CONTINUATION OF “Beyond the End of the Road: CHAOS – Part 2”
CHAPTER 3: KALALAU
It rained heavily throughout the night. At times I wasn’t sure if the tent would be able to handle the amount of water that was being dumped on it. I lay half-awake waiting, just waiting, for the poles to snap or the whole roof to cave in. But we survived the night; it was today we had to worry about. The rain hadn’t let up and half our stuff was still soaking from ‘Okolehao. I looked outside and cursed a bit.
“What do we do?” Leigh Anne asked. I could tell her spirits were diminishing as rapidly as mine were. I looked at Leigh Anne and looked back at the sky.
“We hike,” I said decisively.
We solemly ate our bananas and packed up our gear. The rain had subsided momentarily, so we used that opportunity to break camp. But the next rainstorm arrived anyway, soaking everything again. It seemed as though we had been wet for days now. I was fuming as I rolled up the tent, which was covered in wet sand, the rain pelting the back of my head.
We walked in relative silence to the main road where we waited under a sad little tree. It barely offered any shelter from the incessant rainstorm that wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down. I couldn’t believe the amount of cars that drove past us, big empty vans with warmed-up Americans sipping their frothy cappuccinos. “Who the hell doesn’t pick people up in this weather?!” I asked out loud for anyone to answer.
We decided to just bite the bullet and call a taxi. He came in a few minutes, blasting some dramatic and foreboding classical music as we piled in, as if foreshadowing the doom that lay ahead. He dropped us at Ke’e Beach and wished us luck, which we would need…every ounce of it.
The rain simply wasn’t letting up. We stood under the veranda of the bathrooms at Ke’e Beach and ate another mushy banana, as leaves were whipped into a frenzy by the wind and large puddles were splashing about as the rain constantly refilled them. We gave each other a look as if to say, “Well, what else is there to do?” Then we smiled. I think we were both thinking at that point what an insane adventure this had been so far, and how much we had wished and dreamed of a trip like this. That the rain and endless days of rolling out at 6:30am and hiking, hitching, rationing had hardened us to a state where we were ready to tackle this last beast. And so, with that in mind we started in on the first leg of the Kalalau.
The way in…
The first section of the trail is the 2 miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach. Due to all the rain, the first steep uphill climb over rocks had a small stream running down it, causing us to pay extra attention to footing. At the various viewpoints, the Na Pali coast was shrouded in cloud, offering limited views. The track itself had had some maintenance since I had last hiked it three years earlier. There were some wooden railings, mile markers and signs, and in some part, “steps” had been put in to make the steep descents easier to negotiate. But the rain and mud was still unavoidable as we carved our way around the valleys, dripping and lush, palms and breadfruit trees crammed together for miles up into the hills.
The second mile was a tricky descent down through the mud to Hanakapi’ai Beach, which in the summer is sandy, but on this day was a mess of whitewash, throwing itself down on the boulders which lined the shore. In any case, whether sandy or not, one should take extra care swimming at Hanakapi’ai, if the sign with prison-like tally board counting all the people who have died at the beach is anything to go by.
I remembered a gentle river which I had bathed in after a fairly easy boulder hop across at the entrance to the bay, but now what lay before me was a raging torrent of muddy water, making the crossing much harder that I remembered. I walked across first with the big pack. Things became trickier as the river came up to my waist and I reached the part of the river where the rapids and subsequently strong currents had the reign of the river. I almost lost my footing, receiving gasps then cheers from onlookers after I regained my balance and made it to the other side. I went back for the smaller bag and the cameras, and then back again for Leigh Anne, whose river crossing came up to her chest, her face squinting in full concentration as I passed her on to another traveller who plucked her from the rapids and onto dry land.
We hiked up through the flaxy breadfruit trees to a spot where we could set up camp. Nothing was dry so we chose a spot as good as any under some trees and put up the tent. The rain had ceased for the moment, but as I rolled out the tent, it was evident that it had been packed in a monsoon. It looked like a butterfly that had just climbed its way out of the cocoon, wings still wet and crumpled. We put it up and looked at it pitifully, soaking wet and encrusted with sand. Now I must take this time to sing some praise for my Bali rag. The Bali rag had been given to me in Lombok, Indonesia 4 years before. In the time that has passed since then, it has travelled with me everywhere, serving me as a towel, bed sheet, pillow, sarong, cleaning rag and bivouac. It is, without question, the best travel item I have ever had. And once again, in a time of great need, Bali rag saved the day, transforming the disgustingly wet and sandy tent into a clean and dry home. Bali rag, I love you.
