MEMOIRS OF THE KALALAU TRAIL
by David T. Lurk
SOME NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED
THE KALALAU TRAIL
The Na Pali coast is located on the north coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The Pali or cliffs, are a magnificently rugged region of deep and narrow valleys ending abruptly at the sea. Waterfalls and whitewater streams sculpt these narrow valleys while the sea carves sheer cliffs. Stone walled terraces, one thousand years old, are in the valleys where early Polynesians once lived and cultivated taro (the Hawaiian equivalent of the potato).
The Kalalau Trail, originally built in the late 1800s, provides the only land access through Na Pali. The rugged trail traverses five valleys before ending at Kalalau valley and Kalalau beach. The 11-mile trail is always in a state of disrepair due to intense erosion. It is never level as it crosses above rocky sea cliffs and through green valleys. The trail descends to the sea at the valleys that include the beaches of Hanakapiai and Kalalau.
To give a better understanding of the trail in relation to the island of Kauai, think of the island as a rough circle and the face of a clock. The extreme top, or north side of the island, is 12:00 o’clock and the bottom, 6:00 o’clock. Most of the island is mountainous, the only paved roads being on or near the coast. In the jargon of the island: Kauai has an excellent network of lousy roads. The main two-lane highway starts at 12:00 o’clock and runs, clockwise, almost completely around the island but stops at 11:00 o’clock. The coast between 11 and 12 o’clock is the Na Pali coast. The Na Pali coast is too rugged for any type of road other than a footpath. However, a hiker can only hike from end of road at 12 o’clock, counterclockwise, 11 miles, to 11:05. A shear cliff, that is too crumbly to mountain climb, separates the hiker from the other end-of-road at 11:00.
Day 1, March 24, Wednesday
I Awoke at the Garden Island Hotel at 06:00 AM. It had rained all night and was still raining. I walked into the town of Lihue to the Department of Natural Resources for my camping permit. The permit allowed for a maximum of five days of camping within the Na Pali Coast State Park. At ten dollars a day, the total cost for my permit is fifty dollars. The ranger warned me about high rivers and dangerous trail conditions. Returned to the hotel, filled my single burner gasoline stove, and reserve flask. I paid for a second night at the hotel for after my journey and put all extra gear such as snorkel and flippers in their storage room.
My taxi arrived at 10:00 am. The cab driver’s name was Jim. He hailed from Sullivan, Missouri, my home state. Taxi driving paid his bills but his background is Botany. I immediately recognized Jim as being a great source of info on the Kalalau trail and all things nature. Every minute of the hour drive to the “end-of-the-road” was spent asking him questions about the flora and fauna, edible plants, dangers, and anything else that might give this Midwesterner a leg-up.
The rain stopped for just an hour or so and the drive counterclockwise around Kauai proved to be beautiful. Several white, veil-like waterfalls could be seen way up in the mountains. Jim mentioned how rare it was to see so many waterfalls. He also mentioned I would not be able to cross any rivers on foot any time soon. He said the roads might be closed due to flooding. That the rivers were up was obvious. One river lapped within a few inches of one of the bridges we crossed. Jim was obviously excited about the flooding and didn’t seem to worry. I, however, was worried I’d never get to Kalalau with these high rivers.
We discussed the very real fact that several people have died on the Kalalau trail trying to reach that beach. Jim asked, “Why do you want to do this thing?” I told him that after hiking that grueling eleven miles through a steamy jungle and stepping onto that glorious beach, a naked, Polynesian woman is going to step out of the rainforest and hand me a mango. “Fair enough,” he said. Jim then added, “If you survive, I’ll buy you a cold beer next week when I pick you up.”
Jim dropped me off at the trail-head at Ke’e beach in the Haena State Park. I set my pack down and began reading the trail-head bulletin board. There was an ominous report of a woman drowning trying to cross the Hanakoa River, and a picture and ten-thousand dollar reward paid by the family of Brad Turek for information leading to the recovery of Brad. He’s been missing from the trail since January.
The locals joke that the national official bird of Kauai is the Helicopter. Helicopter tours fly regularly along the Na Pali coast. They were very annoying, perhaps a flyby every fifteen minutes all day long. The sound of their blades began thumping the air at 8:00 am and finally stopped at 5:00 pm. I’m sure the view from those things is gorgeous and maybe one of these days I’ll take a flight. But for my whole trip, I and everyone I met hated them and wished they would just go away.
It began to rain again. I carried my pack over to a water faucet near the bathrooms and filled my two quart-canteens. A man of about 25 asked me if I was hiking to Kalalau. I said, “I sure hope so.” He said the Hanakapiai River is too high for a river crossing, that I should camp on the beach somewhere and then hike the two miles to the river tomorrow. He also asked if I had any pizza making supplies. I said, “No, not really,” “I do have some dried mushrooms though.” “Cool,” he said, “we make pizza in the valley, you should drop by, and we could always use any help we can for pizza ingredients.” Wow, I thought, pizza. To think I was worried about how I was going to survive on my meager rations and now I find out I could eat a slice of pizza in a wilderness.
Well there’s just no way. The guy was pulling my leg. What a mean thing to do, to taunt me with that most basic of human need, pizza.
I hoped this guy was also pulling my leg about river conditions so I sat on a bench at the end of trail and asked anyone coming off what the river conditions were like. “Impossible” everyone said. I would also get word that the park service had been choppering some day-hikers out who had been stranded on the other side of the river.
Damn! OK, fine, I thought. I’ll find a campsite along Ke’e beach and wait until tomorrow.
I hiked along the beach a few hundred yards and decided to hide my pack until late in the afternoon then I would decide on a camping spot. I left the beach and walked into the jungle to stash my pack.
Millions of mosquitoes began attacking with terrible vengeance. Buzzing near my ears making a horrible whining sound before landing to get their blood meal. Bastards! I turned right around and ran back to the beach waving my hands around trying to keep them off my face. I left the mosquitoes behind when I got close to the beach. Dumping my pack I located the insect repellent, dowsed myself with Deet and went back into the jungle. The mosquitoes left me alone but not for lack of trying. The blood suckers flew around me but stayed away. I held out my arm enticing them to land but none did. The Deet seemed to do the job. I had used the stuff before on fishing trips, or camping but this was the ultimate test.
I dumped my pack where I could easily find it, and covered it with large leaves. I went back out to the beach and to explore the area.
I visited some “wet” caves. These are caves that had been gouged out by the ocean, thousands of years ago and now have deep lakes at their entrances. I also hiked one mile of the Kalalau Trail. It was very crowded with day hikers and hopeful backpackers. I asked several of the serious looking backpackers of the river conditions. All reports: Too high to cross.
I also saw the first of “Spook.” Spook is the name I would give to a character of the area. He looked Middle Eastern, perhaps Moslem. He wore a bright white robe with a hood and sandals. He seemed overly dressed for the conditions. The bottom of Spook’s robe was matted with dirt and grime. He was meditating or praying on the bench at the trail-head. He had several coconuts at his side. A machete poked out from the front of his robe, he seemed crazy.
I went back to find my pack. I was a little concerned whether I could locate it since I’d camouflaged it fairly well. My pack was right where I left it. I went back to hiking east along the beach and found a pleasant camping spot a quarter mile from the trail parking lot.
I set up my tent on the edge of the beach and the forest. The forest floor was covered in pine needles dropped by the tropical evergreen tree common to the island.
The tent I used was brand new. I had only set it up once, in my backyard at home. It’s a one-man tent and of ultra-lightweight design. It has the bare minimum fabric required to get the job done and not weigh more than three pounds. The tent has a footprint shape like a coffin, and has just enough head space to sit up on one end. The tent looks like a fighter plane cockpit because the top of the tent slopes down to the feet.
I made a dinner of Ramon noodles, and watched the fiery sunset. I wondered if a cell phone might work so I dug through the top right pocket of my backpack. In that readily available pocket, I keep all my emergency equipment. Besides a cell phone, the pocket holds my first aid kit, medicine and spare prescription glasses.
The evening before I called my girl friend, Lori, from the Hotel. We both knew I’d be out of contact for the duration of the hike. I was bored and a little lonely so a phonecall would have been nice. The cell phone display confirmed that I was out of range of a cell tower. I turned it off. I wasn’t ready for bed but it began to rain-like-hell, so I hit the sack.
My sleeping bag was not the usual thick and insulated variety. It was a summer bag that is simply a sheet with zippers. Zipping it up produced a bag to sleep in.
The sleeping pad I use is a “Thermarest.” It’s basically an air mattress with a thin insulative foam core. When its nozzle is opened, the foam expands and it fills with air automatically. To give it more loft, you can blow into the nozzle to add air. It never needs more than six breaths to do the job.
I fell asleep with the sound of rain pounding my tent and waves crashing into the shore.
Day 2, March 25, Thursday
Awoke at 05:30 AM. Broke camp immediately and filled canteens at the water fountain. I also drank as much water as I could. I also began the bad habit of not eating breakfast because it seemed a waste of time to cook it up and scarf it down. All trail meals usually took about 40 minutes to cook and eat. I never really had to cook food. I usually had freeze-dried meals that only required heating a cup or two of water to boil then pour into the freeze-dried food pouch and wait ten minutes. I did have some ready to eat meals but not much. Ready-to-eat food is great but they always have some water in them and water is heavy. For instance, deer jerky or gorp (a mixture of nuts, raisins, and M&M’s) contain enough water that if I carried enough for every meal I’d end up with a 60 or 70 pound pack.
My pack weighed in at 55 pounds and my goal, at first, was to keep it under 50. Keeping my pack under 50 pounds turned out to be impossible. I would eventually go a full day just by eating what the land provided. Had I known that, I could have gone in with a 40 pound pack. But then again, had I known about the pizza parties, I’d have filled my pack with Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese bringing my pack back up to 55 pounds.
I saw a hippie couple breaking their camp near the beach. We traded what little information we knew about trail conditions.
These hippies, like so many others I met along the Na Pali Coast, were actually just young couples of early twenties. It seemed they were all just taking a break from college before going back to school or getting a job. They all seemed intelligent with lots of worldly experience and travel. The male of the species always had long hair and sometimes dreadlocks. The females wear dresses with a high waist that made them look pregnant. It seemed to me that a dress would hinder bodily functions out there in that environment but I was later told that a dress makes it easier to go to the bathroom.
I agree with such logic. During my hike, I would wear swim trunks. Swim trunks came with their own underwear; they had several pockets, are lightweight, and dried out quickly after getting wet. I also had my hair cut so short that I wouldn’t need a comb or brush.
I stepped out on the trailhead at 07:00 and immediately started sucking air hard. I stopped at every grand vista, resting and gazing in wonder at the magnificent views of the cliffs, valleys, and coast. It wasn’t raining but I could make out the downpours falling from the gloomy clouds in Kauai’s interior.
At 8:00 am, the helicopters started their tourist flights back and forth along the Na Pali coast.
Averaging one mile-per-hour, I arrived at the first obstacle after two miles.
It is the Hanakapiai River. It was raging. I spotted some heavy one inch diameter ropes fastened to both sides of the stream, but these seemed useless in that kind of whitewater. The noise was deafening.
I really wanted to get across and continue my journey. I imagined what it would be like to wade across that violent torrent. Dipping the very tippy-tip of my toe into the water, the river grabbed my foot and pulled me in. The angry current ripped my glasses off, my knee exploded with pain as a hidden rock smashed it; sucked under the torrent, I rolled and twisted, I was running out of air when it finally occurred to me to take the damn pack off. By this time, another bolder had smashed my left arm, rendering it useless. Carried out to sea, and just alive enough to feel the teeth of the tiger shark, I realized I made a bad decision.
Ok, maybe I’ll wait until tomorrow to cross.
Dumping my pack, I hiked a trail to the left and upstream, but it ended at a shear cliff at the rivers edge. Hiking downstream to the right, scrambling over some boulders and getting my feet wet near the slower moving rivers edge, I came to where the Hanakapiai discharges into the Pacific Ocean. I was one hundred yards downstream of where the trail crosses the river.
I was unhappy about the river conditions. However, the camping conditions were perfect. I had just found one of the greatest campsites of my life. Looking out to sea, the campsite was located just to the right of where the Hanakapiai River entered the ocean. Not only did I have a great view of the sparkling whitewater rapids but of the ocean and beach too. The area was shaded by twenty foot tall pineapple trees; the fruit of which were light green in color. The vicinity was flat and so strewn with boulders that there was only room for one tent. The smooth round boulders also made great spots for sitting. It was perfect. It was loud. The din would be part of my conscious and unconscious world for the next twenty-four hours.
I quickly sloshed my way back to the river crossing to retrieve my backpack. On the way, I saw a barefooted Polynesian crossing the river. I watched with interest, quickly realizing that I didn’t have to worry about seeing someone die. At first glance the surefooted Hawaiian looked like he knew exactly what he was doing.
Unencumbered by a pack, he was leaping from boulder to boulder, making his way across the river. The dark haired Hawaiian looked puny compared to the raging turbulence surrounding him on his tiny island boulder. Leaping over five feet to another rock, the man landed and absorbed the impact by going down into an immediate squat. He quickly placed his hands tenderly around his landing pad boulder. It gave me the impression he had landed on the back of an elephant and was regaining his balance.
The young Hawaiian was stripped to the waist and barefoot. He wore long rugged work shorts. A knife that could also be called a machete hung from his belt.
I got to the crossing and there was another Polynesian guy eating some food, relaxing, and watching his partner cross the river. They were park rangers, or in their professional description, Trail Technicians. Saying hello, I noted the ranger crossing the river had made it safely to the other side. He was now untying the rope. I wondered why he didn’t cut it with that big knife of his but quickly realized the rope was of high quality and it could be used for some other project.
“What’s up with that?”! I yelled above the roar of the whitewater. The ranger had to shout back, “That rope gives people a false sense of security; people who wouldn’t normally cross the river during these conditions think the rope is the answer, it’s not.”
The ranger was very personable and he was just loaded with information, including the weather. The rain would stop this afternoon. No rain tomorrow. He told me about the woman drowning at the Hanakoa River. I asked if he thought it was ok to camp at the point next to the rivers mouth. “Great spot”, he said, “but if you see the river turn chocolate, get out of there fast.” I told him I’d keep an eye out for such a thing, and strapped my pack on. As I bid adieu, the first of several dozens of people arrived at the river only to turn back or look downriver towards “my” campsite. I immediately got down there and set up my tent. Then the people began to arrive by the dozens.
Confluence of the Hanakapiai River into the Pacific Ocean. This is the best campsite on the Planet Earth.
It turned out to be a fairly nice day. The rain alternated on and off. However, it was mostly sunny even while raining. Generally the clouds hung over the interior of the island.
I observed a unique looking boulder on the bank of the river. The river lapped at its middle. I would use that boulder as my gage for a rising or receding river. The river’s level became my greatest concern. The river was receding, but ever so slowly. It did appear that the rate of the lowering water level might allow a crossing during mid-afternoon.
I took photos of several birds in the area. Two that came close enough to my camera were the White-Rumped Shama Thrush and Red-Crested Cardinal. The two birds are introduced birds. The birds were brought in from other countries intentionally or by accident several years before. I saw several indigenous birds but they were too far away to photograph.
White Rumped Shama Thrush
At three o’clock the river had receded enough for a crossing. I watched several day hikers make the trip across.
