I first visited the island of Kaua'i when I was 25 with a group of college-aged kids. I immediately fell in love with this island, also known as the Garden Isle. The beauty of nature so prevalent everywhere as well as the lack of Waikiki-type tourism and crowds made this a paradise desired, a place where my spirit feels at home. It was on this trip that I had my first experience with the Kalalau Trail, hiking about 1/2 mile at the beginning which starts at Ke'e Beach, also known as "the end of the road". Not having time for more, my appetite was whetted. The trail was beautiful and the views were fantastic! Hiking the whole trail someday became a bucket list item for me. I knew I had to return!
Then came the day that my wish was fulfilled. In an earlier blog post Thoughts on Hiking Kalalau Trail, I described my plans, thoughts and feelings during the few months leading up to this day. While on Kauai, I picked up a little book called "Mark Twain in Hawaii" which chronicles his journeys in the Hawaiian islands in the 1860s. Since his ability to describe the landscape and beauty of the islands is so great, I will use some of his words here and there as inserts to my journey. His love for the Hawaiian islands seems to match that of mine when he said:
“No alien land in all the world has any deep strong charm for me but one, no other land could so longingly and so beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done. Other things leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the same.
For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surfbeat is in my ear; I can see its garland crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore, its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud wrack; I can feel the spirit of its woodland solitudes, I can hear the splash of its brooks; in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.”
- Mark Twain
So, now my journey begins:
(Some photos are included here. See more at The Kalalau Trail, Kaua'i)
Monday, August 26th
The journey started this morning with a flight from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas, where I caught a flight to Honolulu. I never really have enjoyed flying - for me it's just a necessary evil to get where I want to be, something to be tolerated.
Arriving in Honolulu, I only had a short time to make the connection on to an inter-island flight to Kaua'i. I got to the ticket desk at Island Air as quickly as I could, 25 minutes before the flight was to leave, only to be told by the agent that I was too late - they had closed out the flight. Huh? I pled with her as much as I could to hurry and get on, but there was no budging. Fine! So I paid an additional $20 change fee so that I could get on to their next flight - leaving 3 hours later. Ugh. I then went through the nearby security line, which was very short, and found that the gate to my flight was just on the other side. The door was open to the tarmac, and I could see the plane, with its door open. I ran to the boarding agents at the door and asked if I could please get on. "OK, hurry". So I did and then waited a while on the plane before they actually "closed" the flight. An annoying but minor blip in the travel.
I was able to catch the last bit of daylight on the beach and enjoyed getting wet in the just-right temperature ocean water. Yes! I am here! I love Kaua'i!
Tuesday, August 27th
Since the Hawaii time zone is 4 hours earlier than Utah, it's great to be able to come and feel like you have slept in, and still get up in time for the sunrise. I enjoyed a beautiful beach sunrise by the hotel before setting out on the big adventure.
See more at:
Sunrise in Hawaii
Then, on the way up to Hanalei, I stopped to take some pix of the pretty little Donkey Beach, one of those on my list to visit while here. The drive through the country side is so nice, green and peaceful.
The Hanalei Valley lookout is a famous spot for a view of this beautiful, quintessentially Hawaiian valley.
Then, at the Kayak Kauai store, I left my car to be parked for three days and caught a taxi the rest of the way, to "the end of the road" or Ke'e Beach, at the Kalalau Trailhead. Many have recommended not leaving your car parked at Ke'e due to common car break-ins.
So now, here I was at the beginning of a 22-mile roundtrip adventure. I thought "I can't believe I am actually here!" The beginning of the trail started going up right away into amazing and beautiful foliage and views. The first two miles seemed to go by fast as I enjoyed every bit of this place described in the Ultimate Kaua'i Guidebook as "wild, raw and unforgettable".
