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Etched into the cliffside of Kauai, the narrow Kalalau trail clings to an oceanic ridge, bestowing ethereal views to all who travel along her ancient volcanic soil. The grandeur and mystery of the Kalalau trail captivated my adventurous spirit right away, because I grew up playing in the Colorado mountains. Voted one of America’s most dangerous hikes in 2008 by Backpacker Magazine, the route follows the Na Pali coastline.
Timid hikers can opt for a quick half mile excursion to a scenic overlook of Kee beach ringed by coral reefs. Continue on and in another mile and a half you’ll find yourself at the isolated Hanakapiai Beach. Another two miles will bring you to Hanakoa Falls with a camping area for tired backpackers. The final seven miles take courageous and hardy trekkers to Kalalau Beach and waterfall. Camping is also available here.
Since Dan and I are in reasonably good health, not afraid of heights and equipped with water, sturdy boots and snacks, we decide to hike the two mile leg to Hanakapiai Beach. If you want to go further than this you’ll have to get a permit. Go slowly and deliberately and stay on the path. The steep trail varies between dry and crumbly, slippery with mud from mountain runoff and paved with moss-slicked lava. People senselessly die in this unforgiving arena. Carelessly disregarding the rules, folks fall down eroded lava faces or drown in the fierce ocean current.
We are perched on the narrow footpath, taking a big drink of water. Lush green vegetation frames the sweeping panorama. A palette of blue; the turquoise ocean meets a cobalt horizon and blurs into a baby blue sky. Breaking up the tranquil Pacific, white capped waves thunderously crash into the cliffs hundreds of feet below us.
Coming down the steep trail and into Hanakapiai beach, I immediately put my hot feet in the cool water of the shoreline. Shrouded in sea spray, jagged peaks loom over the isolated cove. Nature uncompromisingly pounds the prehistoric lava caves as a monk seal sleeps off a mid-afternoon meal, booming waves crashing behind him. He arches his head up, opens his drowsy eyes and lazily looks back at us. Content, we race the sunset back.
Photos by Dan Lane