I thought for a moment that I would make a move to cross the river but decided that I had a great campsite with a good view of the world. Besides, I knew I’d end up camping in a dark and still dripping jungle instead of the open and airy spot I had.
At five o’clock, the crowds and the helicopters gave my little point of land some solitude. Across the river there was what in the summer time would be a beautiful sandy beach but that was a month away. Right now it is a bolder beach, with all the boulders the size of basketballs. In just a few more weeks, the angry waves crashing into the northern coast would deposit enough sand that children could build sandcastles. With the summer, and the change in the direction of the trade winds, the rough surf will move to the southern shores of Kauai, and Hanakapiai beach will be a real sandy beach.
Before the sun set at 6:45, I began making dinner. The smell of cooking food was wafting through the air. Across the river, I could hear an animal calling. Could it be some tropical bird? Maybe it’s a cat bird. It kind of sounded like a cat. There it is, a cat, and it’s looking in my direction. The little critter was across the river from me, just 50 feet above the river’s entry into the Pacific Ocean. The cat is hungry and a mere creek is not to stand in its way. Great! This is the part where I have to watch how Mother Nature allows no mistakes and is a cruel mistress.
But trying to stop the varmit was like trying to stop the tide. The animal was going to go to my side and that was that. The cat began hopping from rock to rock, each rock, or boulder with an inch of water flowing over the top. No cat! No! If you fall into the whitewater, you won’t drown before the tiger sharks get you! I’ll have to watch the whole nightmare! I won’t be able to look away! I won’t be able to enjoy my dinner.
It’s a typical human peculiarity to continue to stand and watch, helpless, as calamities unfold. The cat took one last leap and splashed into the fast moving water. I watched in frozen horror. Oh, cat!
The river’s swift current pushed the cat down-river faster than its traverse across the river. It was heading for the Pacific Ocean. Tiger Sharks where waiting. Cat swam like hell. Cat swam like it was a retriever dog swimming across a lake.
The Cat, after all my terror, made it…stepping out of the water it shook and scattered water in all directions. It’s damp, spiked hair made it look like it stuck its paw in a light socket.
It meowed. It meowed some more and wouldn’t stop meowing. It just meowed and meowed. It meowed and only stopped meowing when it was eating. I fed it and fed it. Then it meowed and I fed it some more. I named the cat Oscar for no other reason except that it looked like an Oscar. It finally stopped meowing, went over to some sand, dug a hole, and took a massive dump that a big retriever dog would be proud of. I realized that I wasn’t the only tourist that felt sorry for the thing.
A flooded Hanakapiai and Oscar the cat.
After chow, I hung my wet clothes. The rain stopped and I watched the sun setting on the pacific. A marvelous sight, I continued to watch the ocean and the waves coming in. The ocean just glowed.
Where the river entered the Pacific Ocean, it formed a deep “V” pointing inland. Waves hitting the sides of the “V” bounced towards the center and slammed into each other shooting explosive geysers several feet into the air. I thought of what it would be like as a castaway washing up on the shore and imagined that it would be impossible to survive the pounding of the surf into those basketball boulders.
Turning my attention back to the waves rolling in, I wondered how old they were. They might have been created by a large chunk of glacier breaking off and falling into Alaskan waters, weeks before.
The HanakapiaiRiver and the best campsite ever.
I longed to stay awake and watch the show but decided to turn in. The bed inside my tent was waiting for me but first I needed to cinch down the pockets and openings of my pack and secure it next to my tent. There is no room inside so it would have to lie outside within easy reach in case I wanted something during the night.
With my headlamp on, hunkered down over my pack, preparing for a night of rain, concentrating on cinching down flaps, when, “Hello!” a voice boomed from just six feet away.
The roaring river, the pounding surf, and my concentration on my gear had allowed the interloper to completely sneak up on me. Looking up, startled, and letting out a half “waaa!” my headlamp illuminated a man in white robes and a hood. It was Spook! I quickly scanned for that machete but didn’t see it. He immediately apologized.
Feeling sheepish about my overreaction, I asked him if he was alright. “Yes, good, thank you, I am sorry I frightened you,” he said. His white robe and hood made him appear to float like a ghost as he walked. He made his way to the river, bent over, drank. I pretended to concern myself with my tent. He finished his drink and floated back the way he had come.
I crawled into my tent, reading a little before turning out the light. Before I fell asleep, I thought about the morrow. I began worrying about the next morning’s expected river crossing. Everything revolves around that river. What if it rains tonight and makes it impossible to cross? I reminded myself, the river can hold a hiker up for days. I thought, after all the preparations, after all the hoopla, only to be held up by a river. Then I thought, “What do I know about river crossings?” I’d never crossed a tropical river before. In the morning I’ll be alone in my decision to cross and alone in my crossing. I could end up like some; dead and body not recovered.
Then the silly thoughts began. I could just camp out here for the coming week. It’s such a great campsite. I’ll never find a campsite like this again. It’s really an excellent home. I even have Oscar to keep me company.
No that’s foolish. Sometimes you have to leave security to appreciate what you’ve left behind. I must get across that river.
Day 3, March 26, Friday
After a worrisome sleep, I finally awoke at 06:00. The first thing to do, even before going to the bathroom, a look at my boulder. It was high and dry. Time to get moving.
Broke camp and packed my pack. I would skip breakfast. I would have breakfast on the other side. A full stomach would just hinder the crossing. I also emptied my canteens. I could fill them on the other side and I didn’t need the extra pounds raising my center of gravity. I found a good spot to cross and strapped myself into my pack. Cinching the straps tightly.
What little I know about river crossings, I do know this. The pack should be tight against the hikers back. You don’t want the load to shift, throwing off an already precarious footing. If I loose my footing and the river carries me away, I would have to keep my composure and extract myself from the straps.
I then saw some hunters. I would see a lot of those guys. They were looking for a good place to cross so I joined up with them. I followed them across. I figured if they or I had trouble, we could help each other. We splashed across at 07:30 with no mishaps. The water came up almost to my waist.
The hunters crossed the river barefoot and put their boots back on after the crossing. From past experience and soft-footedness I cross with my boots on but no socks, putting dry socks on after the crossing. The dry socks pull moisture out of my boot getting damp in the process. After an hour on the trail, I’ll replace the damp socks with another pair of dry socks and hang the damp ones on my pack. By this time, my feet and boots are dry. I’ve made dozens of river crossings in Missouri and this system works just as well in Kauai.
I talked to the hunters; they said the weather report calls for blue sky and no rain for two days.
I asked about their hunting methods; they were looking for pig and goat. They said they can only use bows on that portion of the island. They quarter the animal’s carcass and carry it out to their trucks back at the trailhead. Pigs and goats are introduced species and hard on the environment. Pigs dig holes making small puddles, which lead to mosquitoes. The feces of both pollute the streams with a dangerous virus called leptospirosis.
I filled my canteens and put two water purification tablets in each quart canteen. After five minutes, I shook the contents of each canteen, opened the caps a full- turn, and squeezed the plastic canteens to force the purified water through the cap threads to sanitize them.
I bid the hunters good luck and stepped out on the trail leading out of the Hanakapiai valley and toward my goal. It was good to finally get some miles behind me. After a half hour of climbing out of the valley, I stopped to change the damp socks and drink some water.
Still wanting to burn up some miles I skipped breakfast and kept moving. The weather was perfect. The Na Pali coast, along which, the trail traversed was beautiful. The trail was wet and difficult. After the long climb out of the U-shaped valley, perhaps an hour of hiking, I rounded a turn on a ridge. The view and scenery was just unbelievable. I would regularly stop along the trail and stair at this strange-new-world around me. A cobalt blue sea, green tropical valleys, strange new plants, and weird bugs, caused me to stop and study these things to the point were I had to remind myself, I didn’t have all day.
There are two types of valleys, high valleys and low valleys. The high valleys have small streams running through them with sharp drops in elevation, marked with plunging waterfalls and plunge basins. It is not possible to reach the sea via the high valley because of the steep cliffs that would have to be decended to reach the beach.
The other type of valley, the low valley, are wide and much less steep. They have large rivers flowing through them, like my previous Hanakapiai valley. The low valleys show the signs of farm cultivation of the ancient Polynesians.
I had two more low valleys, thus two rivers to negotiate, but there were seemingly hundreds of the high valleys. The trail wove in and out and up and down these high valleys. The trail was cut into the sides of the ridges with endless switch backs.
Hiking deep inside these high valleys toward the heart of the island, brought thick jungle forests and valleys inside of valleys. On one side of the trail arose steep fluted cliffs a thousand feet high; the other side of the trail, inches from my foot, a steep slope and a terrible tumble, bouncing off trees like a pinball, if such an accident should happen.
At openings through the jungle foliage, I could gaze across the valley and see where I would be, once I hiked the seeming endless miles into and out of the valley. If I could just walk on air, I could cross the whole thing in a matter of seconds. On arriving at the inside of these valleys, deep in the rainforest, a beautiful waterfall and plunge basin always greeted my eyes and filled my canteen.
The trail out of these valleys brought me closer to the coast finally rounding a point on a ridge providing overwhelming views of the precipitous cliffs on the island. These steep ridges, jutting out to sea, also provided shear drops of hundreds of feet to a rocky shore and pounding surf. This place is teeming with beauty and crammed with danger. Reminder to self: Come to a complete stop before ogling the scenery.
The exposed ridges provide a 270 degree view of the world. Turning, right to left, I could view the valley I just exited, then the sea; still turning I could examine the whole of the next valley that I would hike through.
I could also see along the coast. I could view where I’d been at Ke’e beach and where I was going, although I couldn’t see Kalalau beach. It was still perhaps seven miles away and hidden by a ridge jutting out into the ocean.
Erosion presented another great danger. Because it was winter, and late winter at that, trail maintenance and improvements cannot be carried out. The rain washed out portions of the trail that had originally been cut into the sides of steep hills with slopes of 45 degrees or so. Some of these eroded sections were twenty feet long. A fall, in some places, might be stopped by grabbing or slamming into trees. Sometimes there were no trees to stop a sliding fall, just a long fingernail-ripping slide towards a cliff. This provided my first, very real, moments of terror.
If I was going to get to Kalalau Beach, I would have to traverse through these eroded areas. In most cases, a previous hiker had helped those who followed by hacking out a flat step on which to tread.
I saw where one of these steps broke away and a hiker slid ten feet down to the trees below. I could also see were the faceless hiker had scrambled back up to the trail, leaving only embarrassing scratch marks as he/she pawed their way to safety.
At another eroded section, I spotted a very expensive looking canteen that had dropped, rolled down, and left abandoned near the edge of a cliff. I conjectured that maybe the canteen is the last trace of poor Brad Turek before he tumbled to his death. The canteen is probably still there, waiting for someone with more grit than me to retrieve it.
As I stepped gingerly across these horrendously frightening passages, I could hear my own shaky internal voice cajoling me “don’t look down, be cool, be very cool, concentrate, don’t do nothing stupid.”
Upon reaching the safe confines of the trail, the relief was intoxicating. “I made it!” I heard myself say, followed by “I sure as hell hope that’s the end of that.” Another hundred yards of happy hiking would bring another one of those damn things. Will it never end?
No, it doesn’t. Keep moving. Don’t look down.
The endless climbing and descending added to the nonstop toil of the trail; up one hundred feet, down three hundred. Shuffling and plodding, up three hundred feet, down one hundred, all the while sucking in air. Relentlessly up and down.
Going down hill was only slightly better than climbing uphill. However the downhill slope jams the feet into the toes of the boots and the fifty pound pack causes a dull ache in the thighs. Plus, you know that a descent is only a “loaner” from the “Hill,” eventually the “Hill” wants a payback with interest; now a climb of four hundred feet.
I began to give names to the hills I climbed. The first hill I named Misery; the second, Agony; the third hill, Torture. I could only come up with three names, so other hills were named the same, but not always in that order. Sometimes it was Misery followed by Torture and then Agony. The worst was an agony followed by no less than three tortures. I started to look forward to Misery.
I believe I was stumbling up my favorite hill, Misery, when I heard, “excuse us please!” Stopping and allowing to pass me, was a man and a woman. They moved by me with such determination and speed, I didn’t want to hold them back with anything other than the usual pleasantries. Both carried small day packs. They evidently were on a daylong power hike. I would see them later that day, going back the way they had come. In one day, they would hike twenty-two miles; of course, they carried ten pounds of gear to my fifty-five pounds.
At every two miles of the trail, a mile marker was posted. Those mile markers enlighten on how slow I was moving. I was averaging one mile per hour on my way to Kalalau, still seven miles to go.
I stopped to examine a giant centipede sitting in the middle of the trail. It was seven inches long, brown colored, with lots of legs. I had read and heard about them and knew that it can pack a wallop with their bite. It feeds or defends itself by implanting its venomous fangs deeply and firmly into the victim. The prey is held by the centipedes other legs until it dies from the fast-acting venom.
When humans are bit, two puncture wounds will be evident. Reaction to the injected venom can range from a slight redness in the bite area to massive swelling of the whole limb.
I took a photo of the thing and harassed it with the tip of my walking stick, finally flicking it off the trail, scolding it with, “You ain’t so tough!”
I drank quart after quart along the trail. There were so many waterfalls that I allowed myself to run out of water knowing I could refill in another couple hundred yards.
Instead of filling both quart canteens, I’d fill only one. A quart of water weighs two pounds, so why lug all that water when a stream or waterfall is available every quarter mile or so.
I found myself stopping to drink all the time. It could only slow me down if I drank every time I was thirsty, which was all the time. I’d give myself little goals, for instance, when I get to the top of this hill, I can take a swig, when I get to the next waterfall I can guzzle the whole canteen. When I drank, I drank with the delight and enthusiasm of an alcoholic after a long dry spell.
It was after one of these dry spells. I was about to award myself with a long pull from my canteen when I saw it; a beautiful, ripe, guava fruit hanging plump and inviting directly over the trail and awaiting my arrival. It was as if the great God of Na Pali was offering a gift just for me. Guava: A yellow sweet succulent fruit.
At first, I was in doubt as to whether I should eat it. I’d seen pictures so I was pretty sure it was safe. But you never know. I took a bite and held it in my mouth. I looked inside; it was pink and juicy with lots of seeds. I chewed the morsel and my mouth exploded with happiness and delight. Wow! A shiver went up my spine. There were several more that I picked and ate leaving plenty for other hikers. The guava fruit had quenched my thirst.
Invigorated and continuing onward, I noticed I had been descending into a large, low valley. It’s the Hanakoa valley. A beautiful place with hand built, rock walled terraces that the ancient Polynesians built thousands of years ago for the growing of the “potato of Kauai,” taro. Also in the valley; the Hanakoa river.
I could hear it before I saw it. Whitewater and another river to cross. When I first saw it I thought, “I can’t cross this!” I dumped my pack, took my socks off, and replaced them with just my boots. I roamed up and down the river looking for a place to ford. After a half hour, I found a suitable crossing site seventy-five yards downstream. I conducted a little test run by crossing it without my pack. No problem. I crossed back, retrieved my pack, cinched the straps down, and had no problems in the crossing.
Now I had to hike up and out of that valley. A mile marker said I had five miles to go. My watch said it was noon. At this rate, I’d reach Kalalau beach at 5:00, an hour before sunset. No time for lunch. I kept marching.