"...occasionally you find yourself buried in the forest in the midst of a rank tropical vegetation and a dense growth of trees, whose great bows overarch the road and shut out the sun and sea and everything, and leave you in a dim, shady tunnel, haunted with invisible singing birds and fragrant with the odor of flowers." - Mark Twain
While enjoying this first beautiful stretch of the trail, I began a theme of thoughts that would be prevalent throughout this trek: How thankful I am for everything. I thanked the Lord for letting me have this wonderful opportunity, to be here on Kaua'i, hiking the Kalalau Trail - something I had nearly given up hope on ever being able to do. I recognized the Lord's blessing's all along the way, and I was thankful for the beautiful foliage, vistas, warm sunshine, cool breezes and shade. For clear skies and forecasted good weather. For peaceful beauty everywhere. For the vast, blue ocean. For the green peaked mountains. For the trail that lets me experience this part of God's nature, and those who have built and maintained it. For the many great photo opportunities, and for a nice camera to be able use. For my relative good health, despite some arthritis. For good employment and some extra jobs that allowed me to have the money to do this. For such a good and beautiful wife that I love who allowed and sacrificed for me to be here. For four great kids that I love and hope the best for. I took time to think of each one of them individually and the great person that they are, and that I have been blessed to share my life with them. Yes, I am indeed thankful for these and all my blessings from the Lord.
After two miles, the Hanakapi'ai Beach came into view. It's a pretty setting between cliffs, with a stream coming down the valley above, where at the end is a waterfall. As much as I love waterfalls and would love to see it, I decided to pass on this one, the roundtrip to which would add 4 more miles to today's 11-mile total. No, thanks. Maybe some other time.
I was thankful to be able to enjoy this beautiful first stop.
After about a 1/2 hour break with a snack and a drink, perusing the beach, offering my stack of rocks next to those made by others (a curious Hawaiian thing), and saying hi to the famous resident Hanakapi'ai kitty, I hit the trail again. At this point, most hikers will either head up to the waterfall or turn around and go back. To go further down the coast is for the serious hiker / campers.
The trail took an immediate moderately steep climb out of the valley, with awesome views looking back on the beach. Wow!
The next 4 miles were full of blue ocean vistas, in and out of green valleys, tall peaks and the serene sounds of peaceful nature. Although a fair amount of hikers were on the first 2 mile stretch, very few were sharing this part with me. Aah, just the way I wanted it. Thanks, Lord!
"...occasionally in the warm sun, and feast the eye upon the ever-changing panorama of the forest, with its many tints, its softened lights and shadows, its billowing undulations sweeping gently down from the mountain to the sea." - Mark Twain
The trail seemed to get a bit more challenging with its constant ups and downs over hill cliffs and around valleys, and sun's heat was more strongly felt. I swear, this 4 mile stretch felt longer than twice the distance of the first stretch, so when I finally reached the Hanakoa stream and camping area at mile 6, I was mighty thankful for a rest.
Hanakoa is such a beautiful spot! I found a great little cascade with a nice pool that I was able to soak in and enjoy all to myself. I have often marveled about the soothing, healing peace that is found in water. This was a chance to take full advantage of that. Cold enough to be refreshing, but not too cold. Mmmm, yes. Hanakoa. After eating some lunch (nuts, dried fruit, a Cliff protein bar), I filled up my three 1-liter water bottles, that had lasted me to this point, with some of the fresh, clear mountain stream water, adding a purifying tablet in each.
I planned to go see the waterfall at the end of this valley on my way back, which is only 1/2 mile each way, but for now, I focused on the end goal: Kalalau. As I headed back on the trail, a guy asked me if I knew where the side trail to the falls was, he wasn't finding it. I said I hadn't seen it and wished him luck, then wished I would be able to find it myself on the return.
At mile 7, I came upon the area known as "crawler's ledge" that I had read about and seen so many videos on. It's a stretch of narrow trail along high, steep rocky cliffs, with a long way to fall if you misstep. Some say it's a very scary and dangerous part of the trail, others have said it's not so bad, especially if the weather is good. DeNeise was scared for me to traverse this. Me? I decided not to get worked up and just experience it for what it was - which really wasn't that bad. Yes, it was a bit of a heart-pounding thrill, but there are other sections of the trail that are just as precarious. There was one point that some people in a passing boat way below saw me, waved and whooped out to me, and I waved back. Kinda fun to be the object of attention in such a spot.
I was thankful that I was able to traverse this so well, and said to DeNeise outloud "Don't worry, I made it fine!"
See more, including video at:
Crawler's Ledge on the Kalalau Trail
More ups and downs and more great vistas opened up. I was excited when I thought I could first see the Kalalau Beach. As it turns out it was another remote beach, not accessible by the trail, that I hiked up over and around. But, a good length of miles of the coastline was made clear.
