In preparation for my own trip I am trying to decide how much camera gear is reasonable to take. Would you mind sharing how many lenses you took and which ones? Common sense says that I should travel light and only take one but choosing is so hard.
Thank you for the photography compliment! I too struggled with what camera gear to bring and I ended up going with my Canon DSLR, my 20-70mm zoom lens and my 16-35mm ultra wide lens – I was very happy with my decision. My husband brought a point and shoot camera as well, which was nice to get another perspective (he usually has me take all of the photos:).
There are so many amazing sights and I knew that I’d want to stop every 5 minutes to take a picture so I convinced my husband to pack my camera/lens combo and wide lens in his backpack – that made it easy for me to access so that I didn’t have to take off my backpack each time.
Have an amazing trip! I can’t wait to go back…
[…] you’d like to reminisce about our previous years anniversary adventures, here are the links! Kaua’i’s Kalalau Trail, the Oregon Coast/Crater Lake, and […]
I am a photographer on Maui, and just came across your amazing blog post when searching for a boat ride out of Kalalau Beach! Your post was amazing! Thank you so much for sharing all of that wonderful information! Some friends and I are planning on doing the Kalalau Trail Hike from September 12th-14th, and are hoping to get boated out on the 14th. I was wondering if you could share any information you have on the boat company you used or another boat company you know of to get boated out? Any help would be greatly appreciated, thank you!! You can e-mail me at: email@example.com 🙂 Have a lovely day! Thanks again! ~Caitlin Cathey
Hi Caitlin – thanks for the nice compliment on my post! I’ll send you an email with the information that I have.
[…] you’d like to reminisce about our previous years anniversary adventures, here are the links: Kaua’i’s Kalalau Trail, the Oregon Coast/Crater Lake, Banff/Jasper, and Glacier National […]
Such a great post and pictures of such a neat hike Jamie! My wife and I are planning to do it over Thanksgiving (fingers crossed on the rain) and your post was really helpful! If you wouldn’t mind, we’d love the contact information for the boat company? My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if it’s not too much trouble?
Thanks again for the post!