I briefly met several people hiking out. Each group asking me how the Hanakoa River looked. “Great,” I said, “it’s a little high but move downstream and you should find a place to cross.” I, of course asked about the Kalalau River, and that’s how it always went when meeting people on the trail. Nothing is more important than the condition of the next river.
Continuing on, I noticed a change in the environment. The jungle slowly changed to small scrubby plants and cactus-like succulent flora. The ground became more exposed showing intense reds. The red volcanic hills made me imagine I was walking on the red planet Mars.
I still had the high valleys to hike through. In and out, up and down. Trail damage from erosion still causing great worry. There were still plenty of small streams and waterfalls to replenish from. The miles slowly receded behind me.
I then came upon the most frightening aspect of the trail. A steep walled cliff trail, ten inches wide. I just stood and stared. You know, I read about this on the internet. People have turned around at this point never to return. Now it’s my turn. It looked formidable and frightening. It’s called Crawler’s Ledge.
I took a drink, got myself motivated, and made my way into the place. I started out fine. No big deal. But it gradually got worse. I found myself leaning away from the abyss on my right, yet the cliff wall on my left forced me to stand up straight as I negotiated through the cliff trail.
Then it got worse. My pack was wider than my body and was rubbing the cliff wall, and eventually forcing me to lean out towards the abyss. Panic started to set in.
Most people can easily walk on a 2-by-4 when it sits upon the ground. Move that 2-by-4 up five feet and it becomes a struggle to cross without some trepidation.
I was receiving some serious trepidation at this point. I stopped and thought about how I could pull this off without having to lean towards the drop off. I thought about getting down on all fours and crawling. No way. I thought about removing my pack and holding it in my arms as I sidestepped my way with my back to the wall. No, that’s stupid. I could turn and face the cliff wall and step sideways with my backpack hanging out over the precipice. Ok, I’ll try that.
I made my way in this manner a few yards but the cliff face forced me to lean back. Severe terror struck me, and vertigo. I began to shake uncontrollably. No way! I retreated.
I then wondered that maybe I could remove the contents from the left pockets of my pack and hang my bed roll vertically on the back. No, that’s silly. I just have to do this thing. This is that 2-by-4 business. Just do it.
I tried again. I turned slightly to face the wall moving my pack slightly over the edge. In this manner, I could not make a regular step. I could only shuffle my right foot along and follow it with my left. I did this for several shuffling steps with some success but again the irrational thoughts bombarded my reasoning. The tension built up and I began to shake uncontrollably from the stress.
Finally, after prevailing over the ridiculous thoughts, I began to move. Slowly, shuffling my feet, I made some headway. My face was so near the wall, I couldn’t see too far ahead. The most I could do was watch where I placed my right foot and hope that the left followed. A snails pace.
Time had no meaning. It was just that wall and my right foot. Gradually the wall started to lean away from my face and I was able to rest. It still wasn’t over but the worst seemed behind me. The cliff edge was still just inches from my foot but at least I could take a regular stride. I rounded a corner and had just a little real-estate to stop, relax, and observe the trail ahead. It wasn’t as bad. There was still the long drop to the breaking surf below but at least the incline of the cliff wall tilted away from the trail.
Grinning, the knot in my stomach loosened and I relaxed a little. This country humbles you. Something could happen in an instant. I could really get killed. It made me feel insignificant. This is the way it has to be. I took a drink and continued on.
I thought that I should have some food but I felt that I had squandered way too much time negotiating the previous nightmare. It was late afternoon and I still had three miles to go. I pressed on.
Climbing a hill, I began to stop and rest every few dozen yards. I was becoming listless. At this rate, I would never get there. I was so tired. Resting did not bring relief.
Could it be I’m running out of energy? “No! Just keep moving, don’t dawdle, daylights burning fast.”
My pep talk did no good. I had no energy. I hadn’t eaten anything except for the guava. It finally dawned on me that I needed to eat or I would never make it to the beach.
I stopped at a scenic spot that curved around a ridge. I dumped my pack. It was five o’clock. I only had an hour before the sunset. No time to prepare anything so I ate some jerky, marshmallows and freeze dried strawberries.
A man and women came by during my dinner. They were backpacking to Kalalau. I was actually glad to see them. Mostly I was glad that I wasn’t the only one pushing the daylight. After some reassurance from both parties that, “it can’t be too much farther.” They moved on. I waited a few more minutes to give them some room and I set out too.
The simple carbohydrates seem to have saved the day. I was refortified, and my morale had improved considerably. It was very short sighted of me to skip eating for a whole day. I have learned.
Trudging over the top of a very red hill, I could finally see a little stretch of beach in the distance. It was Kalalau beach. At long last, I am almost there.
The view up the Red Hill
I had spring in my step. Heaven and accomplishment have been glimpsed. Thanks to the little rest and to the “Carbs,” I would not be walking into the valley dragging ass. I would march into Kalalau in a dignified manner.
I was walking down an awfully eroded hill toward some woods, with the beach beyond, and beyond that, a glorious sunset. Stopping to look around, I looked back up the hill I had descended from. The red hill I was climbing down turned out to have the unique name “The Red Hill.” It is so red that it seems impossible to be so red.
The view down the Red Hill toward Kalalau Valley. The Green Field is in the lower right.
Leaving the Red Hill, I plunged ahead into a thick forest. A hundred yards further the forest came alive with bird song. My ears were greeted with the pleasant music of birds twittering and tweeting away. I spied a figure standing left of the trail gazing up into the trees and whistling to the birds as they flitted around. It was a young woman. She was barefoot and wore a flowery dress that reached all the way up to her waist.
I didn’t want to startle her so I called out hello. She responded in kind. I stopped and asked if there is a river ahead. She gave me instructions on where to cross.
I said thanks and while turning towards the river she called after me, “welcome to Kalalau!”
The hopeful prediction that I told Jim, my taxi driver, about how a bronze skinned Polynesian woman would hand me a mango nearly came true. Mangos must not have been in season.
Welcome to Kalalau! My reception to the valley was nothing short of fantastic, a magical preamble to this wonderful valley. The pain of a moment before had flitted away with the birds. I moved quickly to the river, found the easy crossing just as “Eve” described, and crossed.
A moment later, I was standing on the beach, the last rays of the sun revealing the rationale of what I’d done as not so crazy an idea after all.
There was no time to lollygag; I needed to find a suitable campsite in the waning sunlight. I walked along a trail that bordered the beach and the woods. The more I walked, the better the campsites became. I hiked the entire half mile long beach, seeing various potential campsites. I found an excellent waterfall that would make a great shower and bath, at the farthest end of the beach where it ended abruptly at a sheer cliff.
Hiking back the way I’d come, I found what would be my home in this Eden. The campsite was on the edge of the forest where there would be plenty of shade yet I could see the ocean. The camp was a hundred yards or so from the waterfall or “showers.” Moreover, I wanted to be near the beach to catch the shore breeze that would drive the mosquitoes away. There were several boulders for seats and a well built fire-ring for bonfires. The camp was perhaps fifteen feet above the beach, on a slight hill sloping down toward it. The perfect patio.
The couple I’d met during my simple-carb dinner walked by. Somehow, I’d passed them and then they had trouble crossing the river. I gave them directions to a campsite right next to the waterfall and that’s where they camped. We were the only people camped on the whole beach.
I setup my tent. Every task being a struggle. I was utterly exhausted and wanted nothing but a shower and to relax.
It was mostly dark now so I donned my headlamp, grabbed some soap and a towel, and headed toward the “showers.” My neighbors had beaten me to it so I just waited, only now realizing there were billions and billions of stars to see. I noted that Orion’s Belt was very high in the sky and I could see all of Orion’s dog Toro. Back in Missouri, Toro is usually too close to the horizon to see and Orion is visible only in winter. Being south of the Tropic of Cancer, Orion and Toro are visible year round. I had to lean way back to observe, straight overhead, Orion’s foe Taurus.
The couple exited the plunge basin wrapped in towels. I feigned anger and quipped, “I hope you didn’t use up all the hot water!” They feigned amusement and laughed.
The water took my breath away. I recovered and stood under the cascade, rinsing the trail dust and the day’s worries away. It was good.
I was beat. Even my eyelashes hurt. I stumbled my way back to my camp. Stared at the stars and luminous ocean and went to bed. The breeze kept me cool and I drifted off quickly.
Day 4, March 27, Saturday
Awoke at 08:30. Other than one bout of charlie horse at “o-dark-thirty” in the morning, I had a good ten hours of sleep.
Kalalau beach camp
The view towards my campsite. The ribbon of waterfall is the “showers” and water supply.
I made a breakfast of jerky, granola, and coffee. The choppers began making their assaults along the coast. After a while, you forget about them but the first few of the morning makes an old veteran wish he had a rocket launcher.
Taking all my dirty clothes to the falls and washing them, I also filled my canteens and an extra water bladder and returned to camp. While hanging the clothes on a clothes line, the couple from the evening before hiked by and said hello. They were both weighed down by their backpacks. “You’re leaving already?” I asked. “We have a flight out tomorrow night, gotta get moving.” Incredulous, I couldn’t believe they would just hike to this wonderful valley, look at it, and just leave. I bid them good luck.
I was excited to get started and explore this strange new land. I set out by walking down the hill on a path from my campsite to the beach. I walked straight to the water. Wearing my water shoes, I stepped into the sea. There, I accomplished the critical requisite of getting my toes wet in the Pacific Ocean.
I took a right and walked east, occasionally an aggressive wave forced me to run wildly up the beach. The surf was rough. It’s always rough in the winter. There wouldn’t be any dips in the ocean for me. I walked to the extreme east of the beach and turned around when the sand turned to basketball sized rocks
Walking west, I passed my campsite on my left. A bit further I came to where the stream continued on from my waterfall and flowed into the ocean.
From here on, this shower stream will be officially designated the “Shower Stream.”
The funny thing, the Shower Stream never arrives at the sea, not in a direct route anyway. The stream, with all its thousands of gallons of flow per hour, seeped into the beach sand. It just turned invisible. The beach could drink all the water the Shower Stream could pour into it.
Continuing west, I came to a large cave or cavern. It was a wet-cave. It went back thirty feet and could provide an uneasy shelter from rain. I say uneasy because the high water mark from an incoming wave had marked the sand recently. In the summer, with the gentler surf, the cave would make a safe camping shelter. I studied it, took a picture, and got out of there before a rogue wave tried to get me.
The beach ended at the dry cave so I exited the cave, and I kept the cliff to my right and followed it around to my waterfall.
Walking upstream I noticed, what I thought was some taro growing in the middle of the stream. I also spotted a bunch of banana’s hanging within easy reach. They were all green. Some had already been stripped from the stalk by tourists seeing their first wild banana.
Seeing my first wild banana, I removed a specimen for closer examination; I noted it was very hard. It was a cute little thing, only four inches long. I kept it, thinking I could cook it and make it palatable.
While rinsing the sand off my feet at the falls I met some dude with some serious dreadlocks, a resident. Like most residents, he was barefoot and looked perfectly comfortable in that environment. We exchanged pleasantries, his name, Robbie, about twenty years old. He said he was on sabbatical before going back to school in the fall. Realizing a great source of knowledge, I asked him if the plants growing in the stream are Taro. “Yes,” he affirmed. He then described how to harvest and prepare it.
Taro is identified by a large elephant-ear sized arrow-shaped leaf that grows waist high in wet ground near streams. The sweet-potato like tuber must be dug out of the swampy ground. Taro must be cooked in a rolling boil for one hour. If eaten raw, there are small sharp crystals that can cause serious inflammation of the mouth and throat and can stop breathing.
Polynesians, after cooking the tuber, would pound it with stone hammers making a paste. Water is then added and mixed producing thick gravy. It is now called poi. Traditional methods of eating it are to simply dip two fingers into the poi and eating directly from the fingers or to scoop some up with a piece of dried fish or fruit.
Robbie lived off the land. He described how he occasionally harvests a goat or a pig. He admitted that he had a lot to learn and that he had attempted to tan the pelt of a goat but had failed and instead of a soft pliable pelt, it turned rock hard.
Since there is no refrigeration, meat must be distributed and eaten quickly. There’s too much meat for one person, so he shares it with the neighbors.
He mentioned the library. The library was situated in a couple of tents and was located in the Kalalau Valley across from the big pool but not the biggest pool and near where the mango tree used to be. How else do you give directions in a jungle?
The library was made up of mostly donations from parting residents. Robbie said it contained a wide range of books like any other library but no dewy decimal system.
Robbie provided a plethora of good survival information on: Tropical almonds, nooni, guava, ti, mango, fig, bread fruit, and bamboo. I told Robbie thanks for the info and, “I’ll see yea around the valley.”
I walked back to my campsite to check on things. I decided that today I would just take-it-easy and explore the valley near the beach.
The full length of the beach is bordered by a shallow forest. Moving west the forest gradually comes to a point with the cliff on the left and beach on the right, culminating at the falls. Moving east, the forest widens into the Kalalau Valley with several branch streams draining the valley and eventually forming the Kalalau River.
Setting out again, this time I walked away from the beach toward the cliff wall that paralleled the beach forest. Walking along it toward the valley, I came upon a drycave. It was more of a cavern much like the wetcave I had just explored at the beach, only far enough away from the beach to be dry. The drycave was the perfect shelter from rain and other people thought the same. It obviously was a place where the residents meet and have a party. There were several sealed “food-grade” buckets placed around. The buckets held flower and various spices and sugar. It looked like the buckets had a second function as seats around the fire ring. Leaning against the cliff wall were a couple of guitars and a ukulele waiting to be played.
I continued on toward the valley but didn’t get very far before I spotted someone stoking a fire at his campsite. “Hello,” he called to me, “I just put some coffee on, you care for some?” “A cup of coffee sounds great,” I called back.
I hiked up a slight rise to his campsite. The camp consisted of a very large rain fly with a good sized campfire ring under it. The fire ring had all the amenities for campfire cooking, Dutch ovens, pots and pans, heavy grill etc. A backpacker’s tent was nearby. My new social contact was definitely a resident.
His name is Taylor. Taylor has lived in the valley for a year and a half. He plans to stay there for another year and half for a full three years before getting back to the “world.” He was from North Carolina and spoke with a slight southern twang.
The coffee was excellent. It sure beat the instant stuff I had for breakfast. We had a good conversation, talking mostly about living in the valley. I also picked Taylor’s brain for the foraging of food in the valley, a subject dear to my heart and stomach. Many of the things he told me added to, and confirmed the things Robbie told me. I just ate up all wilderness survival information and at that moment decided to spend all the following day exploring the valley and eating only what the land provided.
The author having a cup of coffee at Taylor’s camp.
I broke out my deer jerky, took out a piece, and tossed the bag to him. He liked the stuff and that moved the conversation to how to make smoked jerky.
I believe I had some expertise in the subject since we were eating my own creation.
With the information I gave him, Taylor got fired up to kill a goat and smoke the meat. With what I told him and his determination to get it done, I wish I could be there now and taste some smoked goat jerky.
The conversation was abruptly interrupted by Taylor, spotting some people walking on the beach. He and jumping to his feet to view them. Taylor then jogged, barefoot, to the forest edge to peer out and observe the people.
I thought that perhaps he was concerned that the people might be park rangers conducting a bust to remove the outlaw residents.
