Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hanakapi'ai Hike: 8.4 miles and they're still talking to us

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What an adventure! Today we took the girls on their longest, most-difficult single-day hike of their lives. Mr. B and I waited for years to return to Kauai because we wanted our girls to be old enough to manage this hike, among other things, but it was this hike that was really the clincher for us.

Hanakapi'ai Falls is a strenuous, technically moderate hike on the Na Pali Coast. It includes the first 2 miles of the world-class Kalalau Trail, then cuts inland through a beautiful, ancient valley roughly following the Hanakapi'ai stream 1.7 miles further to the impressive, LOWER 300-foot section of what may be up to a 1,600-foot waterfall/cataract called Hanakapi'ai Falls. The total elevation gain for the out-and-back hike is about 1,760 feet with similar elevation loss. Sure, it's all a wash, but tell that to our aching ankles! (WHERE did I put that Arnica?!)

We hit the trail at about 10:30 a.m., a little later than we'd anticipated, but still plenty of time to enjoy the day. We climbed and dropped into Hanakapi'ai Beach along the fairly well maintained, but certainly rough trail. Sections were quite steep, including the "gatekeeper" section at the beginning of the trail - steep enough to scare off many visitors who really shouldn't hit this trail. About 1 3/4 miles in we ran into crazy, red ants. We couldn't stop for a rest the last 1/4 mile for fear of being carried away by the pests. (We saw one live cockroach being carried away by a raft of ants, and a big dead spiders being torn apart - these were NOT your typical backyard variety ants!) Along the way, we managed to spot a variety of fantastic flowers including wild orchids that would have had my Auntie M drooling. There they were, out on the trail, just blooming away. Amazing.

At the beach, the girls discovered thousands of polliwogs (tadpoles) living in the fresh pond onshore only about 35 feet from the pounding waves that will, come winter, completely erode the beach. We were also greeted by two of the islands countless feral-but-friendly cats who enjoyed treats of bread and whatever other handouts visitors were willing to share. While the girls rescued tadpoles who were washing downstream toward the ocean, Mr. B walked the short beach to a shallow cave, took a nap and snapped a few shots. I tried to stretch out on the sand, but quickly turned into a sugar cookie - sand encrusted on every surface thanks to gusty winds.

We knew our time would be limited today by daylight hours, so we packed up the girls and headed up canyon. There we enjoyed a few creek crossings, sampled windfall guava that was abundant, experienced mountain apples (which, oddly, grow on any exposed bit of tree - a limb, the trunk, occasionally under leaves), and contemplated our chances of survival were we to climb into the thick, deep bamboo groves during a hurricane. Once at the falls, E dipped in her feet, I took a swim, all of us finally enjoyed our lunches, then it was time to head back downstream.

The hike out was much easier, both because it was downhill (largely) from the falls to shore, and because the degree of difficulty had SO increased at the end of the trail that none of those "tough spots" we'd struggled through along the first portion of the trail looked very tough anymore. We collected a few guava and mountain apples for breakfast tomorrow, made a quick rest stop above the beach and then trucked toward the parking lot. It seemed to be getting darker a lot earlier than we'd expected. Turns out Hawaii is not among those who celebrate daylight savings time, so our timekeeper was off by an hour. Oops! Good thing Mr. B is always prepared (he had his flashlight, amongst other useful things), I keep the girls' backpacks stocked (V had her headlamp and E had her flashlight), and through dumb luck I also had my headlight along (I'd just picked it up in August and after our last camping trip, stuffed it in my day pack for lack of a better place to store it). As we walked out in the dark, we became the trail heroes with our lights which we shared with a family of five and a couple, all of whom were fumbling around in the dark when we came upon them. ALWAYS hike prepared!

We made it back to the car about 45 minutes after sunset only slightly dinged, certainly tired and ready for dinner. While we'd purchased groceries and PLANNED to eat in, it was way past dinner time and we weren't willing to wait for the drive home, plus cooking time. We stopped in the fantastic little town of Hanalei where we missed Bubba's "We cheat tourists, drunks and attorneys" by a hair! (The cook was closing the doors as we drove by, and was already making out with her boyfriend behind the restaurant by the time we parked and hit the restroom.) So we headed across the street to the local Panda's Kitchen for passable Chinese food, particularly among hungry hikers. Then to Lappert's, an ice cream shop for which we've already earned one free scoop - and this is only day 3!

A great family day, a fantastic family adventure and exhausted footsies all heading to bed.

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