Nancy's Travel Journal -- Kauai's Na Pali Coast, May 2004

Bill and Nancy traveled to Kauai with friends, Terry and Bev. One of the highlights of the trip was a 2-day hike on the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast. Following is Nancy's Journal of the hike.

View the video of our trip.

If you are interested in hiking the Na Pali Coast an excellent resource is

One quiet evening, four slightly over-the-hill friends talked about places we wanted to see before age completely claimed us. First on Bev’s list was backpacking on the famous Kalalau Trail in Kauai. The Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast is the ultimate hike and known around the world. Without even realizing it, we got out our calendars and blocked out some time in May (2004) for our backpacking adventure.

Bev dreamed of hiking the Kalalau Trail for twenty years. Terry, her husband, shared her dream. My husband, Bill, was the cautious one and had his concerns. To me, their dream was a nightmare. I didn’t even know about the Kalalau Trail until I studied the guidebooks and read the descriptions: DIFFICULT! STRENUOUS! CHALLENGING!

The trail, once the footpath of ancient Hawaiians, is eleven strenuous miles each way along the most beautiful coastline in the world. It starts at Kee Beach and winds in and out of deep valleys, never level – always gaining or losing elevation. The path cuts through streams rushing thousands of feet down sheer mountainsides and then ends at Kalalau Beach, a glorious beach complete with a waterfall you've visited only in your imagination.

There are no roads to Kalalau Beach. It’s one of the most remote and most beautiful beaches in the Pacific and our destination for the first day of our hike. The isolated beach is smack dab in the middle of a thirty-mile run of vertical cliffs, devilishly hard to get to, but the hardships of the trail are masked by its pure beauty.

A week before we left for Hawaii, I phoned the Division of State Parks in Kauai and spoke with Pearl to check on hiking permit availability. Pearl was full of warnings:
“You must be in good shape and have a good sense of balance with no fear of heights.”
”It takes at least 8 hours for the best of backpackers.”
”Wear good boots for the dangerous washouts.”
”Get an early start to avoid overexertion in the midday heat.”
”Drink lots of water and bring a water purification system.”

Then she said she just happened to have four remaining permits for the last Sunday of our trip. That meant we had only one night and two days to complete the tough 22-mile hike. . . It was our destiny.

Bev, the experienced backpacking guru, was eager and confident, although she did not train for this arduous adventure. Terry biked to work everyday. Bill was in the best shape because of his regular running, biking and hiking activities. I was the rookie – my very first backpacking trip ever. I was relying on my yoga and cycling to get me through. I was handicapped by a bad knee and a patched up heart – and little desire for this big adventure.

We spent the first part of our Hawaiian holiday in a kick-back style – enjoying Kauai’s beaches and gardens while consuming mass quantities of food and drink. Then on the seventh day, the focus switched sharply to the backpacking trip. We made a pledge: “If one person isn’t comfortable going on at any point on the trail, we’d all turn back.”

With her vast experience leading backpacking trips, Bev was our leader. She took charge of the food and organized my pack. She gave me the light share of food to carry – pretzels, potato chips. She was a brilliant leader. We went to bed that Saturday night with our backpacks filled to the brim and lined up at the front door.

Early Sunday morning, half dazed, we wolfed down some cereal, grabbed our packs and drove our rented car to Kee Beach. At 6:30 in the morning, we were at the trailhead, ready to start our odyssey.

The Hike Begins

Above Hanakapiai Beach

Two miles in, we passed a slew of warning signs – 82 killed - DROWNINGS OCCUR HERE REGULARLY!

Warning Signs

Kalalau Trail

We made our way down to the Hanakapiai Beach to eat our snacks –cheese, crackers, peanut butter, pretzels and apples - only 9 miles to go.

Hanakapiai Beach

Hanakoa Valley

Our first mishap happened within the first three miles. Terry stepped on what he thought was solid trail, but the footing gave way and he slid down the cliff about 20 feet. Luckily he caught himself on a shrub. Bill helped pull him out with a hiking pole. Tough ole Terry brushed himself off, took an Advil for his left knee (which was not quite right to begin with) and was good to go again. We all walked a little closer to the inside of the trail after that incident.

At Mile Marker 5, we stopped for lunch. We gobbled down leftovers from last night’s dinner -- only 6 miles to go.

At 1:30 in the afternoon, we spotted Mile Marker 6 (Hanakoa camp). The weather was hot and muggy. The sweat poured down our faces, but not one word was spoken about the oppressive heat or about turning back -- only 5 miles to go.

The deeper into the canyon, the more nude bodies we saw. They were gorgeous sun-browned bodies in yoga poses, in waterfalls, and in beautiful pools. They were in their twenties and all looking like little nymphs.

Mile 5

Trail Etched in Shear Cliffs

The toughest stretch of the hike is the last – lots of switchbacks with narrow or washed our paths. The trail hugs the cliffs with steep drop offs into the turquoise ocean below, but the views are stunning.