He came back to the campsite and said that it was a couple resident women, Nova and Heather. He then supposed they were going to take showers at the falls and that one of the girls, Nova, preferred to stay away from Taylor’s campsite because of the previous night’s altercation with her.
I didn’t have to ask. Taylor told me, “I made some guava wine and took it to a party last night.” My ears perked up when I heard guava wine. But the story must continue.
He said, “I was sitting with my girlfriend and Nova and drinking the wine. Nova was messaging my feet and my girlfriend was rubbing my shoulders. We all three had a buzz goin’ and I started thinking a three-way might happen. Nova kept refilling my cup to the point where I passed out. She had it all planned. I woke up and Nova and my girlfriend were gone. I went out to the green field and broke up their party. I told Nova if you were a man you’d be eating my fist!”
I knitted my eyebrows together and said, “Hmmm.”
Taylor then said, “I don’t care what she’s into but don’t mess with my girlfriend!” He then followed up with, “she tries to pick up every girl that comes down off the red hill, telling them, Ooooh! That pack must be heavy, let me rub your shoulders, goddamn, she’s got the sexual drive of a seventeen year old boy!”
I thought, even in this Garden of Eden, there’s a soap opera.
I described my “magical introduction” into Kalalau to Taylor and described the girl I’d met. Taylor drawled, “Yep, that’s her.”
We talked a little more then I handed him my empty coffee cup and said I’d better get moving and see some of this valley. Taylor said, “A friend came into the valley today and he brought pizza making supplies, you should drop by.” He then described where the party would be. I told him, “I’ll see you tonight” and left.
Cool! I thought. It would be nice to hang out with the natives. After all, I hadn’t had any real conversation for the last four days and the coffee klatch reminded me that I missed it.
I then walked toward the Kalalau River, observed it, and thought I shouldn’t have any problem crossing it when I go to visit those people tonight. I also reminded myself that it could rise from a far away rainfall.
Turning left, I made my way downriver toward the beach. The trail then took me away from the river and a hill arose between me, the river, and the sea. A path led up the hill. I followed the path upward. The path culminated at a flat grassy plateau. Actually, the ground vegetation was a tundra-like grass. It made the plateau look like a golf green. The place had a “feeling” about it. I realized I was standing on a Heiau (Pronounced hey-ou). The Heiau had a commanding view of Kalalau Beach. It provided a beautiful vista.
A Heiau is a place where the early Hawaiians conducted ceremonies and rites to insure the fertility of the crops grown in Kalalau. It may have also been a luakini heiau, dedicated to success in war, with structures erected on top.
I took my shoes off (it just seemed like the right thing to do) and walked around. The “tundra” felt good on the old dogs. What a neat place! It would have been sacrilegious to do so, but the heiau would make a great place for a campsite.
It was also a great lookout spot too. I could see the whole beach from my vantage point. Walking to the other side of the Heiau, I could see the Kalalau River emptying into the ocean. Another hill arose on the other side of the river along a sea cliff. Somewhere over that hill was where the pizza party was to take place; beyond that, the Red Hill.
I found a place to sit, angling myself to view the mountains, beach and sea, all without having to turn my head.
View of Kalalau beach from the Heiau
A thousand years ago, people lived here. They also died here. They were born, lived and perished on the ground I tread upon. They worshipped, prayed, and maybe even sacrificed lives for a God on the spot that I sat. I reckoned those same people had their own soap opera’s too.
I imagined going back into time and being their god. I’d be a damn good god too. I wouldn’t end up like the English explorer Captain Cook in 1779. The Hawaiians thought he was a God, but alas, he wore out his welcome and they killed and dismembered him.
Sitting, the breeze and sun tiring me, an afternoon catnap descended upon me and I dreamed about nothingness. Awakening and still tired, I rolled over on my side and slept the sleep of dead Polynesians. After a couple hours, feeling rested, I went back to my camp. It was time to get ready for a party.
Walking back along the beach trail to camp, I met three residents. We introduced ourselves and shook hands all around. My new acquaintances were named Ron, Heather, and Nova.
Nova, whom I had met on my arrival to the valley, was carrying several Noni fruits. They were heading back to their camp on the bluff across the river. All three were solely dressed in shorts.
Ron appeared to be in his sixties. He had a beard and mostly gray hair. At that moment I guessed, and was later proven correct, that he’s the Mayor of Kalalau. Mayor is a term of endearment. Ron’s other nickname is the Pied Piper of the valley. He’s well known for making excellent bamboo flutes.
They seemed genuinely happy to see me and invited me to their camp. “Sure,” I said, also mentioning that Taylor invited me. We parted, and I made my way to my camp.
I figured I’d be coming home late so I brought in my dried laundry from the line and prepared my small backpack for the evening essentials. Since I heard we were going to make pizza I tossed in a bag of dried mushrooms. I also hunted for dry firewood and tied together a large armload with twine. The twine being scrounged from abandoned clotheslines.
I spotted a couple of newcomers with backpacks on the beach near my camp. They had that ten-thousand-yard-stare like they had just come in off the trail. Since I was now a regular and full of aloha spirit, I went over to great them. “Welcome to Kalalau,” I said. They were two dudes, Bob and Doug, from San Diego. I gave them directions to where the best campsites were and where they could go for a shower.
Parting, I battened down my tent, threw on my pack, grabbed the wood bundle, and headed to the party.
It was a long hike. I crossed the river and was just about to head up the hill when I saw Robbie coming down the hill to collect water. In answer to his questioning look, I said I got invited to some campsite up on the hill. I also added that I wasn’t sure exactly were it was. Robbie said, “I’m going up there myself, I’ll fill my jugs and I’ll show you a shortcut.”
After following Robbie up the main trail, toward “Nova’s” forest and the Red Hill, he veered off to the left. This brought us along a cliff side path; another trail with pounding surf one hundred feet below my left elbow. I thought, “great, you can’t go anywhere around here without risk of life or limb.” This time I had a heavy bundle of sticks to haul. The bundle was suspended from my shoulder by a strap that I had affixed to it. The load gave me the sensation of wanting to pull me toward the abyss. I couldn’t carry it on the other side, away from the edge, because the waist high wild flowers could catch on my bundle.
Ah those wild flowers! Later on, when I was a well seasoned cliff dweller, I would stop and smell those flowers and take pictures of the magnificent view. For now, I had to quell my terror because Robbie was waiting for me and I didn’t want to look like a candy ass.
Continuing on, we passed two campsites on our right. Tents and rain flies were hidden amongst the trees perhaps twenty feet from the trail and cliff. The campsites looked camouflaged and well shaded. “What a great place to have a campsite,” I thought, once you got used to the hazardous conditions of the trail.
The trail opened up into a boulder strewn green field. As soon as I stepped onto it I new it was a heiau. The boulders were big and round and covered in lichens. Each one looked like a great place to sit and view the sea, sky, clouds, stars, moon, sunset, or whatever. Green, plush “tundra” covered the ground wherever the boulders weren’t. If I wasn’t certain of the heiau nomenclature, Robbie confirmed it. He said, “This is a holy place, not holy in the christian sense but in aloha spirit.”
We turned right, away from the cliff, stepping on and over various boulders. There was no sign of trail anywhere, just boulders and tundra. Fifty yards from the edge of the cliff, we stepped into a forest of small twenty foot trees. Hidden amongst the trees were several rain flies overlapping each other. To the left, a well stocked kitchen and fire ring with a small fire burning under a pot. Near the fire, Taylor strummed a guitar. He nodded when I flipped him the peace sign.
Near the fire, also beneath a rain fly, I spotted the firewood stores. My little bundle of sticks didn’t seem very large compared to what was already there. Someone had foraged plenty of wood for the evening.
Robbie began showing me around. He showed me the garden which was located near the “Heiau campsite.” He showed me the various produce cultivated there; green beans, papaya, squash, tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce. The garden was located wherever there wasn’t a boulder. Robbie told me it’s extremely difficult to build gardens here because of the boulders. He said when you do find a nice open spot to plant something, you never know if it’s a good spot until you dig. More often than not, there’s a big boulder underneath that great spot. He pointed to some boulders that had been removed from the ground. They were the size of 32-inch televisions. Robbie said removing the boulders required a group effort with poles used as levers.
Robbie asked for the time. “Five forty-five,” I reported; time for the sunset. We went out to the heiau. Taylor followed us, still strumming the guitar.
Like most of the sunsets I would witness, low clouds hung on the horizon, preventing a clear view of the sun. Instead, the sun set into the clouds, creating various hues of red, orange, pink, and yellow.
While Taylor played some classic rock rift, Robbie and I discussed living off the land. He said, “I have some poi that I made. Do you want to taste some?” “You bet I do,” I responded.
He rummaged around his pack and pulled out a plastic jar that once held peanut butter. Running a finger through the gray paste, I tasted it. It was ok. No explosions of happy taste buds like the guava. It was obviously high in starch. I could only describe it as tasting like mashed potatoes without the cream, butter, and salt. He did mention that molasses and/or salt can be added to improve the taste.
The sky was starting to darken so we went to the living area under the rain fly. Taylor was stoking up the fire when various people began to arrive. I recognized Keith from the trailhead. Keith was the “pizza” guy who asked if I was bringing any pizza ingredients with me on the trail. At the time, I thought he was just messing with the “green cherry.” Other arrivals were Ron, Cathy, Nova, and Heather.
I still thought the pizza thing was just a mean trick played on me, until Keith and several of the party went to work on the project. It soon became apparent that Keith would be the pizza boss. Robbie volunteered to make the dough. Keith asked for donations, mentioning that he had pepperoni. He then asked if there were any vegetarians in the group; just one, Nova. It would be a vegetarian pizza.
The pizza donations came flooding in. My donation was a zip-lock baggy full of ultra-lightweight ingredients that I originally intended to add to ultra-lightweight ramen noodles. This mixture was a handful each of dried mushrooms, dried onions, and basil.
I didn’t take part in the project. I was strictly an observer. Taylor was getting the fire going to get a good supply of embers. I didn’t know it yet but I was about to experience an epiphany. The first of many I would have on this expedition.
E·piph·a·ny n. pl. e·piph·a·nies a. A sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something. b. A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization.
Setting some straw-like sticks on some very weak embers, Taylor picked up a bamboo stick. The stick was about thirty inches long and two inches thick and, like all bamboo, hollow. He positioned one end to his lips and the other, he placed near the very dull embers of the fire. He blew through the bamboo, forcing a swift current of air directly onto the coals. The embers liked this treatment and responded with glowing approval. Another blast of air brought more approval.
The sticks began to catch fire. This whole time Taylor did not leave his boulder/seat, performing this feat by just leaning forward a little. There were now weak flames. Another air blast produced the sound of a blowtorch. We had fire! On the seventh blast of air, Taylor sat back and rested.
Well, I’ll be danged. It’s called a blow stick, and it sure beats the hell out of getting down on all fours to blow, spit, burn your face, and eventually pass-out over an uncooperative fire.
The whole thing just amazed me. Until this moment, I felt I knew all there was to bonfire building. If my fire was failing, a can of gasoline or Napalm would set things right. But now; now, I could see things with a clarity I never could before. Looking over at Taylor, he just sat there, as if miracles happen all the time.
Taylor did call out to everyone, “who wants guava wine?” “Sure,” I said, breaking out my canteen cup. He filled it to the brim. The stuff was definitely the nectar of the Gods. It was sweet but not sickeningly sweet. The elixir had a hint of carbonation. It was like soda pop. Well, maybe even more like a slightly effervescent fruit punch. A nice Hawaiian punch. Sorry, it had to be said.
Actually, if not for catching a pleasant buzz, I would have thought there was no booze in it at all.
After the pizza dough had risen, Robbie greased up a large, twenty-four inch diameter, cast iron skillet, and pressed the dough into it. He coaxed the dough around and up the sides two inches. Keith took my mushroom concoction and added some water, reconstituting the mushrooms. Keith then took some pureed tomatoes and poured it onto the dough. Next, came the onions and squash, followed by the mushrooms. Cathy sliced the mozzarella and Keith added that. He then sprinkled some oregano on top and the pizza was ready. Keith put a second skillet of the same size and proportion on top of the skillet with the pizza making a kind of clamshell. He than set the clam shelled skillets on top of the grill over the hot embers. Next, he shoveled most of the coals from beneath the grill and piled them on top of the clamshell. It was basically how a dutch oven works. The main goal is to keep most of the heat on top of the dutch oven.
Now we had to wait. During the wait, I brought out a bag of deer jerky. That did it. All carnivores of the group became extremely interested in my jerky making methods. It was good to be looked at as an expert on something, not just someone from the mainland dropping in and mooching off them. I hope I gave such good instructions that they’re sitting around the fire now, nibbling on jerky of their own creation. Besides, in that warm environment, that kind of skill would go a long way in providing a good protein months after the animal is killed.
Taylor mentioned that he had caught a seventy pound fish a month earlier by surf fishing. But a seventy pound fish goes a long way. They had to eat it within a day or two before it would go rancid. They prepared it dozens of ways. The first thing they did was eat some as sushi and sashimi with that green horseradish stuff called wasabi. They also had it: breaded and deep fried, sautéed, filleted, cut in steaks, cut in pieces, and added to soup. Apparently, it was always delicious but a person does get tired of the same thing all the time and of course, it had to be eaten within two days. Drying and making fish jerky would be the answer. A person does get tired of the stuff but you can save it for later, in fact, a year later and it would still be good.
It seemed that most discussions centered on food; food and the preparation of food, the best food, food the way Mom makes it, food of different countries and cities, and of course, food you could never get in the valley. The conversation turned to two impossibilities of the valley, cold beer, and ice cream.
Ron was listening to the discussion about food; he laughed and exclaimed, “You guys are foodists!” I asked, “What do you mean?” Ron said, “Everybody’s a foodist. Wherever you go, whatever country you’re in, whether you’re friends or enemies, food is the language everyone speaks.” Ron was right, we are all foodists.
Every few minutes Keith would ask the time and I’d tell him. I was the only one in the group with a watch. After a half hour, the embers on top started getting dull so he asked me to grab some sticks. Obtaining several handfuls of quarter inch thick sticks, I set them on top of the Dutch oven. Now I get to use that great invention, the blow stick. The thing worked as advertised.
My newfound tribe didn’t believe in watches and clocks. I suppose it was an affront to their freedom, yet I was always asked for the time. Occasionally someone would ask what day it was. I thought that if anyone asked me the month, or worse, the year, I’d really start to wonder if I was in an oddball crowd.
I asked Nova about her life in the valley. She reported that she arrived the previous summer via kayak. Nova stated that she would stay for a year then go back to school in the fall.
Everyone was fairly young. Ron the Mayor was the oldest at sixty. I’m next at 41, then Taylor at 29. The rest, early to mid twenties.
Ron was fun to talk to. He was an all around good Joe who hailed from Boston and had the accent to prove it. He’d been in the Valley the longest, twenty years. He new a lot of stuff about a lot of things. His greatest ability is gardening. Later on that evening I would find out he was a great flute maker and player.
