Monday, March 14, 2016

Na Pali Coast - Kalalau Trail Backpacking, Kauai, Hawaii

The Na Pali Coast, a rugged coastline with numerous cliffs and lush tropical greens along the north shore of Kauai Island of Hawaii, is one of the most beautiful but remote places in the Pacific. Most visitors just get a glance of the Na Pali Coast by tour boat or helicopter, but I wanted to spend some time along the coast and the secluded Kalalau Beach to photograph. The only way to fully experience the Na Pali Coast is trekking the 11 mile long strenuous Kalalau Trail to Kalalau Beach as a backpacking trip.

In December, it is supposed to be the rainy season on the Hawaiian Islands. Luckily it was a beautiful sunny day when I started the trail in the morning. The first 2 miles was a breeze, a wide trail with views of turquoise ocean below, and green coastline along the horizon... The trail was busy, filled with casual day hikers.

The rough part of the trail began after the 2 mile point at Hanakapi'ai Beach. Upon crossing the river, the misty rain began and the trail became muddy. The north shore of Kauai is the one of the wettest places in the world; the rugged mountain terrain creates its own rainy climate, raining almost all the time during the winter months. The trail winds along several valleys along the coast. It was extra hard to hike up and down the muddy slippery trail with heavy packs filled with camera and camping gear. When I arrived at the 6 mile camping spot, it was almost dark... and the rain drenched all night.

It was still raining the next morning... crossing Hanakoa River was harder after the rain storm. Hiking an extra half mile into Hanakoa Valley brought views of the spectacular Hanakoa Falls vertically dropping down the green cliff was impressive and well worth the extra mile.

The weather changed often; raining followed by sunshine, then rainbows...

The roughest part of Kalalau Trail comes into view. Backpacker Magazine listed it as one the "10 Most Dangerous Hikes" in the US. Outside magazine rated it as one of "The 20 Most Dangerous Hikes" in the world. The well known treacherous spot, "Crawler's Ledge" was now ahead. Two hikers came from the other direction, and one of them was struggling on the muddy trail. It was after a hard rain, and trail conditions were rough. The muddy trail slopes steeply leading down the rocky cliff. The trail which curved along the vertical cliff became narrower... and deep blue waves crashed down below. The one part of Crawler's Ledge was sketchy; narrow footing with uneven rock terrain... the rocky trail was especially slippery after the rain. It was nerve racking... When I was about to give up and ready to turn back, a miracle happened. A couple of hikers came down the trail. It turned out the man was a local professional hiking guide who hiked this trail many times, and the woman was a client from Germany. The guide was kind enough to help me cross the narrowest part of the ledge. The sunshine broke out after that and the landscape brightened up full of natural colors.

However, Crawler's Ledge wasn't the worst part of the trail. A few miles after Crawler's Ledge, there was an even more dangerous spot with slippery mud! A big round rock obstructed the eroded trail, and the narrow part of the muddy trail was a downward vertical drop. In order to pass the spot, I had to hug the rock, securely placing my right foot on the other side, and slowly move my left foot around the rock not to mention that trail was muddy and slippery with steep cliffs leading several hundred feet to the ocean. There were some tree roots hanging above the rock on the red sandy cliff. I didn't know if I could trust the roots for my life but I grabbed them as a cable to hang on anyway... My heavy pack which hung over the outer edge of the trail was pulling my body down towards the crashing waves hundreds of feet below. If one of my feet were to slip, I would slide down the red muddy hill and drop into the ocean. Thank goodness, I made it through that part.

Finally, after a long 10 mile hike, Kalalau Valley showed off its outstanding beauties! Surrounded by razor edged rock walls, the rocky red hill leads down to sea level. The lush mountains rose straight up to blue sky with a green forest carpeting the valley floor, and a turquoise ocean with white waves at a secluded beach... this was truly marvelous scenery.

Looking back where I came from...

Another breathtaking view... the end of the trail and entering the one mile long Kalalau Beach. This is the remote paradise only reached by a long, hard hike!

After setting up camp on the beach, the sun started to set on the horizon- time to prepare sunset shots.  Sunset is quick near the equator, I had to get moving. The low angled sun lit up the mountains in blaze.

During the winter months, the large waves crash on the north shore of Kauai Island. I carefully selected the spots to capture the crashing surf against the sunset. The sun sets behind the cliffs in winter months on Kalalau Beach. Setting tripod (of course, I carried a tripod on the trail!) on the beach sand was challenging enough, nonetheless I had to run with the camera mounted tripod every time the incoming tide reached my feet...and do it ever and over again, repeating this countless times. The sky turned bright orange with silhouettes on the cliffs. Then slowly, the dark sky descended upon us. The lavender colors enveloped the paradise at twilight leaving only the sounds of crashing waves and millions of stars in the dark sky...

The next day, I explored Kalalau Valley to search for the secret hippie gardens hidden throughout the jungle... I'll update with more images from Kalalau Valley/ Na Pali Coast on the next posting. And, I promise, the next posting will be within 2 weeks.