We had the afternoon to make it to the Hanakapi’ai Falls, which was another four miles round trip. It was a slippery climb up to a bamboo forest. The bamboo here shot up like huge thick construction poles with people’s names etched into them. We continued on until we reached a river we had to ford to the path that continued on the other side. The water, though high, was nothing compared to the raging river we had crossed before. We crossed two more rivers, both reaching up to my thighs and wound our way up the valley through the dripping leaves, as the light rain came and went. The river had widened and there were now a series of large swimming holes and small waterfalls as we made our way further up. And then, without warning, the main waterfalls, the Hanakapi’ai Falls, came into view. An enormous towering mass of white water was spewing, thrusting, exploding from the top of the cliffs. We had to shout as we neared it, the thunder of the falling water was almost deafening, and the spray was flying out soaking us instantly, the power of the falls making it seem like a helicopter was taking off. The sheer force of the thing was incredible. Our hair was being whipped around and we covered our things behind a rock, the only semi-dry spot in the area. We approached the falls, whooping and yelling while our faces were blasted by wind and water. We were both so exhilarated, letting out wild animal calls, unable to control ourselves, unable to withhold the howls and screams that were involuntarily being emitted. I plunged into the freezing water, which was choppy like the ocean from the endless tons of water pounding the pools surface. I broke the surface and looked up through squinted eyes to the towering falls feeling so animal, so alive, so vulnerable, so small, and so free.
After exhausting ourselves of adrenaline, we made our way soaking wet back to camp. We dried off, changed into warm, dry and clean clothes and boiled some water for the best freeze-dried garlic mashed potatoes this side of the island. The rain had stopped and the sun, albeit low in the sky, had made its way out. It felt like we were through the worst of it, that we had survived those few days of rain and discomfort, that we had made it out the other side. We felt optimistic, as we got into our sleeping bags to read aloud Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, ready for the 9 miles ahead that we would conquer tomorrow.
We woke overjoyed to see blue skies. We ate a blueberry bagel with peanut butter and jelly (a controversial purchase at the time, but eventually became one of our most precious commodities) and broke camp before starting on our way up the steep muddy climb out of Hanakapi’ai Bay. It wasn’t the best start to a nine mile day; the track was still pretty wet from all the rain that had fallen in the previous days. Eventually though, the track dried up with the morning sun and we were in excellent spirits once we had conquered the endless switch backs to get to the top of our first ridge. The rain forgotten, we hiked along under an unblemished blue sky, staring out at the endless ocean. We continued on under a canopy of flaxy breadfruit trees we had come to nickname “Dr. Suess trees” for their similarity to his illustrations in their cartoon-like appearance.
We reached the sign telling us we were now entering Na Pali State Park. We threw off our packs and scrambled around a big rock on the bend of the trail before it opened into a massive valley. Around the other side, there was another flat rock which jutted out over the cliff which just fell away, dropping all the way to the incredible azure sea swirling around the base of the cliffs below. I lay face down with my arms folded under my chin and gazed out to sea. I was wildly happy at once again finding myself perched out there at the end of the world. Each way I looked, the endless coast drifted away into the distance, those huge jagged cliffs of the Na Pali like a line of spearheads, cragged and creased from rain that had been falling on them since the beginning of time.
We continued on around the bend into the enourmous valley with a waterfall in the distance, plummeting down into the basin. It felt insane to be hiking through such wild and untouched land. We scrambled down and climbed back up through each glorious valley over the next four miles before lunching by the river in Hanakoa valley. We decided to take a quick detour up to the Hanakoa Falls since we were here. We hiked up a mile into the valley, following pink flags on the trees before breaking out onto the falls. They didn’t have the power of Hanakapi’ai Falls, but it certainly was beautiful. Surrounded by huge towering mossy cliffs, the falls fell prettily like a veil down into a large glassy pool at the bottom.
With our bellies still not quite full, we carried on with enough protein and renewed energy for the rest of it. We continued on, still awed and pausing from time to time with our hands on hips whenever we broke out onto yet another intensely lush valley, or a peak that made you feel like a conductor standing on their perch with the endless ocean as your orchestra. We reached the precipitous downhill cutback, which was basically a loose shingle scramble down to a skinny little trail that was cut into the rock face, resembling more of a little goat track than a trail. The wind picked up on these exposed peaks of the valley and it seemed like one slip at this point would mean falling hundreds of feet down into the sea which was raging below. I stood at the very farthest point before the track cut inland. My toes were jutted out over the edge and I was feeling wild and lyrical as the wind whipped my face.