He had great unbiased stories of the valley. He gave one account that took place several years ago. A new guy made his entrance into the valley and planned to live there. That’s all fine, but regrettably, the fellow stopped taking whatever medication he needed in order to get along in polite society. He took to walking around armed. Several people had guns or bows in the valley. If you want fresh meat, you have to kill it with something. However, this guy was walking around armed all the time and threatening his neighbors. Ron put together a police force of some of the residents. When some park rangers made their monthly appearance to check on things and make improvements, he told them what he had in mind. The police force moved in on the guy, caught him off guard, and captured him. They secured him using zip ties and brought him to the rangers. The rangers, in turn, removed him via pontoon boat. Some lucky posse member got the gun. The rangers tend to look the other way in their dealings with Ron. They could capture him and take him away, but of course, he’d only find his way back. Besides, Ron is good for the valley because he takes care of problems like the above.
Keith called out that the pizza was ready. He removed the top skillet and then slid the pizza out of the bottom skillet onto a wooden board. I took some photos to prove this amazing feet to the folks back home.
We ate and it was good. But it wasn’t enough so Keith made another pizza.
Cathy, Taylor and Pizza
Intermittently throughout the evening, I stepped out into the night to find a tree. Looking up into the sky, I could see a million stars. As the evening progressed and several canteen cups of Taylor’s guava punch had its effect, I decided to stay the night with my new friends. I was somewhat unprepared for a whole evening out, but the darkness reminded me the last thing I wanted to do was make a river crossing at night.
While the second pizza was prepared and baked, some of the sweetest music I’ve ever heard was played. Ron brought out a bundle of his own hand crafted flutes and picked one. Taylor played guitar, and Heather, who could also play guitar, sang. They performed great; Heather has a voice so sweet that I got goose bumps on my arms.
“This is just great!” I thought. I must remember this for all time. Somewhere during the playing of that wonderful music, I decided to write this epistle.
Rain was moving in. Ron said, by the feel of it, that it’s going to be one of those two day storms. The wind started to pickup. There was a scramble of activity as everyone battened down their gear. And then the rains came. My friends called it an evening and skedaddled to their tents.
Taylor and Cathy found for me an extra sleeping pad and pillow then they headed for Cathy’s tent, leaving me alone at the fire. The air had grown cool so I added a few large logs to the fire. I had a light weight jacket and I wore that over me like a blanket. I settled down, and listened to the rain, at times growing loud but it had a pleasant sound much like sleeping near the crashing sea or flowing river. I got up several time to shine my flashlight around, inspecting the rain fly for damage and to make sure I wouldn’t wake up later in the middle of a mud puddle. An hour went by before I realized I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. I was thinking about too much stuff. I mostly thought of where I was, how I got there, the people, and what I would do tomorrow. I think I finally fell asleep around three in the AM.
Day 5, March 28, Sunday
Awoke at 06:30 to a scrapping sound. Sitting up, I saw Ron digging and scrapping out a trench around the rain fly. He was trying to divert water from flowing through the common area. Looking around, I saw that I had been lucky. Small rivulets flowed near my head and feet but didn’t touch me. It of course was still raining.
Putting on my boots, I grabbed another shovel and helped in the entrenching. There had already been a trench left over from the previous downpour so I simply made it deeper, allowing the water to flow around and away from the area.
It was a very cool morning. There were a few hot coals left from the evening before so I grabbed some dry tinder and placed it on top of the weak embers. Grabbing a blow stick, there were at least three lying around; I got a good warm fire going.
Seeing the fire, Ron prepared a pot of water and brought it up to temperature for tea. I found my canteen cup and he poured it full. We made some small talk about the weather but more importantly, I was mostly interested in why he lived in the valley. Ron simply said, “I like living outdoors.” He also added, “I have a little savings and it doesn’t cost more than a thousand dollars to live here for a year.”
I asked if he noticed whether he or anyone else caught less colds or flu’s out here. Ron agreed. He was hard pressed to remember the last time he had a cold. He finally figured it had been five years since he was last sick. He then added that he visits doctors and dentists several times a year.
Ron usually makes a trip back to “the world” on foot and comes back via sea kayak or inflatable rubber motor boats. That’s one method to get larger supplies into the valley. Boats can only land on the beach safely in the summer. Most uses of boats to land on the beach are illegal but it’s difficult for the authorities to control. Boats are the only way to get hundreds of pounds of supplies into the valley. At the most, backpacking can only bring in perhaps seventy pounds of supplies.
I asked about raids. He said big raids only happen every couple years. The authorities know everyone just comes back anyway. If a raid does happen, he and the others move deeper into the valley where friends live and can’t be found unless you know exactly where their camps are. He has friends that he can stay with in those cases.
Ron was genuinely surprised when I told him that I knew a little about him from the internet. That websites by Sierra Club and Backpacker magazine have stories by people who have hiked world renowned trails and they describe the trail and the interesting people they have met.
A few more people began to wakeup and gather around the fire. Taylor arrived and remarking about the rain said, “This looks like one of those three day rains.”
Ron hoped not, he wanted to work on the garden.
I was worried that I’d have trouble getting back across the river to my campsite. There was nothing for me to do but wait for the rain to stop.
A recently arrived visitor, a returning resident, presented a bag of Hawaiian coffee. Grown and packaged somewhere in Hawaii, the coffee was from the “outside world.” I didn’t expect to see it picked from the valley, it grows wild in the area and it can be harvested. However, the coffee bean requires sun drying and grinding, all of which take a substantial amount of time and effort.
Ron picked out a large campfire brew kettle from the pile of kitchen stores near the fire and filled the brew pot with water. He opened the vacuum packed coffee, reached in and grabbed several handfuls of coffee.
Ron brewed what must have been two gallons of the stuff. I produced my canteen cup and Ron poured a generous ration of the hot Joe. The coffee was strong and woke me up from my stupor. Until then, my three hours of sleep made for a very rough morning.
Other folks started to arrive and take seats around the fire. They too produced various shapes of coffee cups and Ron filled the demand.
Although it was raining, I felt warm and fuzzy from the secure rainfly, warm fire, and talkative arrivals. The main topic was the weather.
My Java needed a warm-up. I set my cup close to the fire, letting some flames have a lick at it for a few minutes.
The visitor was named Lam. He was originally from China but mostly traveled around the world.
Lam was carefully tuning a mandolin. Heather and Ron gathered around Lam with their instruments. It was 9:00 in the morning and I was about to hear another great impromptu musical concert.
This time I grabbed my camera, and while they played, I took a couple photos, remarking that I had just photographed what would make an excellent album cover. Cathy laughed and agreed.
Kalalau Music (L to R: Ron, Lam, Heather, Taylor)
The three played for perhaps twenty minutes. I closed my eyes so I could burn the sweet sound of their music into the CD of my brain.
Some other people gathered around the fire, people who lived nearby but had opted out of the previous evening’s party. Two couples showed up, each with a baby. Both kids were around eight months old. I was taken aback seeing those kids. They both seemed happy and well fed. In fact, at various times both moms nursed them the natural way.
I have to admit I was worried for the kids, living out here in this sometimes dangerous wilderness; but then I caught myself and remembered how dangerous it is anywhere, especially back in the so called real world. Besides, children have been born and raised in this valley for the last thousand years.
The rain continued to fall and Taylor said, “Yep, it looks like one of those four day rains.” He then began to practice a song on the guitar. At Taylor’s feet was the sheet music for a Grateful Dead song, “Uncle John’s Band.”
A backpacker, loaded down with his pack and sopping wet from the rain, made his entrance into the camp. He had just that morning left his camp at the Hanakoa River and trekked three miles through rain and slippery sea cliffs to get here. His name is Tao and hails from Korea. He didn’t wear a hat and his glasses were beaded with water and fog. The sandals he wore looked like nice sandals; for walking on a beach, but seemed inadequate for the trail that caused me so much misery. I was amazed.
Tao is a return visitor to the Valley and several people knew him. Tao said that he had heard a weather report that we could expect a full day of continuous rain.
At one point, one of the moms had to go back to her home to retrieve something. Her spouse was nearby but he was busy installing another rain fly. Seeing me with nothing to do, she asked me if I wouldn’t mind holding her baby while she left to go get something. I lied and said, “Sure, I like babies.”
The baby I held, sitting on my knee, was naked. In fact, both babies were naked. I suppose it’s just easier for natives in a tropical and outdoor world to let babies and young kids run (or crawl) around with no clothes. I seem to recall seeing such things in a National Geographic. I also supposed that diapers can’t be washed very easily and forget about getting a regular supply of disposables in there.
Everything turned out ok. I didn’t drop it or anything and it didn’t have an accident on me. Mom came back and I gave baby to her. I was, however, somewhat relieved to relinquish it because it was starting to get squirmy.
The rain had quit but I decided to give the river another hour to recede a bit before I went back to my campsite.
Helicopters had been flying off and on all day. Everyone by this point hates them but all are used to them. As long as they stay several hundred yards off the coast.
In one dramatic moment, the quiet was disrupted by the sound of a helicopter flying in close. Too close. So close you could hear the air “phhhhit-phhhhit-phhhhiting” over the rotor blades. The closeness could only be a helicopter landing. There was an emergency helipad about one hundred yards from the “outlaw” campsite. The helicopter got closer and closer, louder and louder.
My friends around me all stood up looking very anxious. Some more thumping of the rotors sent my outlaw friends, male and female, some naked, all topless, into action; they skedaddled and ran for the hills, everyone except Ron. Ron was grace under fire. I could only look on amused. My friends thought it was a raid. I thought so too.
The sound of the helicopter grew to a feverish pitch. I thought it must be hovering nearby. I couldn’t see the sky very well because of the thick trees. I did not go to investigate because that could give the camp away.
A whirlwind of air rushed through the boughs. The rush of air violently fluttered tree leaves, in mass, turning them over white. Looking up, I half expected to see a landing skid come floating under the tree canopy.
And then the pitch of the engine changed. “Was it landing? Was it shutting down its engines? Wait, what’s that!”
The swish of the rotor blades began to recede, it was going away. It flew away and was gone as soon as it arrived.
The only ones left in the camp were Ron and me. Ron, the twenty year veteran of the valley looked at me and said, “Those pilots do that sometimes. They like to scare everyone and watch the topless women run away.”
A moment later Taylor returned. He grabbed a conch shell that had been sitting in one spot the whole time I’d been there on my visit. I didn’t think anything about it before, just some camp decoration. Pressing the seashell to his lips, he blew three loud blasts and sat down. Like a well oiled machine, the naked people returned. None were embarrassed; none had a sheepish look; it was all part of the program.
Well that was fun. But the rain had quit for an hour and I really wanted to check to see if my own camp was safe and secure and I wanted to use the rest of the day to explore the valley.
My camp was in fine shape. Everything inside my tent was high and dry. I was hungry but I had decided to not eat anything unless it came from the land. I repacked my daypack with everything I would need including things I hoped I wouldn’t need like my first aid kit.
I set out at noon and it didn’t take long for the rain to start falling again. The shower wouldn’t bother me. I wore a broad brimmed hat to keep the rain off my glasses. The weather was warm so I allowed myself to get wet, leaving the windbreaker in my pack.
As I headed into the valley, I met Doug of the Bob and Doug pair I’d met yesterday. I told him I was heading out to explore the valley. I recommended they do the same, to heck with the rain.
Making my way through the jungle, it wasn’t long before I started finding various fruit trees. The first was guava. I ate them as I picked them. Picking some more, I placed them with the tiny banana from the previous day in a mesh bag hung from my day pack.
I started to see goats. They usually traveled in herds. The males had some very large horns and led the herd. The females tended the lambs, allowing the small ones to suckle.
The rain was heavy and steady. I found that the rain covered the sound of my footfalls and I could sneak up on the goats, all in fun though. Protein would not be in my diet that day.
The trail was easy to follow. Occasionally I’d end up on a branch trail and find myself at someone’s campsite. I wasn’t interested in meeting up with anyone so I’d just turn around to find the main trail. If a camp seemed to be deserted, I would stop and look it over, just looking but staying near its perimeter.
Some of the camps were quite interesting and looked very comfortable. I passed through several bamboo forests and the varying sized bamboo trees could provide some great, lightweight building materials. One camp had several shelves and tables made from the forest. If not for the use of nylon rain flies, it would have looked exactly like Gilligan’s Island.
I started noticing large massive oak-like trees. Of course, I knew they couldn’t be oak trees, but they did have that look. The leaves looked like leaves of the Shingle Oak of the Midwest. The trunks on some were over six feet in diameter. The vegetation beneath these large trees was very sparse so you could easily walk under and around them. Way up high, I could see some kind of green fruit. Using my binoculars, I wondered if it might be mango. They were too high up to do anything about it.
The Mango tree didn’t provide sustenance but I found a strong piece of branch that would make a sturdy walking stick. I carried a so-called multi-tool which has a saw on it so walking stick production began in earnest. Cutting excess material from both ends, I located an appropriate stone. Sanding off splinters and rounding the end, the gift from the Mango tree put my store bought stick into retirement. I dismantled and folded the modern contraption then placed it in my pack.
Trying my stick out, I poked around beneath the mango tree. I forgot it was raining. The ground beneath the great tree was dry. The soil wasn’t even damp. I fancied some government grant should be awarded to determine where all that water goes to after splashing into the trees foliage. Does all the water flow out towards the trees perimeter? Does it “drink” it? Where does it go?
It was nice not to be rained on so I found a big fat comfortable rock to sit on and have a little picnic of guava.
I wolfed down the suculant fruit. Wanting another I rooted around in my knapsack for it. A minor panic. Oh please let there be another! There she is hiding in the shadows at the bottom of the bag. “Come here luscious”, I said. Before I had my way with her I conducted another inspection. The skin was a little chewed up from its travels in my pack. Guava is very fragile and delicate. Its skin is thinner than a tomato’s. The fruit is too fragile to be commercialised. It would never survive a ride in a truck to the supermarket.
I ate the thing in a couple bites. “Damn-it!” I realized I ate the thing without hardly thinking about it. After all that thinking about how rare it will be back in the real world I took the poor fruit for granted. I shoud have closed my eyes and concentrated on the sweetness.
I need to think about something else.
Finishing my lunch I stepped out from under the outstretched arms of my older friend and marveled at the natural umbrella.
Postponing the inevitable walk in the rain, I stepped back within the shelter of the umbrella tree. The ground beneath and around my tree had only a short slant to it. Nothing in the valley can be called flat. In fact, the valley is rather hilly. But this spot could almost be called level.
There had to be a home here I thought. Perhaps, even a neighborhood. The ghosts of dead Polynesians surrounded my imaginations. I could see them moving about in their daily chores. I’m sure they didn’t like being rained on either.
One of the ghosts, I believe, was Kaluaikoolau (Named Ko‘olau for short).
In the 1890’s was living his life as a father, husband, and cowboy near the town of Kekaha on the other side of Kauai. Thousands of Hawaiians had contracted the horrific disease called leprosy.
Leprosy was, at that time, like Aids was in the early days of its discovery. If you have it, you will be shunned by your fellow citizens. In 1890 Hawaii if you had leprosy, you were quarantined on the Hawaiian island, Molokai. The islanders had a name for a quarantine settlement. Hawaiians called it “the grave of living death.”
This one man, a so-called Leper, was not going to abandon his family. Ko‘olau and his wife and child, escaped from authorities on horses. Their flight on the trail along the Na Pali coast brought them temporary safety in this valley.
A posse of heavily armed policemen went into the valley after the fugitives. Ko‘olau was heavily armed too and successfully defended his new home, perhaps on the very spot of this mango tree. Several of the posse were killed, the rest, perhaps married men, retreated and ran for home.
