Friday, June 22, 2012

honeymoon: kauai, kalalau trail (day 8)

For more images, click HERE

The Na Pali Coast is the mother of all mind-blowing geological features —miles of impossibly craggy mountains dropping 1,000 feet into the sea, so huge and beautiful it can never be captured by photographs that do it anything like justice. SERIOUSLY! the beauty must be experienced to be believed. Pete and I concluded our Kauai experience with an aggressive 8 mile hike of the coast along the Kalalau Trail, one of America’s 10 most dangerous trails, originally created in the late 1800s. Beyond the physical impression, there is a certain sacred awe at being in such a magnificent natural setting. I call it a Hawaiian cathedral, not just because of the towering cliffs on all sides, but because Kalalau epitomizes the natural balance between the Hawaiian culture and the physical world.

We parked at Ke’e Beach and set off on an 8 mile hike we’ll never forget, getting vertically straight right away. I am no slouch. I hike, run, bike, kayak, ski, and when I am idle, I mentally pace about thinking about what I am going to do next. I say this because, despite all of my activities, backpacking the Na Pali Coast was a significant challenge. Hiking may be nothing on your favorite mainland activities, but it’s different here. The terrain is a jumble of slippery mud, lava rock shelves and stepping stones, streams to cross, roots to grasp onto with bare knuckles. With every step, you’re suspended mid-way between an unforgiving sea below and equally unforgiving mountains above, rising a thousand feet, rippling with plant life and the surreality (is that a word?) of millions of years of creative erosion. Plants you’ve never dreamed of sprout from every crevice, strangely angled roots jutting out and under at oddly symmetrical 45-degree angles, bearing fruit and flowers right out of Avatar. The trail is unforgiving of mistakes, forcing you to wake up and pay attention every step of the way.

There’s no opportunity for boredom or whining on the Kalalau – your feet are busy, your hands are busy, your eyes and brain are busy. Personally competitive.  And yet, it’s completely relaxing. You feel like you’re being washed clean of your workday life, thrown back into the Pleistocene, being reminded with every step of your most basic, organic, beautiful self.

2.5 miles in, we found ourselves at the secluded Hanakapi’ai Beach, hardly safe to swim in. Even with the sand molded around my legs up towards my shins, the waves pushed me around like weightless leaf. Multiple signs warned us about how many swimmers had been dragged out to sea here, lost their lives to arrogance. My suspicion is that most people who die in Hawaiian waters come from places far from the ocean – people not raised understanding its power even in coastal areas less powerful than this. Also, I’m quite sure that most deaths occur during the big swell months, not in the summer when waves are far less formidable (though we saw the kind of surf that reaches up and grabs irreverent souls from the rocks). Nonetheless, we enjoyed a snack and headed back onto the Hanakapi’ai Valley trail that leads to a waterfall, continuing along the entire 11 miles of impossibly beautiful and challenging coastline, having plenty of opportunities to use my Spidey senses. The trail becomes even more difficult than before, as it meanders over rocks and fallen trees. I’ve gotten myself into some pretty wooly situations in the California hills, but nothing like this. When I encountered challenging areas, I tried to overlook any potential fear and rather thank God for just being in the midst of remarkably beautiful, insane terrain.

All along the way, we noticed a familiar, enticing smell. Lying at our feet, some squashed, some freshly fallen from the trees above, were guavas…dozens of them, yellow and the size of Ping-Pong balls. As we marched along the coast and deeper into the jungle, we noticed that they could be plucked them from the earth. Elsewhere, I thought to myself, suckers were paying good money for these treats we could have for free.

Finally, we reached the waterfall, where we enjoyed an unforgettable lunch. Amidst a cascade of fresh water that tumbled at least 1,000 feet off a cliff above and into a wide, chilly pool at the base. Though other hikers were swimming and lunching, it still felt like a moment out of time, a lost corner of paradise.

I put down my camera bag, stripped to my swimsuit and eased myself into the water. In the morning hours, the water was tortuously cold; I was unable to make it in past my waist. Instead, I watched Pete swim over to where the falls hit the surface. Above us was a sky bluer than the ocean, and in that sky hovered a dot of a helicopter, ferrying visitors around the island on tours that cost hundreds of dollars. It made no sense to me. Why come all this way for Hawaii’s natural beauty, only to spend extra dollars to distance yourself from it?

For more images, click HERE

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