Saturday, February 7, 2009

Kalalau Trail: The Trek of a Lifetime

There is a reason that people training to trek Everest head to the north shore's Kalalau Trail. It's tough. It's ridiculously beautiful. And did I mention that it is tough?

Yesterday I read that a tourist, who was attempting to hike the whole way, got seriously hurt 3 miles in and had to be airlifted out. Now, you might read this and call it a fluke, but there is a reason that lepers hid out here; why locals rarely trek this treacherous path; and why the visitor's bureau is struggling with what to do about this major tourist destination. People keep getting hurt here and yet people keep flocking to the trail.

Connecting Kee Beach and Kalalau Beach, passing epic waterfalls, and winding above the Pacific along the Na Pali Coast sounds like the perfect dreamy hiking adventure. But throw in rain (and there is a lot on the north shore) and an unkempt trailhead and you have the recipe for a lot of haoles heading to the hospital.

Why only haoles? Because we don't seem to understand (and often we don't respect) the moody weather and land of Kauai. Rather, we pack our vacation chock full of adventures with only one day scheduled for the Kalalau Trail and end up going on a hike regardless of weather, timing, or your health.

Now, I have never completed the entire 11 mile (each way) trail. The last time I attempted, I was 6 months pregnant, made it 2 miles in, and decided to head back. I recommend this shorter length for day use hikers. But if you insist on going the whole way, here are a few tips that will save you an unlucky hiking experience:

1. Plan to arrive at the trailhead no later than 6am. If you get there later than 8am, you will be hiking in the full sun and have a higher chance of meeting rain. Plus, the masses arrive around 9am and any essence of privacy will be lost.

2. If it rained the day before (or if there is any chance of rain in that day's forecast) DO NOT HIKE.

3. Bring plenty of water and food. There is no snack stand at the end of the trail. And it is 11 miles back too.

4. Pack out all of your trash.

5. Wear sunscreen and mosquito repellent.

6. Go with a hiking buddy.

7. Wear good hiking shoes--this is not the spot for flip flops.

8. Go slow. The views are spectacular and worth the extra time of negotiating those unstable tree roots.

9. Be ok with turning back earlier than you would on a hike at home. Most of us are not used to the tropics and might push ourselves past the point of safety. As I am told, it is just as beautiful at mile 1 as mile 11.

10. Pat your self on the back for whatever part of the trail you accomplished. It is a tough one that most locals won't even do anymore.

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