Ko’olau’s family lived in the valley for several years. He and his son would eventually succumb to the horrible disease. His wife, Pi‘ilani, after burying her family, left the valley, and continued her life somewhere on Kauai.
Pi’ilani was not arrested. After the turn of the century, she wrote a poetic account of the confrontation.
In Pi’ilani’s words: “His eyes flashed and his breast heaved as he stepped back, standing straight and expressed his firm determination not to allow himself while alive to be taken by the wrongful law of the land, which would not allow his wife to accompany him. The leprosy, said he, was a catastrophe in the life of a man, thus it was not wrong for a man to oppose the law . . . . At sunset on a certain day when the wings of darkness spread over the ridges and rows of cliffs of our beloved land . . . . we loaded ourselves and our belongings on horseback and in the loneliness and awesomeness of the night turned towards the trail which would descend into Kalalau, leaving behind our ‘birth sands’, without knowing when we would see them again or breathe the comforting air of our birthplace.”
This ground that I stand on is not a playground. It is hallowed ground. It was consecrated by the blood and toil of human beings only trying to live until they die.
It was time to continue my hike up the valley of the Kalalau.
I discovered a noni fruit tree and ate one and stored two in my mesh bag. It wasn’t as good tasting as a guava but it added diversity in the day’s diet. I had heard of the noni before, its juice is regularly sold at health food stores. It’s touted as having great healing powers and can cure many ailments. The marketing I’ve seen sounds characteristic of other quack remedies. It has a snake oil sound about it. I would eat several and I’m sure it was good for me but the pain I normally feel when on such a hike didn’t go away. Robbie told me if I had a pain in my elbow or knee, I should rub noni juice on the limb, and the pain would go away. No such luck. The dull soreness in my knee stayed with me the whole eight days of my expedition.
There were Taro terraces all over the place. I had read that at one time most of the valley was cleared by the early Hawaiians and the stone walled terraces built. Apparently, you could see up and down the valley for miles without the large trees and the jungle obstructing the view.
I found a sweat lodge. Someone had built a domed sweat lodge out of bamboo. I figured it was a communal area and the builder wouldn’t mind if I inspected the area closer. The lodge was dome shaped and made of bamboo. It was six feet high and twelve feet in diameter. It was just a skeleton frame. Nearby, several blankets hung on a clothes line. A pyramid of six or seven grapefruit sized rocks was located in the middle of the dome. Wooden slats on rocks provided benches around the inside wall of the lodge. Outside the dome and fifteen feet away was a fire ring with a shovel nearby.
How a sweat lodge works: The blankets are draped over the frame of the lodge leaving an opening for a door. A fire is built a few feet from the door and the rocks are heated. The rocks are then transported one by one onto the center of the lodge floor. A plastic jug was filled with water and with naked people sitting around; mountain water is poured over the hot rocks making steam. The sweat pouring from the skin pushes out the dirt and evil spirits that clog the pores. Later, the naked people jump into the crystal clear mountain stream, almost taking their breath away, to wash the sweat off them. Then you stand around the fire to dry off.
Onward and upward, into the valley. The trail brought me to a minor stream crossing. On my side of the riverbank, a bamboo walking stick leaned against a tree. I suppose the owner didn’t care to use a walking stick except when crossing streams. I would later come across several other sticks at other streams.
I found a coconut tree with several coconuts beneath it. I examined them all and picked one that didn’t seem too green. Shaking the coconut and I could hear liquid sloshing inside. I have never busted one open and I new I might need a machete to do it. I stuffed it in my pack anyway. I’ll figure it out later.
The trail became faint and hard to follow; I was blazing my own route. I traveled up this branch of the valley as far as I could go; the ground was just too steep and slippery. The back of this part of the valley was like a box canyon with several natural tiers where water falls poured from. The rain increased and I speculated that maybe the drop of some of the waterfalls was so great that the falls turned to mist before hitting the ground. Looking up through the mist, I couldn’t tell what was going on up there. Perhaps the most beautiful waterfall on the planet earth. Straining to see, the clouds were too low and my glasses beaded up with rain. Oh well, not on this day. I could hike up the valley no further. There’s still plenty of exploring to do but I would do it in the general direction of home. I turned around.
I met up with Bob and Doug. They thought my idea of exploring the valley was a good one, but exploring it in the rain wasn’t. They complained about the rain. I gave them a pep talk to improve their morale. First off, the rain keeps the mosquitoes and gnats grounded. They can’t fly with rain drops knocking them to the ground.
They continued up into the valley and I headed back toward home.
I still wanted to find more food. I saw lots of taro earlier and I came across it again. According to Jim, my cab driver, taro does not grow in the wild. It has to be planted and cultivated. This meant that I would have to take it from someone’s Taro plot; justifying that maybe there was so much of it, that stealing one wouldn’t harm the crop.
I chose the smallest Taro in a group of fifteen plants. They were in the bed of a small stream. Standing in one inch deep water, I cut off the leaves and set them aside to see what I was doing. I then dug all around the tuber a few inches into the rocky creek bed. I grabbed the top of the plant were the leaves had been and pulled up on it. It broke in half but I came away with a piece the size of a medium potato. Filling in the hole and wrapping the specimen with the leaves, I put it with the rest of my treasures.
I had had enough of the rain. I was tired and hungry and wanted to do something about it.
The trip out of the valley took two hours. Arriving at the beach, I went straight to the dry cave. It was still raining and I wanted to make a fire, get dry, and not get rained on. The thick cloud cover forced an inky black darkness to descend upon my valley. The night was darker than a cows stomach with its mouth closed and its tail down.
There was plenty of dry wood to start a fire and several blow sticks to choose from.
Remember, as I stated earlier, the dry cave had most everything I needed to prepare a meal.I scrounged a gallon pot, filled it with water from a small nearby waterfall, and brought it to boil. I then took my taro root, cut it in cubes, and dropped it into the boiling water.
I found a large oversized kitchen knife. Using that, I hacked on the coconut. The knife was too lightweight to make much of an impression so I set the blade with the grain of the outer husk and pushed down with the palm of my hand. Doing that several times around the husk, I was able to get my fingers into the slice that my knife made and pull the husk open. There it was; a nice round, brown, hairy coconut.
I gouged out its eye and poured the clear liquid into my canteen cup. It didn’t taste that great, time to get at the meat. Holding the coconut in the palm of my hand, I hammered it down on a pointed rock. That did it; it broke into three or four pieces. I scraped some meat out and it was the perfect appetizer.
The rain was pouring but the cave provided an ideal shelter. I could move around the fire without getting wet. A natural projection in the back of the cave made for a good shelf. On it, I found a bottle of molasses and several plastic jugs of spices.
I rooted out a small skillet and placed it on the fire. I carved out several large slivers of coconut meat and dropped it into the skillet to toast them. I also chopped up the green banana and tossed that into the skillet with the coconut
My clothes were now completely dry. My feet, however, were still wet in my boots.
I spotted some movement at the base of some bushes at the mouth of the cave. I aimed my headlamp at the movement, and two yellow demon eyes stared back at me. I thought, “What is that!?” The eyes just stared back, unblinking. I got up to investigate but the eyes went away. What ever it was, it was curious but not brave.
An hour of boiling to make the taro edible was up. I strained out the water. Using my spoon, I mashed the taro against the sides of the pot making a dull-gray thick paste. It tasted just like the sample Robbie gave me, not very exciting. I took a raw sliver of coconut and swiped it through the taro. That made it a little better, so I ate it like that, with the cooked banana and coconut on the side.
It turned out to be a pretty good dinner and I was full and satisfied. I saved a couple spoonfuls of the taro and mixed a little of the molasses syrup with it. It wasn’t great but I can now legally claim that I ate off the land for an entire day.
There it is again! Those demon eyes staring back at me. I new there were no man-eating carnivores on the islands. There were no tigers or leopards or anything like that. Moving closer, I finally saw it, a cat.
This cat seemed mostly curious. It never came very close. It was still a kitten and didn’t know what wonderful foods tourists give for simply looking heartrending and pathetic.
All the food and the cozy fire made me tired and sleepy. The rain stopped and it was time to go home. I put everything back where I found it and left the fire to burn by itself figuring that I’ve heard of forest fires but I’ve never heard of jungle fires.
I hiked the couple hundred yards to my tent, washed up, brushed the choppers, and looked at the fluorescent ocean. My three hours of sleep from the previous night demanded more and I went immediately to sleep.
Day 6, March 29, Monday
I awoke at eight o’clock. This day would be my last full day in the valley. My five-day permit to camp within the Na Pali Start Park is now officially expired. I am, at this moment, an “outlaw.”
It looked like it would be a nice day. I hung my clothes to dry and practiced on my recorder flute. Breakfast was Guava, Jerky, Coconut, and Coffee. The two dudes, Bob and Doug, hiked by. They were loaded down with full packs. They were obviously leaving the valley. I mentioned to them that they ought to visit the heiau at the mouth of the KalalauRiver before they left the valley for good.
I didn’t want to spend my last day and night in the valley alone, so I thought I’d visit my friends at the heiau on the other side of the river. I struck my tent and loaded my gear into my backpack. I also took a shower and shaved at the falls.
Every few minutes I’d stop and look around, thinking, I might never see this place again, I should burn it into my brain.
Hiking toward the river and walking across the last bit of beach, I had to take one last look, and turned around. The view was amazing. It was the same panorama I’d viewed several times so far but every time I saw it, it was as if I’d seen it for the first time in my life.
The clouds weren’t thick enough to hide the mountain tops. The peaks had veils of mist swirling around producing tones of grey on the peaks. Moving the eyes down the mountain brought a deep hued green. The green, produced by jungle vegetation, looked like Astroturf. It seemed to be draped on the sides of the mountain. As the sharp mountain cliffs dropped towards the valley and beach, the vegetation looked like clumps of bushes. I knew, from the previous days hike up that valley that some of the trees are over a hundred feet tall but from a distance, they look like pieces of broccoli.
My world was divided, on my left, purple mountains and a green valley, on my right, an azure endless sea. In between, that white beach being hammered by even whiter surf.
I saw movement on the edge of the forest. It was Heather, the guitar player, looking up into the mountains. She said, “Isn’t it beautiful here?” She had a far-out and far-off look in her eyes. I thought to myself, “Is she high?” Then I thought, no, she’s drunk on Kalalau and so am I.
I made my way across the river and up the hillside toward the heiau camp. I had to negotiate my way along that same treacherous cliff edge. This time a transformation had come over me. Walking along the edge of the cliff, stirred within me, no more concern than last months hangnail. I would in fact stop several times to look at the scenery and even look down to the crashing surf, one hundred feet below.
Walking across the heiau toward the camp, I spotted my people working in the garden. I dropped my pack and walked over to say hello. Ron and Robbie were digging around a boulder the size of 25-inch television.
Ron said in his Bostonian accent, “If we can get this rock out of here, we’ll have a great spot to replant a potted papaya that was brought in by boat.” Nearby Cathy was working on the lettuce garden.
I thought I’d help them move the boulder but it was not as easy as it looked. The boulder was in a hole and there was room around it to place our hands but all we could do was roll it from one side to the other. I suggested that we could dig out a ramp and roll it up and out. Ron agreed but when you dig out the ramp, more often than not, there’s usually another boulder in the way.
Ron said it’s time for a break and some lunch. We walked over to the campfire. A large pot was simmering over the fire. Ron said, “The weather is so nice that I guess a few people might come-in off the trail today so I made as much soup as I could.” He dished out a ladleful to everyone.
A moment later, while sitting around the fire discussing with Lam how to build an outdoor brick-oven, a father and his fifteen year old son stumbled into camp. They were tired and looked happy just to dump their packs. The father introduced himself to Ron, and Ron recognized him as a previous acquaintance and visitor to the valley. I got the impression that the dad had visited the valley some years before and had such an overwhelmingly positive experience that now he’s back for replenishment, and in addition, brought his son along hoping the boy would pick up on the worldly experience.
That was the thing about Ron. People came off that trail looking for him; people like me. I suppose if I ever go back, the first person I will hope to find is Ron. I think a better nomenclature for Ron would be “the caretaker of Kalalau.” The many gallons of bean soup he made were for anyone who wanted some and especially for the tired hikers coming in off that trail.
Later, when dad and son departed to camp near the beach; I mentioned that the kid looked pretty miserable and unhappy until he got properly fed.
Several quarts of freeze dried strawberries were burning a hole in my backpack. The strawberries are so lightweight that I brought entirely too many for one person. I thought it would really be fun to hydrate the strawberries and have them as strawberry shortcake. The strawberries were freeze dried whole and they really looked like fresh strawberries until you picked one up, they had the texture of Styrofoam.
I didn’t know what to do with them so I enlisted Ron and Cathy into the project. Ron said we should soak them in water all afternoon to be ready for tonight.
That sounded like a fine idea. I rummaged around the campfire and found a pot with a lid. Dumping all the strawberries into the pot, Cathy then poured water into the strawberries. I broke a stick off some kindling and stirred the elixir. Placing a lid on the pot, I placed it in a safe spot.
Cathy cried out, “Whale!” Everyone looked up and out toward the sea. I caught a glimpse of a large splash. Where there is one splash, there will be another. “There it is!” The whale breached out of the water, loomed high over the waves, turned on its side, and crashed down on the surface, sending white spray in all directions. Its flipper being the last visible part of the whale, waving to us as it wrapped itself in the sea.
Whale watching became the order for the moment. They’re humpbacked whales. They spend their winters in the waters of the Hawaiian Archipelago and summer near Alaska. A few weeks from now, they’ll be leaving Hawaii for the month long trip north.
For the next minutes, we watched them spouting water from their blow holes and breaching. Ron reported on what the whales were doing; breaching dislodges barnacles and parasites off their skin. It may also allow them to look around, or they might just be playing.
The whales left to play somewhere else.
I got into a discussion about war and politics with Tao. A month previous, he went to Israel and Palestine to witness what is going on there. He reported that because of his Asian facial features, he was able to move around without being targeted by either side.
The conversation started to grow serious and unpleasant so I asked about the foods he ate there. Before Tao could answer, Ron, walking by with some gardening tools, laughed, and blurted out, “Foodists!”
It was mid-afternoon and everyone seemed to be working on some project. Ron and Cathy worked in the garden although waiting to remove the big boulder until more men, like Taylor, were available to do the job. Lam with his mandolin and Heather with her guitar rehearsed a song.
It was time to explore the area. I put together my day pack and grabbed my walking stick. I struck out across the Heiau to the cliff and took a right.
Stepping over and between red boulders, I followed a faint trail through a small forest. The trail opened out onto a mile long, half mile wide boulder strewn green field. It was the “Green Field.” Up and to the right, I could see all of the Red Hill and the Kalalau trail making its entrance into the valley.
Stretching out before me was an explosion of primary colors. From left to right; the cobalt blue sea, then the Green Field, then the Red Hill and then the purple mountains. Way off in the distance where the Green Field ended, the surf pounded at the base of the sea cliffs. This endless surge of breakers crashing into the boulders produced a rainbow making mist. The rainbow towered high over the Red Hill. The vision produced was impossibly stunning.
Hiking across the Green Field, I stopped every few feet to take pictures. Just when I thought I’d taken enough photos I’d see an utterly different-impossibly-stunning panorama, and take more pictures. It was a wonderland.
