Itching to get my pack back on, I planned an 8-day trip through Hawaii, starting with the island of Kauai. Less frequented by tourists, Kauai is known as 'the garden isle,' because of its tropical rainforest and dramatic cliffs along the Nā Pali Coast. A part of Nā Pali Coast State Park, which spans over 6,000 acres along the north side of the island, the Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile rugged trail to the beautiful escape of Kalalau Beach. This beach can only be reached by hiking, kayaking, or helicopter, making crowds virtually nonexistent. My first solo backpacking trip, I was ridden with stress, excitement and confusion on my choices. But once I hit the first few miles, that dissipated and I was finally enjoying myself.
Flying in that morning, I didn't get to the trailhead until 10AM, starting my 11-mile journey somewhat late. Full speed ahead, I forged the first few streams, passing the crowds and getting into the 'permit only' zone after mile 2, picking up the pace once I had the trail to myself.
Lining the cliffs' edge for the first few miles, the ocean spray kept me cool and the rainforest kept me shaded. From miles 7-10, I was completely exposed to the sun and was drinking a ton of water. Luckily, there were stream crossings every so often, making it easy for me to fill up or just use my LifeStraw for a few quick sips.
The Kalalau was named one of the 20 Most Dangerous Hikes by Outside Magazine, but I was going to do this trail no matter what, even if it killed me. Turns out, it wasn't as hard as the online forums were saying and the hike was very enjoyable. Around mile 7, the trail turns slightly more treacherous, giving you about a foot-and-a-half wide path with a drop off into the ocean from a few-hundred feet up. This area is called Crawler's Ledge, and if I were afraid of heights, it could have been an issue, but I was able to enjoy the expanse of blue water on one side and a sturdy rock face on my other.
After a long day of beautiful landscapes, my tired legs were so happy to reach the beach 'round 4PM. It's absolutely gorgeous out there. Virtually empty albeit a few hippies and other hikers, I had so many options on where to set camp. Close to the waterfall at the edge of the beach, I found my plot, giving myself a front-row seat of the ocean, shaded beneath a large tree virtually on the beach. There was even a swing made out of rope, giving me a reading chair and a perch to enjoy the miraculous sunsets.
After three glorious days and nights of relaxation, I packed my bag up with stories and seashells, and laced my boots up for the return trip. Leaving close to 9AM, I huffed my way along the trail, stopping for a quick lunch and water refill, and then things got muddy. It was raining off and on for the last 6 miles, and it was a good thing I had passed the Crawler's Ledge section before the rain hit hard. I would think twice about hiking that in the rain. The last 3 miles of the trail were extremely slippery and I was sliding all over the place. My legs were caked with mud when I reached the end, and I wore it with pride.
Returning to the area of the park covered in tourists, I felt a kind of exhilaration I've never felt before. People were coming up to me, congratulating me, and clapping for me; that was a little odd. But I was so wholeheartedly proud of myself. I did it.
I hitched a ride to the closest town, Hanalei, to have a cold beer before getting on the plane to Maui. I may have even had two. And calamari. And nachos.