After tackling the rugged rocky cliff, the earth turned into rich red clay, lending one more color into the landscape which already had been a striking contrast of vivid greens and intense blues of the sky and ocean. We reached the sign welcoming us to Kalalau, at which point our backs, shoulders and legs were begging us to stop, yet we mustered the energy to climb up the red dirt mound which looked out over Kalalau Beach. It was as if we had finally found the mythical land which we only half believed existed, and we both stood there smiling at each other now that our destination was in sight.
I half ran down the steep red cliffs that brought us back to the trail, which cut through thin trees and scrub. We made our way to the river past various camp spots. Many of the encampments gave me the impression that the inhabitant had been there for quite some time. One camp particularly looked as though it had been there for a number of months, years even. It was quite large and was made up of a series of tarps which almost broke up the camp into different “rooms” or areas rather. Inside, there was a collection of jars, pots and pans, a crate of tattered dog-eared books, mats were laid out on the dry dirt floor, there were hammocks, a bed and a series of items for leisure such as digereedoos, jimbae drums as well as fishing equiptment, cooking equipment and a pile of neatly folded clothes. I wondered who lived there and for how long they had been camping out here at the end of the world. We trotted past this camp and many others of similar style, some with hammock chairs set up under a frame of driftwood, some with a few logs acting as benches around a fire pit, some even with a makeshift little garden out front. It seemed everyone here had found their little slice of paradise.
We spent the next hour or so next to the river where I swam and we boiled some water for drinking. We ate Mountain House® spaghetti that I would recommend to anyone who deserves a good feast after a long hike. The day of hiking had caught up with us and after a while without our packs in the late afternoon sun, it was difficult to throw the load back on and hike another mile. But the sun was low and we wanted to get to Kalalau Beach before sunset. We repacked and crossed the river making our way up to a little bluff which was hosting a small crew of long-haired, bearded men and topless women, the first of many as it would appear later. They were all lounging around, laughing and eating as the sun went down.
There was a beautiful light that was cast across the ocean and trees as we made our way down the little track that hugged the beach. We had picked up our pace and I kept turning around grinning wildly at Leigh Anne as we made our way nearer and nearer to the beach and our eventual camp spot. Various bodies were scattered down the beach to catch the sunset. Some fished, many prepared bonfires, a few were lazily slapping away on bongo drums and others just watched, gazing out to sea. There was almost an immediate camaraderie among us all. We had all worked hard to get here and this was our reward: a beautiful beach all the way out there by itself, only accessible by hiking 11 miles in.
We kept pushing on past the little camps that were dotted throughout the forest, some already with a smoky bonfire crackling away. We went on until we broke out onto the beach and found a spot that seemed like it had been waiting for us. With no other visable camps on the beach, it was a miracle to have found this one uninhabited. It was a sandy little cove right on the beach under a leafy tree, surrounded by boulders that formed a perfect little half circle a little bigger than our tent. We threw down our things, laying claim to the spot. I grabbed the long awaited bottle of red and we found a place on the beach to sit and watch the sun go down.
We swigged straight from the bottle, our eyes glued to the huge orange sun that slowly sunk down to the horizon. We talked and talked, immensely happy and self-congratulatory at having made it here, through all the hikes, early mornings, hitches and storms. The cliffs off at the far end of the beach turned into jagged silhoettes like a torn sheet of paper. Behind us, the last of the sun caught on the giant accordion of ridges, casting long shadows into their many creases and valleys.
We set up our tent in the dark and I went on a wee jaunt to find the longdrop toilets about ten minutes back down the track. It turned into a nice nighttime walk down the little sandy track, with endless bonfires dotted in and around the forest, each with their small band of travellers circled around them like a tribe of gypsies. Once back, Leigh Anne and I lay on the beach and gazed up at the endless multitude of stars that were cluttering up the night sky in their unorganized but somehow prearranged constallations and groups. We talked and talked about plans and dreams until all words were exhausted and we just lay there in silence gazing up into it all.
CONTINUE THE JOURNEY “Beyond the End of the Road: Kalalau – Part 2“