Na Pali Rainbow. The view from the Green Field looking east. Somewhere in the photo is the Kalalau trail.
All that green in the Green Field could only be a haven for goats. Sure enough, I startled a herd of them. As I hiked along the Green Field, I couldn’t help to follow and “chase” the goats. I heard a tiny little lamb bleating for mom. The little lamb was no more than forty feet away. I grabbed my camera and tried to get off a shot but mom came running over, baa-baaing for her baby. “Lamb Chop” finally saw momma and scampered off to the herd. My camera work was too slow; my photo shows a lambs butt in the distance.
Goats in the Green Field
I continued to “chase” the herd until the green field came to a point jutting over a cliff. As the goats came to the edge, they all went over one by one. I was already familiar with the surefootedness of goats and I wasn’t too worried for them. However thoughts of lemmings leaping over a cliff to their suicidal deaths did cross my mind.
Arriving at the edge and peering over, I saw they were all safe-and-sound walking and browsing on the thin little trails along the cliff. I observed them for a moment, half expecting one of them to blunder and loose their footing; but even Lamb Chop knew how to handle that precipice.
I returned back towards the heiau and scouted for a place to sit. I found an excellent seat with a smooth boulder to sit-back against. I could look straight down the Green Field, yet watch for whales or watch for hikers coming down the trail off the Red Hill.
The Green Field and the Red Hill
The light breeze came in across the Green Field carrying with it a touch of mist and the smell of the ocean. Practicing my flute, the breeze would muddle its tone. I’d occasionally spot a whale breach or see its T-shaped tail arching out of the waves. In whale-viewing jargon this is called ‘sailing’.
I spotted some hikers coming down off the Red Hill. Comparing the hiker’s puny size in relation to that hill demonstrated the scale of things. The Red Hill is massive. It took the hikers almost thirty minutes to reach its base. Throughout the afternoon, nine hikers came down the hill.
At five o’clock, I went back to the heiau camp. As soon as I walked up Taylor handed me a sliced piece of summer squash. It tasted good and sweet. Ron pointed out that he could hear me playing the flute. I told him that the wind must have carried the sound because I was more than five hundred yards away.
Nova appeared with a bunch of bananas. They were more than a bunch, it was the whole stalk. The bananas were yellow and perfect, if only four inches long. There wasn’t a bruise or blemish on the bunch. I had to take a picture holding one in my hand and did. I asked Nova where she found them. She gave me directions, but directions do no good unless you’ve been up and down the valley and know exactly where the big mango tree used to be before it was struck by lightning.
Nova said that a mango tree really did get knocked over by lightening or a storm. The massive tree lay on its side allowing the hunter-gatherer humans to reach the normally impossible to reach fruit. What a jackpot! Cathy said, “Yea, we ate mangos for a month.”
Taylor popped some popcorn. He popped the corn in batches, using a small pot and dumping it into a large bowl. Heather brought out a small bottle and poured the contents over the popped corn. It was coconut oil. The stuff tasted crunchy and good.
A long time resident made his appearance. His name is Myron. He sat down near the popcorn production line and opened up a leather bag of beads. He commenced to making a necklace. Jewelry making was Myron’s gig. Myron said, “I get all the beads and pooka shells I need from the land, then I take my wares and sell them for half their worth in tourist traps like Poipu.”
I watched him for a moment and asked him what the light blue pearl like things are. He said, “They’re Jobes Tears, it’s a plant that grows all around here, usually on scrubby land.”
Myron said that back in the “real world” he was a civil engineer. He used to visit Kalalau regularly but finally he just decided to stay. Myron grated on my nerves. He started preaching, not preaching religion, but preaching his way of life. “You see,” he said, “We are just people here trying to live our lives day to day. We have our problems and our ailments just like everybody else.” Myron kept going on and on about just trying to live his life simply.
Hoping to change the subject, and as I was interested in visiting the “Library”, I asked Robbie where it was. Robbie was just about to tell me when Myron said, “No, don’t tell him!”
Myron then explained that when George W. Bush got elected President, one of the first things he did was order the dismantling of the library and all the books were burned by the rangers. The rangers, according to Myron, have been commanded to remove the populace of Kalalau Valley.
Myron said, “Dave, we are just simple people who just want to be left alone by the government and their Nazi-rangers.”
Luckily, I managed to change the subject again by announcing that not everything is simple. I said, “Yesterday, while hiking in the valley, I found a very well made and complex sweat lodge.”
Myron said, “thank you, I built that.” He then went on about how we are undemanding people; we just want a few simple things; to be left alone to live our lives…”
I prayed to the great God of Kalalau to set me free from Myron’s preaching. The great Kalalau God gave me inspiration. I stood up and declared, “I’m going to the river for water, are there any empty water jugs that need filling?”
Everyone jumped up to hand me water jugs. Cathy said if I get to the river and take a right and walk down towards where the river goes into the sea, I should see some Jobes Tears. My eyes lit up. I asked Myron if he didn’t mind if I harvested a few of the Jobes Tears. He said, “What’s ours is yours, us Kalalau people share what we have with those around us we…”
I grabbed the water jugs and my own water bladder and headed down the hill to the river. I filled the containers and left them to sit near the trail as I went in search of the Jobes Tears. It didn’t take long, there they were. The plants were dried up looking. I started out picking the Jobes Tears one by one but that was slow and tedious. I lit upon a method of grasping the bottom of the stalk with my thumb and forefinger and pulling up towards the top of the plant. As the tears were stripped off, they fell into the palm of my hand. I came away with a pocket full of the magical Jobes Tears.
I gathered my water jugs and headed up the mountain. It’s almost time for the sunset. As I stepped out, onto the heiau, I found a whole bunch of people looking at me. My new found tribe saw that it was time for the sunset and they came out to the heiau to witness it. I went over to them and had a seat and passed the jugs of water around for those needing a drink. In return, a bowl of popcorn came my way.
The sunset came and went. The clouds low on the horizon made it red and impressive but not quite spectacular. It’s what came after the sunset that was spectacular. Stars; millions of them, and no moon to cause glare. The conversation was good too. Robbie told of his experience on a Pacific Ocean sea voyage on a tall mast sailing ship. He pointed out several constellations that can’t be scene from the Midwestern United States. Sooner or later, the discussion turned to UFO’s. Ron mentioned that just around the corner of the island is the BarkingSandsMissileRange. Ron said, “If we’re lucky, we might see something weird coming out of that place.”
Not feeling very lucky, everyone picked up and headed to the campfire. It was time to figure out what to do with the strawberries. The answer came from Cathy. Role out the dough flat and rectangular, pour the strawberries on top, and roll it into a log, slice it into several rolls, and bake.
The operation began. Cathy got hold of a handful of sugar (like gold around there), and adding it to the strawberries and simmered it over the fire. Nova had a small bag of dried apples and tossed that into the strawberry sauce. Myron made the dough. Lam gave Myron some flax seed to add to the dough. Ron grabbed a large board and placed a garbage bag over it for a clean surface. Myron rolled out the dough. Cathy trickled the strawberry concoction over the dough. The dough and its topping was rolled and sliced, the pieces placed into the skillet. Taylor made sure the fire was ready and took care of the baking.
Now we had to wait.
One of the discussions while we waited was the tenacity of poison centipedes. According to everyone who has tried to cut one in half, the two halves can continue to wiggle and the part that means business can still bite you. I noticed during the discussion everyone unconsciously scratched themselves and waved off imaginary bugs.
The rareness of sugar brought up the subject of getting a boat onto the beach in the middle of winter. Ron said it can and has been done but if the surf is too rough don’t even try it. Sometimes one hour in a given week, the surf may settle just enough to get a boat in. If you miss your window, all you can do is turn around and head back to a sheltered bay.
Taylor said he attempted to bring in a supply boat once and he had to be rescued. The word “rescued” rolled off his tongue like it was a terrible and embarrassing thing to have happen. He was with a friend and they were trying to get a boat in to the beach. The boat was severely overloaded with over five hundred pounds of beans, flour, salt, sugar, and other essentials. Their barge began to take on water. A catamaran tour boat nearby, watching, had to move in and rescue the two men. Taylor and friend were hauled back to civilization and ended up having to hike back in.
The rolls were ready! Myron removed the Dutch oven from the fire and allowed the rolls to cool slightly. We stood around the skillet and Cathy dished out one roll to each person. I got mine and placed it into my canteen cup. It was hot and it was good. For a few minutes, all you could hear was chewing and happiness. The “foodists” were feeding. Cathy asked me, “What do you think?” I could only mumble, “Can’t talk, mouth full.”
I asked Ron what happened on September 11, 2001. He said, “We had a bunch of rangers here and they were patrolling the area and taking notes for a possible resident-relocation-raid.” He continued, “I was up in the valley staying away from them and collecting bamboo for flute making. A friend who lives up there has a shortwave radio. He told me what had happened.” Ron also said that he figured he’d better tell everyone else so he went down to the beach. When the rangers went to intercept and harass him. Ron told the Rangers, and the Rangers quickly loaded up their boats and went home. Ron said the whole valley knew what happened the day that it happened. Incoming hikers were informed also.
Ron said, “It was a terrible thing that had happened to the country but it sure was nice that we got a break from all the helicopters hovering around for over a week.”
The rolls were polished off and then the instruments came out. As usual, the music was fresh and pleasant.
I stepped out onto the heiau to get a glimpse of the weather and maybe see if clouds might be moving in. I was nervous about my departure in the morning. I was afraid it might rain and raise those river levels. My plans were to get an early departure in the morning, hike nine miles, and cross all major rivers by tomorrow night. I could then relax and camp at my “perfect campsite” on the other side of the very last river, the Hanakapiai. The following day could then be spent in leisure, with a two mile hike to the trailhead and my four o’clock taxi pickup.
I told some friends (Chris and Yvonne) who live on the southern side of Kauai that I would call them as soon as I got off the trail, on Wednesday. I planned to visit and stay with them after this Kalalau trip was over. I was concerned that they might become alarmed if I didn’t call them at the prearranged time.
Looking into the night sky, the stars were clearly visible. They were striking and well defined. There were sections of the sky that did cause me some apprehension. From East to North, and far in the distance, there seemed to be a long sweeping cloudy front moving diagonally from my vantage point. I had been watching it all day and for now, so far so good.
I stayed out on the heiau for several minutes. The music gave a haunting sound to my star gazing.
I went back to my group, sat and listened to the music. Time was hurdling by. I did not want to leave. Ron asked me for the time, I lied and said it was nine-thirty; actually, it was ten-thirty. I wished the evening festivities could last and I would never have to deal with the morning. Nevertheless, you cannot slowdown time any more than you can stop waves from crashing in. My time here is coming to a close. I must drink this all in, burn it into a memory that must last a lifetime.
The surf continued to pound a steady beat.
Myron, the preacher, got up to leave. Everyone wished him a safe trip home. I thought how interesting and different things are in this valley. Back home when you head out into the night after visiting friends; you hop in a car and hope a drunk driver doesn’t cross over the yellow line. Myron was heading out into the night for a two mile walk to his home, campsite really. He had no drunks to worry about. There is that river to cross though.
I shook his hand and told him thanks for the Jobes Tears. He said, “It’s part of the aloha spirit, and I want you to take that aloha spirit home with you.” With that, he switched on his headlamp and headed out across the Heiau, into the night.
Nova asked, “What day is this?” This time I told the truth and told her it’s Monday. No amount of lying is going to save me a day or bring me back to that first moment I stepped into the valley.
The fire flickered and began to grow faint. Everyone’s internal clocks told them it was time to call it a night; mine too. There were just a few left around the fire. I went over to my pack, which was leaning against some boulders near the fire. I rooted around inside to grab my sleeping bag and pad.
Taylor and Cathy were heading off towards Cathy’s tent. “Do you have a place to stay tonight Dave?” Cathy asked. “Yea,” I responded, “It’s a nice evening, and I thought I’d sleep out on the Heiau tonight.” Knowing that I’d never see Taylor and Cathy again, I bid them a good night as if I would see them in the morning. I didn’t want to get all worked up with goodbyes.
I walked out into the Heiau and looked for a suitable spot to sleep. Shining my flashlight around I saw two separate lumps curled up in sleeping bags. Not wanting to crowd anyone, I stepped over some boulders and found a nice spot.
Allowing my sleeping pad to inflate and gazing up at the stars, I realized it had been twenty-three years, since I’d slept beneath the stars. Bugs, cold, or threat of rain or snow had always forced me under some sort of shelter. The breeze would keep the bugs away and if it rains, I’d just get up and sleep near the fire.
A stiff breeze blew across the Heiau forcing me to hunker-down and pull the sleeping bag up with just my face poking out. I kept my glasses on and lay on my back so I could watch the stars.
I hoped I’d see some shooting stars or maybe a satellite cruise by and I tried to stay awake for it, but just the stars and one planet stared back. I struggled to stay awake but I nodded off anyway. I woke up an hour or so later with my glasses still on. I noted that the Big Dipper had made a quarter turn around the North Star. I took my glasses off and tucked them into my boot. Rolling onto my side, I could hear some snoring from the other side of the boulder. It was one of those lumps of sleeping bag I saw earlier. I think that particular lump was Robbie. I was too sleepy to be bothered by the snoring and fell quickly back to sleep.
Day 7, March 30, Tuesday
I awoke at 06:30. I put on my glasses and saw a clear blue sky. The grass was glistening with beads of dew. The two sleeping lumps, Tao and Robbie, were still “sawing off logs.” I rolled up my sleeping pad and stuffed my sleeping sack into its bag and went to my backpack near the campfire.
The camp was deserted and noisy with chirping birds. I packed my pack and prepared myself for the hike out, taking a photo of the empty campsite. I then strapped myself into my pack.
The heiau camp
“Are you heading out Dave?” Ron asked, in that Bostonian accent that sounded like pure friendship. “Yea,” I lamented, “I need to get across the Hanakapiai River for my ride out tomorrow.” I then added, “Leaving this valley and these wonderful people make this a sad time for me.” Ron, seeing my long face, laughed and said, “Well, come back and visit us sometime soon, if I’m lucky, I’ll be here for another twenty years.” Ron and I shook hands and I began the nine mile march with two river crossings.
It was good to get moving, after all, this is another piece of the big adventure. The morning was cool and clear. I threaded my way through the forest and found the great Kalalau trail. I turned left and hiked through the open forest where I had met Nova just four days earlier. Nova must be sleeping-in this morning; the only whistling was by the birds, flitting about the forest. Leaving the forest, the Red Hill loomed immediately up in front of me. I began the slow march up the hill, stopping and turning occasionally to photograph my ‘old’ home.
One mile and one hour later, I felt good. I had plenty of spring in my step. I rounded a sharp curve on a ridge jutting out into the ocean and decided that the spot would be a great place for breakfast. I didn’t want to make the error I did before and skip a meal.
I brought out my gasoline stove and using its pump, I gave it a count of thirty-five pumps. I found a level spot to set it on and turning the valve one half-turn, lit and attained a nice strong blue flame.
While I prepared some food, a hunter, carrying a compound bow, stopped on his hike in the direction of Kalalau and said hello. I asked him about the river level at Hanakoa. He said, “I camped near there and river level was a little high but not dangerous.” The hunter asked me if I’d seen any goats, and I told him I’d seen goats and their shit on the trail a quarter mile back.
