This is ironic… I started this series about my experiences in Hawaii because I had been very sick for almost two weeks (feeling a lot better now) and the resulting fatigue had left me with a paralyzing case of writers block. So in an effort to overcome the writers block, I tried writing about a subject that I knew I had vivid memories of, and strong feelings about. I guess it worked, because once I got started, it became like the proverbial snowball rolling down a hill, picking up speed and getting much bigger. What I had intended to be one post, grew into three, and still isn’t anywhere near done.
But since I really don’t want to spend the rest of my WP days writing an endless series about Hawaii, I’m going to wrap this all up here in this final chapter – by fast forwarding to the last two excursions of our 1990 Hawaiian Honeymoon.
After spending a wonderfully sunny and relaxing three days on the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, doing nothing more ambitious than tropical scuba diving, which was a sheer joy for us, and physically easy compared to our previously exhausting hiking trips, Jean and I caught a flight to our last Hawaiian island of Kauai.
We had two very ambitious objectives on Kauai that both involved very strenuous hiking to reach isolated and wild places of incredible natural beauty. Our last excursion before leaving Hawaii, involved hiking the spectacular trails of the steep and visually astounding cliffs of the Na Pali coast.
The Na Pali Coast of Kauai
View from high up on the Na Pali cliffs, looking 2,000 feet down.
We got great weather, encountered no unexpected problems, and we had a memorably wonderful time exploring one of the most amazing and strikingly beautiful places on the face of the earth.
I’ve always been very grateful that this is how and where our 1990 Hawaiian Honeymoon Expedition ended, because the first excursion on Kauai before it – our mixed blessing of hiking and backpacking on the Kalalau Trail, was often a disappointing, uncomfortable and ultimately dangerous experience.
During our pre trip planning, Jean and I had decided to save the 14 mile long out and back Kalalau Trail hike for our second to last excursion, because we knew we’d be exhausted afterwards, and we didn’t want to make that long flight home in a completely exhausted state, before we even boarded the plane. We knew that it would take us two days to complete our route, including a night trail camping, and it would be our most physically demanding and strenuous hike of the entire trip.
From all descriptions, the Kalalau Trail was supposed to be the ultimate hiking experience in all of Hawaii, and we were both convinced that our long and exhausting marathon trek on Kalalau would be worth all the effort it would cost us.
But we had a threat hanging over our heads as we first set foot on the trail head – there was a large and fast moving tropical storm approaching the area, but according to the weather reports, the storm was supposed to pass by in a near miss of where we would be, instead of a direct hit. We knew we’d get some heavy rains and winds, but not the full fury of the storm – at least that is what we thought, based on the info from the weather reports…
But it was sunny and beautiful as we began our Kalalau Trail trek, and life was very good. The trail began at Ke’e Beach, and within the first half mile, we were rewarded with excellent views of the Kauai coast. Two miles further took us into the lush jungle of Hanakapi’ai Valley and a half mile side trail led to a waterfall well worth a rest stop and a swim in the pool below the falls.
Overlooking Ke’e Beach at the start of our hike.
View from the first mile of the Kalalau Trail
On the way to Hanakapi’ai Valley
Hanakapi’ai Falls – 120 feet high
Hanakapi’ai Falls Pool – We went swimming here and it was great.
From there, the trail led us to a stream that was wide but still relatively easy to get across, by stepping on a series of exposed rocks from one side to the other. Soon we were at Hanakapi’ai Beach, and on the higher ground above, was where we planned to camp overnight, having obtained the required permit in advance. Setting up camp here was good for us, since we could shed our 30 pound backpacks and stow much of our gear in our tent, and then switch over to much lighter day packs. This would make the next section of increasingly difficult hiking up the steeply climbing trail, a lot less strenuous for us.
Hanakapi’ai Beach Overlook
We planned to hike four miles to the Hanakoa Valley, stop at Hanakoa Falls, and then turn around and hike back to camp. The section of the trail heading out followed a series of steep switchbacks and climbed 800 feet out of Hanakapi’ai valley. The trail traversed the two small hanging valleys of Ho’olulu and Waiahuakua before entering Hanokoa Valley.
Just as we arrived at Hanakoa Falls, it began to rain, which wasn’t surprising since we knew that bad weather was coming, but it was still disappointing. I had hoped that the rain would hold off until we made it back to camp that evening, but no such luck… At least Hanakoa Falls was truly spectacular and very beautiful, even in the rain, and our effort to get there had been worth it. The falls were set a half mile back in a lush jungle valley, and the area seemed so remote and wild, that it looked like it had been that way for many thousands of years.
Approaching Hanakoa Valley – about a mile away.
Jungle vegetation in Hanakoa Valley
Hanakoa Falls – about 400 feet high at this point
At the base of Hanakoa Falls
Hiking the five miles back to our camp site in the rain was a drag, and we got back about an hour before sunset. We were both very tired after covering 12 very tough miles of hiking in one day, so we made a quick camp dinner, and as soon as it got dark, we retired to our tent and got in our sleeping bags. Both of us fell asleep almost immediately.
But I was suddenly awakened at around 2 AM by a very loud and continuous roar of wind, and the sound of torrential rain pounding down on our tent. ‘It’s the storm!’ my mind shouted, and the roar of the wind was loud enough to cause me immediate and serious alarm about whether our tent was about to be blown away. I grabbed a flashlight and shined it around the ceiling and walls of the tent inside, to see what condition the nylon fabric of our shelter was in.
It was intact, with no visible leaks, and though rippling from the blowing wind, still not violently enough for me to think we were in any real danger. Keeping the flashlight on, I continued to listen to the roaring sound of the wind for about 10 minutes, and I concluded that the sound seemed to come from high above us, instead of at ground level around us, which was a very good thing. I thought about why this might be, and then realized that the 2,000 foot high Na Pali cliffs above and behind us, were acting as a giant wind break, and deflecting the worst of the storm’s high velocity winds up and high over us.
