I thought I would share a brief account of the overnight backpacking trip I did with some friends while I was in Kauai recently. The Kalalau Trail is arguably the most popular and well known backpacking trail in all of Hawaii. The NaPali coast offers stunning scenery on a remote part of the island that is completely inaccessible by roads. Dramatic cliffs and peaks draped in verdant foliage and staggering waterfalls provide the back drop to an 11 mile coastal hike. The trail itself is quite challenging and for a few short sections any slip or fall could very quickly lead to a fatal accident. I am an experienced hiker and by no means would I try to pass these sections in rainy weather or otherwise unfavorable conditions. Some areas of the trail are covered in small gravel and being markedly slippery they offer poor footings and long falls from the narrow trail to the rocky coast below. Take caution around mile markers 7 and 8.
My friends and I made good time on the hike down into the valley, despite an ultra light philosophy we all managed to over pack. Some of the things I brought but did not use included a pole spear, a dive mask and long underwear (I did not bring a sleeping bag). The camp stove and the tarp we used to sleep under did help reduce our pack weight. Our packs were not heavy by the standards of most hikers, but between the weight of the packs and hiking the trail in a beat up pair of Vibrams -shoes I had not worn in almost a year- my knees were experiencing sharp bursts of pain and my feet had become severly tender. The trail is continuously ascending or descending along a steeply graded and rocky, narrow path. At the campsite in the valley we cooked dinner, enjoyed the moonlit beach and re-aquainted with some friends we had previously met elsewhere on the island.
The following morning we slept in and then enjoyed some final conversation while sharing a late breakfast. Time constraints prevented us from further exploration of the impressive Kalalau Valley. Rumors of secret sweat lodges, “herb gardens” maintained since the seventies, and hidden fruit orchards abound. We confirmed the existence of nothing in the short time we were there. Many of those who frequent the valley and all of those who live there exude vibrations of warmth and acceptance. It is, without doubt, a very nature oriented community. Do not be surprised to find people with names like Moonbeam, communities of buddhist nudists practicing yoga and meditation, and an overall ambiance nostalgic of San Franscisco’s summer of ’69. For the open minded outdoors enthusiast staying in the Kalalau Valley is a rewarding experience. If you don’t really like hippies the views and the scenery are still breathtaking enough to validate the grueling hike. If you have the opportunity to see the trail do not miss it.
Camping permits are required for all who enter the valley, it is assumed you are staying over night if you make it all the way there. That said, obtaining camping permits is something of an inconvenience and not many campers bother. Rangers are few and far between and most people enter and leave without an encounter. Obviously the risk of camping without a permit is entirely your own.