"By and by, after a rugged climb, we halted on the summit of a hill which commanded a far-reaching view." - Mark Twain
Around mile 9, I met a challenge: a moderately steep hill climb that just went up, and up, and up. And up. I kept looking for when it would even out a little, but finally just had to stop and take a breather and a drink. Talk about sweat! This evidently is the trail section that gains the most elevation, which was evident when a view spot came again - somewhere near 1,000 feet above sea level. My body was feeling the work it took to get that high.
Now, for a younger, hardier, experienced backpacker, this trail is probably no big deal. Although I have done some hiking, I must say that this trail has challenged me much more than I have experienced before. But it also has given greater rewards. Even through the sweat and the now sore feet, I am so thankful to be able to be doing this!
Then came the final descent marked by what is called space rock, a high viewpoint just off the trail, and the sign welcoming all to Kalalau. The valley and the beach are now in good view. What a relief! The end is in sight! Thank you, Lord!
The sign calls for all to respect this place that it may remain special to all who come. Good message. From there, I traipsed down the red hill, that appears as a red-colored moonscape with oxydized volcanic rocks and dirt, and that heads downward rather steeply without offering a lot of good, sure-footed steps. Finally on to a better, flatter trail, I make it to the Kalalau stream which has a lovely setting. Although I am tempted to stay and soak again, I continue on, I'll be back to enjoy this later. Now only a half mile to the beach!
Arrival on the beach was met with relief and a sense of achievement. Yes! I did it! Thanks for helping me get here, Lord! Am I really here? Wow. Now - take off the backpack, the shoes and relax a bit on the sandy shore. In front of me the vast blue ocean and rolling waves, behind me the majestic green jagged cliffs. Yes, this is Kalalau.
I chose a spot on the beach to camp that was near the water fall. It's a great place to fill your bottles and have a shower using a curved piece of pvc pipe left there for routing the flow over you, since the water otherwise hugs the cliff and is hard to get under. I chose to sleep in the open on the sand, rather than hide in the official camping areas underneath the trees, most of which enjoy little or no ocean views.
After I got watered up and down, I sat and ate my trail food dinner. By then, the sun was beginning to set over the ocean and it was very nice. My thought for camping was that the sand would be great to sleep on, so I didn't pack a pad. In fact, I didn't bring a sleeping bag either, as I heard it would be too hot and not necessary, which I found to be true. I brought an old bed sheet and a light, outdoor thermal blanket, which were plenty sufficient. But the sand didn't prove to be a good bed, once you lay on it, it doesn't want to move easily, making turning not so easy or comfortable. About as hard as the ground. Oh well. Sleeping is just something to get over with, here. I can't wait until dawn to explore the Kalalau area - beach and valley.
The night however, was a cool experience in itself. Dark skies with millions of bright shiny and shooting stars - more than I have seen in a long time. The moon was not yet shining over the cliffs which allowed the star-gazing to be its best. I am in awe. Again, Lord, thank you. Not being able to sleep for a while, I walked back to the shore and sat and stared into the dark ocean, absorbing the sound and feel of the waves.
My thoughts turned to the experience of this day - how I have felt a great sense of gratitude for all I have and all of this. This has been a great day physically, emotionally and spiritually. I spent some time reading in a book I brought called "Drawing on the Powers of Heaven", reminding me of the great power that faith can be. I felt very much that this day I had drawn on the powers of heaven into my soul, reflecting more deeply on who I am and what the Lord has done for me. I also read in the scriptures, reflecting on the Psalm of Nephi in the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 4:17-35) *. Such great words of inspiration!
Finally, reading did the trick and I began to doze off, almost reluctantly, because I didn't want this day to end, yet knowing more great experiences lay ahead.
Later on, in the middle of the night, the moon crested the mountain cliffs, brightening everything up, making the stars less visible. That's ok, moon, I am wanting to sleep now.
This blog continues at My Journey to Kalalau: Day 3 and My Journey to Kalalau: Days 4-6
See also My Favorite Island: Kaua'i
The Kalalau Trail 2013
* See how I feel about this great book at There is much strength, power and truth
All photos by Ken R. Young