So I turned off the flashlight and went back to sleep, until after the light of morning came, around 7:00 AM. My wife never woke up from the sound of the wind during the night. She wasn’t normally that sound of a sleeper, and she must have been really exhausted to sleep through the loud roar that had startled me awake.
Getting up that morning was an interesting experience. Our tent looked like it had been pitched in a pond, and was surrounded by water. The tent floor was wet inside, but not flooded, despite the new pond of water now all around it. I wish I had a photo to show you, to match the image of the memory in my mind. It was one of the stranger sights I’ve seen, in all the history of my years of camping experience.
Unlike the weather predictions, the tropical storm had not been a near miss of where we were, but instead, a direct hit. It was a very good thing for us that the storm’s path came from over land and ran into the cliffs, instead of blowing in from the ocean and hitting us exposed and unprotected from the high velocity of the winds. But we still got the full drenching of the torrential tropical storm rains, which was why our tent was standing in a pond.
At least by the time we got up that morning, the fast moving storm was gone with its winds and the worst of the rain. So we made breakfast… It was still raining but not hard, and even though we got wet from walking around in the rain, we weren’t cold because the air was quite warm.
My wife and I were both even in a pretty good mood that morning, since we both knew that things could have been far worse for us, if the storm had hit us from the opposite direction. But there was still a problem that we were unaware of…
There were some other hikers in the area, who had spent the night camping nearby, and they told us about “the rapids” cutting off the trail that we all needed to hike back on, to get back to the trail head where our rental cars were parked, and back to civilization. The rapids they told us about, were where the stream was, that we had easily rock hopped across only the day before.
So Jean and I went to look for ourselves, and yes, due to the torrential rains during the night, the easily crossed stream of yesterday had turned into a flash flood, and was now a boiling and raging river of rapids that seemed impossible to get across, without dangerously high and potentially deadly risk.
This sucked. We stood there staring at the wild waters of the flash flood, and thought about just how much we didn’t want to spend another entire day and night out there, with most of our clothing now soaking wet, and then having to sleep in wet sleeping bags. Our tent had done an almost miraculous job of not flooding with water, but by now the floor inside was wet enough that even with our foam ridge rests underneath, our sleeping bags were wet, and neither one of us wanted to spend the night trying to sleep in a wet sleeping bag.
But what could we do? There was a rope already tied in place that crossed above the flood, and it was there for hikers to hang onto in a situation like this, to help them get across. But the raging flood waters were so deep, fast and fierce, that neither we nor any of the other stranded hikers wanted to try it.
But about an hour later the rain had slackened off and was light, so we thought that if we waited long enough, the run off causing the flood would recede to the point that the flood level would lower, and become slower and less dangerous, enough so that we could use the rope to safely get across it.
So we waited… and three hours later the flood looked unchanged and just as dangerous as ever. I got tired of just waiting, so Jean and I tried hiking upstream, to see if there was any place we could find that was easier to cross. But after about an hour and a half of hiking upstream, we never saw any place that looked safe enough to try. So we headed back and rejoined the other stranded hikers in the tedious frustration of the waiting game, while watching a flood that refused to slacken.
But at around 4:00 PM, it began to rain much harder again, and then we knew that we could forget about any chance of the flood ebbing before nightfall. This made some of us, myself included, more inclined to try the rope crossing, rather than just give up and stay stuck there for another wet and uncomfortable night.
If we were to try the crossing, Jean and I would cross at the same time, with us both holding onto the suspended rope together, and me behind her with my body blocking hers from being pulled away by the powerfully strong pull of the rushing water. My arms would be holding onto the rope outside of hers, so I could grab her if she lost her grip on the rope, and pull her up if she lost her footing.
But what if I lost my footing? What if we both lost our footing and the rope at the same time? I began to think that I just couldn’t put my new bride in that kind of danger, just to avoid an uncomfortable night. Waiting it out was the safest choice for her sake, and that was going to be our decision.
And then the coolest thing happened… This local Hawaiian kid around 20 years old, showed up on the opposite side, and then he carefully and deliberately used the rope to make the crossing to our side, without a problem. He told us that he’d done that rope crossing many times before, to the point that he knew where the submerged rocks were, and where to put his feet, so that in combination with holding onto the rope, the crossing could be safely made.
And he offered to help each one of us, one at a time, to make the crossing with him guiding us safely to the other side. He didn’t want money; and he had no interest in anything other than just wanting to help us. He said it was better if he helped us, so that none of us tried it alone and without knowing how to do it safely; risking serious injury or worse… It’s one of the most impressively altruistic things I’ve ever seen another person do for a group of total strangers.
He spent an hour and a half getting each one of us safely across the flood, and I’ll never forget him for it – because when I think of him, and especially these days, I think that maybe there’s some hope for humanity after all.
The local Hawaiian guy who was a true hero when he helped hikers across the raging flash flood on the Kalalau Trail.
Jean and I drove to the southwestern coast of Kauai, where the climate was drier and it was less likely to rain. We got our sunshine back again as we spent two days resting and recovering at a place called Poipu Beach. We could go snorkeling a short distance from the beach and see lots of tropical fish, and even a few large sea turtles. Or we could just lounge on the beach and do nothing much at all, except for soaking up the warm and dry brightness of the shining Hawaiian sun.
Sunny skies at Poipu Beach.
There was one brief sun shower there, but it turned into the magic of a double rainbow. It felt like a metaphor for our entire trip – Paradise lost… and then found again, by the two of us together, and the two of us have been together ever since.