I noticed he wore a sturdy pair of boots. I was pleased to see someone besides me wearing boots, and in fact, all hunters I met wore boots. By this point I had a firm conviction that the only proper footgear in that environment is to wear boots or go barefoot. Sandals or flip-flops had to be the silliest and stupidest footgear anyone could wear while humping a heavy pack in that wilderness.
I was way too soft-footed to go barefoot, but it makes sense that after millions of years of evolution, a bare human foot would do just fine.
The hunter and I bid each other aloha then I was left to cook my breakfast. My meal consisted of freeze-dried turkey tetrazini. Bringing two cups of water to boil, I then poured the hot water into the meal packet. Stirring the meal up with a spoon, I now had to wait for ten minutes before the contents were ready to eat.
While I waited, I searched the coastline for beautiful views. I easily found them. I could also see just a little bit of the white sand beach of Kalalau. “Wow,” I thought, “I walked on that beach.”
I ate my meal and also ate one of several lemons I had liberated from a tree several days earlier. The yellow fruit, like all the lemons I ate along the Na Pali coast, was tasty and thirst quenching. They weren’t as sour as the ones I’d had from grocery stores. It was just a little more tart than an orange. I also pealed and ate limes. You could definitely taste the difference between a lemon and a lime. The limes were so sharp and sour; they’d wrinkle my face into a prune.
Speaking of faces, I had no idea what my face looked like. I hadn’t seen the thing since I looked at it through the mirror back in my hotel room. They make mirrors small and light enough to easily carry in a backpack but I never considered carrying one until now. I imagined I’d be quite horrified once I did see it, but for now, I would be pleasantly ignorant of any hideous skin problems or lesions.
Time to go; I packed the stove back into my pack and cinched the pack straps down, and set out. It was now 08:40 in the morning.
Compared to the hike-in a week earlier, the hike out was a dream. The lava cliffs that gave me such terror, now made no impression on me except with their great beauty.
I walked trough the real estate of my old nemesis, Crawlers Ledge. I stopped and had to look around before realizing where I was. I immediately walked back to get a better view. Turning around, I stopped to take pictures and look at the surf pounding the rocks below. The dangers were still there but a full week traveling on precarious trails inured me to such hazards.
I clicked the shutter on photos that did not pardon my panic of a week previous. Stowing my camera back in its pouch, I observed the spot of my great battle.
I remained a moment waiting for the arrival of another epiphany. I got absolutely nothing. I thought I’d get a wave of inner belief and understanding of my own human energy. Instead, I got a twinge of embarrassment.
I resumed the hike, stopping and staring at the magnificence around me; pausing occasionally to replenish water.
I reached the Hanakoa River before noon. It was high and it did cause some worries. I removed my socks and replaced my boots. I crossed without incident.
The rain came within minutes of hiking up and out of the Hanakoa River. The rain caused the trail to be slippery. I also noticed footprints of a hiker who couldn’t have been more than a mile ahead of me. The bottoms of their shoe soles were just a bunch of parallel tread. It seemed that the tread could only help the hiker if they were walking straight up a hill but if they were traversing along the side of a hill, the tread would allow the foot to slide out to the side.
What else is there to think about when concentrating on where to place each step? I had to focus on one to six feet of trail in front of me. There were songs that I sang, in my head, over and over again. The early episodes of Gilligan’s Island were filmed on Kauai and naturally the theme Gilligan’s Island occupied my mind for entirely too long. I had to think about something else.
The hiker ahead of me obviously wasn’t wearing sensible shoes. They must have been wearing sandals. Sure enough, every now and then, I could see were the hiker’s foot would slide sideways when stepping on the edge of the trail. In one case, their shoe slid down off the trail. I sincerely hoped that I would catch up with the dim-witted shoe culprit and straighten him or her out.
I had to keep that Gilligan theme song out of my head. My favorite song to sing over and over was “Big Rock-CandyMountain.”
One evening as the sun went down
And the jungle fires were burning,
Down the tracks came a hobo hiking,
He said, “Boys, I’m not turning
I’m heading for a land that’s far away
Beside the crystal fountain
I’ll see you all this coming fall
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain,
It’s a land that’s fair and bright,
the handouts grow on bushes…
Whoa! Speaking of handouts, a guava tree with lots of guava’s hanging right over the trail. Stopping, I picked the largest and ripest. Taking the load off the tree limb allowed the limb to spring up a couple of feet out of the way of the trail.
The “handouts” really do grow on bushes.
As I rested and munched on my guava, I stood and looked out a small opening in the trees looking out toward the sea. The landscape made my mind race. What a crazy-beautiful place; this Na Pali coast. The weather is crazy but just out at sea was an intense rainbow.
Moving my examinations elsewhere, I now studied the raindrops hanging from the brim of my hat. But these studies where interrupted by a sturdy looking hiker walking by. We nodded to each other. He looked like a resident and his pack was loaded down with all kinds of hanging peripheral baggage. I thought, “Must be the pizza man.”
“How’s the Hanakapiai?” I asked. “It’s a little high but crossable. “How’s the Hanakoa?” He asked of me. “Not bad,” I said, “It wasn’t raining until I left the Hanakoa valley.”
Now it was raining slow and steady with no wind. Without a wind, I knew the rain would just sit there and dump until the clouds were empty. The clouds didn’t look empty.
The trail in the valleys was sloppy and muddy. I was drenched and there was nothing I could do but be drenched. The trails were only a little better out near the coast. It wasn’t raining out at sea, just over the island.
The miles receded behind me; and as the day progressed, so went my energy. It was nothing like the energy loss on the hike in. I made a point to eat a lemon or guava whenever I came across one.
I started to meet various hikers heading in the direction of Kalalau. While refilling my canteen, four hikers came by and asked about trail conditions, so I told them.
I noticed that the two men were heavily loaded with massive backpacks. Each of the men carried twice the equipment they should be hauling. The two women with them carried little day backpacks and skipped happily along the trail as if they were light as feathers. The men looked like pack mules.
I had to stand on the side of the trail and wait while teen girls hiked by. Small groups of the girls were strung out along the trail so as soon as I’d continue my trek; another group of them would force me to the side. Finally, I had to ask in an exasperated tone, “Is there a whole regiment of you people?” She replied that there was just two more. I waited and the chaperons finally hiked by. There must have been thirty-five kids in that group.
Rounding a seaside ridge, I spied my favorite of all campsites. I was finally hiking down into the Hanakapiai Valley. The time was about five o’clock. The rain had finally quit and I was looking forward to having a bath in the Hanakapiai.
Finally, I came upon that last great river. I was already drenched and my boots and socks were soaked, no need to take off socks for this crossing.
Someone had replaced the rope that was strung across the river. I stepped into the river fifteen feet above the rope. I would grasp my walking stick with both hands for support and if I slipped and was washed downstream, I would then try and make a grab for the rope. There was no need for the rope, I moved across the stream with no problems.
Now to hurry down to “my” campsite; when I arrived I was relieved to see no one was there. The best campsite in the world would be all mine.
I set up my tent and removed my boots. My feet were white and wrinkled from the day’s wet hike. I took a bath and shaved in a slow moving pool in the crystal clear river just fifty feet from its entry into the sea. I wondered if the sharks became aroused by the smell of whiskers and skin flowing into their “dining room.”
I boiled water for my last freeze-dried meal. Oscar came by, meowing like he always meows when hungry. I fed him as much as he wanted because I would be hiking out the next day and I figured why carry all the excess supplies.
I hurried up and ate dinner, the sunset of the last day of my adventure was happening. Like all the other sunsets, there were too many clouds close to the horizon. The sun made those clouds blood red. Across the mouth of the river, several people watched the sun setting, too.
I watched the surf and sky for as long as I could. On my last night in this wonderland, I wanted to stay awake and keep watch and think about the last eight days, but I was tired and it was time to end the day and greet the morrow.
I prepared my bed and tent, and placed my backpack down near my tent. I also tied a strap between my pack and tent. If someone came by and moved my pack, it would shake my tent and wake me. I didn’t think Spook would mess with any of my material wealth, but I was beginning to recognize that there were several bums in the area.
Lying down and reading for a little while I was startled by someone outside my tent asking me how I was doing. I could tell by the accent the person was of British heritage. I hollered back fine. Then the person said, “Just passing through, have a good evening.”
I was only two miles from the trailhead and to “civilization” and its people. I just had to wonder how many persons pass my tent and inspect my campsite while I’m unsuspectingly asleep. The type of tent I used makes it obvious which side my head is on and a rock dropped on that spot would provide someone a good supply of “really neat stuff.” I knew the bums around the area were harmless and no harm would come to me, but I still wondered what could have happened to poor old Brad Turek.
The white water of the Hanakapiai and the crashing of the waves made for a cacophony of noise. After a while the noise can’t be heard, it’s just there.
Day 8, April 1, Wednesday
I awoke at 06:30 to the din of white water of the Hanakapiai and the crashing of the waves. Crawling out from my tent, I immediately could see it would be a cool morning without rain.
I brought out my stove and heated water for coffee and had breakfast. Oscar meowed across the river but he wasn’t meowing at me. He was begging food from the campers over there.
I planned to leave my camp at noon. That would give me four hours to get back to the trailhead, cleanup at the showers, and wait for my cab that would pick me up at four o’clock that day.
I packed my tent and got my pack ready to go. It was about eight-thirty in the morning. I was four hours away from my planed departure out of the valley. Across the mouth of the river from my camp, several people gathered to look at the beach. That’s when I finally noticed it. Sometime during my eight days along the Kalalau trail, the ocean currents brought in enough sand to call what I saw a beach. The surf was still too violent to swim in. Some campers took a dip into the foamy water but didn’t venture out very far.
I sat on a comfortable boulder and read my one paperback. I did more looking around than reading. There was always some simple activity on the other side of the river, hikers filling canteens in the river, others just looking around before they continued their backpack to Kalalau. I spotted my good buddy Oscar hanging around some people, preparing their breakfast. They fed him until he finally shut-up.
One person I saw seemed to be one of those “characters” of the valley. He was crazy. He was barefoot and wore white pants. Bearded and long haired, he kept his hair tied up in a funny looking ponytail. His hair wasn’t tied at the back of his head but on top. He wore his shirt tied around his waist and kept a machete tucked in his pants with the handle located in the small of his back. The man continually picked up litter and trash and placed it at the edge of the surf. If the trash was picked up by wave action, he would run over to it and snatch it from going out to sea and place it back where it had been. Everyone stayed away from him. He seemed to be having fun.
I read, looked around at the world around me, and just waited for my time to hit the trail. The tourists began to arrive and then they began to appear in droves.
I was just two miles from the trailhead and parking lot, so it was easy for them to get here. Mostly when they reached the river, they crossed it to hike upstream to the Hanakapiai falls. I thought about going to see the falls myself but I had seen plenty of waterfalls and I really just wanted to read and watch the world.
At noon, I threw my pack on and began to hike my way, a hundred yards upstream to where the trail from the trailhead meets the river.
People were crossing the river regularly, some with heavy backpacks, most, being day hikers, without packs.
Tao Getting a Handout on the Hanakoa River
I spotted one of my friends from Kalalau Valley, Tao, crossing the river towards me. He got to my side of the river and said he was out of food and could he have some? I was glad to get rid of any superfluous weight. I dropped my pack and offered him some Ramon noodles. He took the package and began eating them raw. I told Tao that I could easily heat some water and he could have it as hot soup and noodles instead. He said he would like that.
I grabbed my stove, pumped it up, and lit it a fire. Filling a canteen cup with water, I set it on the fire. He seemed amused at the preparations of his lunch, saying, “You like gadgets don’t you?” “Yea,” I said, “I don’t leave home with out them.”
Tao said that he, Nova, and some others went to the sweat lodge and had a good sweat. He left the Heiau camp yesterday afternoon and camped at Hanakoa River, leaving there early this morning. He added, “I have a flight out to San Francisco tonight.”
The strange bum fellow came over to us. He asked if any of us had any food. I gave him a pack of Ramon noodles. Tao had my only canteen cup so the pony tailed fellow had to have the noodles raw. No problem, he quickly tore into the packet and into the noodles. There’s a small foil bag of spices that are meant to be added to hot water but he just bit off a bite of the crunchy noodles and poured the contents of the spiced salt directly into his mouth. Tao gave me a look like, “This guy is weird.”
The Strange Fellow
The strange fellow finished off the noodles and grabbed a glass jar that he’d been carrying. Stepping over to the stream, he filled it full of water and sat it down on the ground near Tao and me. The strange fellow then produced a 9-volt smoke-detector battery and a paperclip. He then touched the paperclip to the battery and the free end of the paperclip was dipped into the water. The strange fellow then drank the water.
It seemed the strange fellow wanted someone to ask about the previous demonstration so I did. He spoke in a voice that under any other circumstance sounded normal, like he was a regular guy. He said, “The galvanic reaction of the electricity kills any diseases that might be in the water.” Tao and I nodded our heads as if in total understanding and agreement.
I asked the strange fellow if he minded if I took his picture and he said no, so I took his photo. The man told us to have a good day and he crossed the river and headed upstream.
Tao said, “I visit here a couple times a year and I’ve seen him before. He has a wife and child who live somewhere here in the Hanakapiai Valley.” I was taken aback but had nothing to say. What is there to say?
Tao then loaded on his pack and said goodbye.
I wanted to hike those last two miles by myself so I waited a few minutes then strapped on my much lighter backpack and began the slow hike out of the Hanakapiai Valley and ultimately to the end.
At every vista, every panorama, and every seascape, I stopped and gazed. My hours left on the Na Pali coast turned into minutes.
When I wasn’t looking at gorgeous views, I passed dozens of people going in the opposite direction.
It jumped up on me so quick I didn’t have time to react. It was the trailhead, the end of the line. I could smell exhaust and see cars trying to find parking spots. I found some dude and told him of my great accomplishment, asking if he could snap a photo of me standing next to the sign that read, Kalalau: 11-miles.
My journey was at an end. A photo op was required to record for posterity and for all time my completion of the great Kalalau trail. The dude hid his excitement well. Unfortunately his excitement would well-up and manifest itself in a lousy photo. He cut the top of my head off.
I cleaned up at the showers and made a phone call from a pay phone to make sure my ride would greet me at the appointed time. I sat down on a park bench near the trailhead and just “hung out.”
A van, my taxi, arrived. I was pleased to see it was Jim. My botanist taxi driver had promised me a cold beer if I survived this thing, and I intended to collect it.
I kicked back in the front passenger seat and guzzled the most excellent tasting beer of my life as the great Kalalau trail receded behind me. There was nothing more for me to do. I didn’t have to set up my tent, or fill my canteen. There were no dangerous rivers to cross or sea cliffs to traverse. I wasn’t hot, or cold or being rained on. I didn’t have to think about slipping and falling and whether my body would be found or would it be eaten by sharks. Even the pain in my right knee, the pain that reminds me that I’m pushing things just a little too hard, was gone. There were no more guava trees just waiting to give me handouts. Did this thing really happen? Sure, it did, but now it’s just a memory to be packed away with all the other memories. It was fun while it lasted but now I have to get back to being responsible.
My great adventure is over.
Yea, well, as soon as I get back home I’ll start making plans to do this again; only this time I’ll go for three weeks…and bring lots of pizza making supplies.