Kauai - reflections of a risk-adverse person hiking Napali

After 4 days on Kauai, I’ve experienced a number of places and activities, none dealing with roosters, helicopters, or golf.  Along with Tessa, Jordy, and Caroline, we’ve hiked and snorkeled our way to some interesting sites.  I’ve learned more about Kauai’s features, hardly anything about what life is like for Kauai’s non-vacationing residents, and a bit about myself, particularly about my risk tolerance.

Just prior to our visit, it rained, a lot.  In fact, the Kalalau Trail into the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park was closed when we arrived due to heavy rain (later we saw that parts of the trail needed to be rerouted because of landslides), and the Hanalei River was coloring the Hanalei Bay a muddy brown from the runoff.  That meant a number of trails were potentially Slip’n Slide rides on the cliffs.

I mentioned in a previous blog that we were always seeing signs or getting verbal warnings in eastern Australia to watch out for stingers (box jellyfish), snakes, and saltwater crocs.  Oh, and the shark nets at some swimming beaches also were an eye-opener.  But now I’m in Kauai!  No snakes, lots of roosters and chickens, no crocs, sharks but no shark nets needed at swimming beaches, and I think few box jellyfish (however, there are monthly box jellyfish “invasions” on Oahu).

This can lull you into thinking that Kauai is the paradise that the marketing brochures feature.  However, for a paradise, there are a LOT of warning signs!

My travel companions on Kauai are seasoned travelers and hikers, but I found myself... worried? stressed? - for much of the 6 and a half hour hike on the Kalalau Trail to the Hanakapi’ai Falls and back.  The trail had been reopened, and we arrived in the morning to a full parking lot and a partly cloudy sky.  We read the warnings, and set off for an adventure into the Nāpali Coast. 

The trail starts off with a half mile climb, walking on wet rocks, muddy puddles, and tree roots.  Many parts of the trail had leaves of the Hala tree lying on the ground... I think these leaves were essential at keeping the mud under control and the shoes on the trail.  After an hour, we were at Hanakapi’ai Beach, and our first river crossing.  A few people had Teva-style shoes and walked through the water.  Most jumped from boulder to boulder (I kept waiting for somebody to fall, but it never happened).  I had my trail running shoes by Vasque and assumed that, if they were made for trail running, then they should be able to make it through the water.  They were great, for all the river crossings we did.  After a snack at the beach (there was a lot of fresh woody debris there from the floods), we headed past the composting toilet and toward the falls.  It took another 2 hours to get there.  The first 2/3 of the trail was straightforward, following the river, past giant bamboo groves (old homesites?), and through mud, of course.  Then, conditions changed.  The old trail had either washed out or a landslide had covered it.  So a new trail was being forged just above the landslide, with its loose material and slippery rocks.  I kept thinking, “If it starts raining now, this is going to be a TERRIBLE descent.”  But we made it to the falls, took some photos, and had lunch.  

I washed the mud out of my socks, and we started back.  Caroline went first, I followed, and Tessa and Jordy left maybe 10 minutes later.  I got separated from Caroline as she passed some slower hikers.  After about 30 minutes, this other couple and I stopped and gawked.  The trail we were on had... disappeared.  

This was bad... in a wilderness, with the trail ending.  And as we were looking for the trail, another 8 people ending up at the same location.  We were all following the same path.  Well, we were near the river, but there were limited places to cross, and we knew we had 1 major crossing to get back to the beach.  I was just starting to head back up the trail to find where we branched off the real trail, when a few, then all of the people just started tramping to the river (about 30 meters downhill through some brush).  Do I follow them, or go back up the trail?  Well, 11 people are easier to find and rescue than 1.  I followed.  And when we got the the river, what did we see?  Caroline, sitting on a rock at the river crossing, waiting for me!  We weren’t that far off the trail after all.  And Caroline was our beacon!  I felt like a ship’s captain or a pilot who knows that the pass or runway is just ahead, but can’t see anything through the fog or clouds, and then, suddenly, there it is!

Well, I don’t like slippery paths, poorly marked trails, and groups that get separated.  I like well-marked trails (or great maps), trail conditions that don’t require that you watch where you are planting each foot to keep from sliding off a cliff, and the buddy system.  Of course, different strokes for different folks.  I met Luna (in white) on her way to the falls at another river crossing.

However, having experienced travel companions is always a bonus!  Thanks to Jordy, Tessa, and Caroline for inviting me and my anxieties to tag along! 


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