Bill’s acrophobia was kicking in and tensing him up. At times, the trail, etched in sheer cliffs, was only inches wide. One false step and depending upon your descent, you’d land in sharp-looking lava beds jutting upward, or in the seaweed, several hundred vertical feet below. I was exhilarated by the views and death defying crossings



We stopped at one of the many streams to filter water. We gulped down the fresh water with no adverse effects. We needed water desperately on our hot, humid trek. We crossed a dozen or so swift-flowing streams. I slipped on a rock and landed in the water. Me, the only klutz in the group, continued on with soaked, soggy, swishy boots.

We all had our own personal techniques to carry us on. The guys set their goals based on facts and data -- mileage markers and maps.

Bev used her I-POD blasting the best of Tina Turner into her ears. All along the trail, we’d hear Bev with the occasional outburst of:
“Big wheel keep on turning
Proud Mary keep on burning
And we’re rolling, rolling. rolling on the river.”

I used chanting, a little walking mantra I picked up from Banoo, my yoga teacher. Sa Ta Na Ma - Sa Ta Na Ma - Sa Ta Na Ma. In some strange way, this mind / body connection coordinated with some breathing techniques energized me.

I sped way ahead of the group. Terry said that Bill married a gazelle. At one point, Bill hurried ahead to admonish me. “You could fall off this trail to the cliff below and no one ever would know what happened.” I slowed down a bit. Then, powerless over myself, darted away again.

At Mile 9, I spotted Kalalau Beach, like a mirage, a mile-long strip of golden sand backed by sheer cliffs. The beauty exhilarated me – I escalated my chant and my pace --only two miles to go.

Bill Coming Down the Red Hill

First View of Kalalau Beach

With each narrow, gravelly section of the trail, Bill’s acrophobia was taking its toll draining him of precious energy. Terry was running out of gas in the midday sun. Tina Turner had lost her power over Bev. But they all managed to gut it out and stagger on.

I descended down the Red Hill and then waited for the rest of the group. I took lots of pictures and then laid on the red rock with the blue sky above and the dazzling turquoise sea below. I spotted the last trail marker to Kalalau Beach. Almost there -- I was in heaven with all the beauty and peacefulness, except for the occasional helicopter noise from above carrying upscale tourists. The only land access to this rugged coast is the Kalalau Trail. It’s best to experience this place on foot.

I saw my colleagues each make their way slowly down the steep Red Hill. They were easy to spot – the only ones NOT in their twenties. Bill came down first looking very tired. I rarely see him like that. Then came Terry and Bev. They were both exhausted. I was much too chipper (and annoying, I’m sure) to everyone. We walked the last mile to Kalalau Beach together.

Bill Making Use of His Hiking Poles

Don't Look Down

We passed through campsites scattered among the palms and the gnarled Koa trees and then picked a spot perched on a small cliff overlooking the beach and vast ocean below. We unloaded our gear and struggled to construct makeshift tents – an engineering feat.

Bill and Terry

Waterfall Near our Camp

Then we walked only a few feet away from our camp to a magnificent 100-foot waterfall. It was pouring buckets of water from an upper tier into a rocky pool just great for bathing. I showered, fully clothed, taking my turn with the sexy young naked bodies. Terry and Bill were filtering more water (and glancing at the young babes from behind their dark sunglasses).

There was no joy or exhilaration at the old campsite – only exhaustion. Bev, nursing mosquito bites and blisters from her new hiking boots, announced, “Next time Nancy takes all the food.”

Our Campsite

Exhausted from the Hike

We ate dinner quietly -- soup and quesadillas with freeze-dried ice cream sandwiches for dessert. We pretended we could taste the cold ice cream.

We washed the dishes in the waterfall. Bill and I filtered more water for the gang. Everyone was dehydrated from the hot, humid, hard day. Terry, the scientist, marveled how he consumed six liters of water that day and still required more.

The sun was setting on the most beautiful beach. I wanted to go for a little walk – but that idea was vetoed. Before Terry went to sleep, he said, “Would any of you ever do this hike again?” I replied, “We get to do it again tomorrow.” Those were the last words spoken that night.

I lay on my pad, listening to the sounds of the ocean surf and the powerful waterfall only a few feet away. I peered around the makeshift tent and saw a moon-less black velvet sky loaded with the brightest stars ever. I pinched myself – I must be dreaming.

Sunset from the Beach


Then morning came with the golden tones of the sun breaking though. Time to get up. We had coffee and bagels (minus the cream cheese hiding in Bill’s backpack). I snapped a few pictures of a nude couple taking pictures of each other. We packed our stuff and headed out by 6:45 am, an older, but wiser group. We all knew what faced us.

We disturbed a flock of wild goats having their breakfast. Later we stopped to let two Nene birds cross the trail. It was another glorious, sunny day. I was feeling strong and happy and thankful for such a grand adventure. And to think it was my first backpacking trip.

Approximately 11 hours (and 11 miles) later, we were back at the parking lot. We did it! We are now members of that exclusive club who hiked the Kalalau Trail. Just down the road we celebrated with cold beer and Bubba Burgers and then talked of other places left on our “Adventures To Do List.”

Wild Goats

We Made It!
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