Our friends, the Bengos, waited 17 years before returning to Kauai where they lived before kids. They wanted to bring their children back when the youngest was old enough to do the Kalalau hike. This is a 2 mile hike to a beach and then an additional 2 mile hike to a spectacular waterfall, totally 4 miles each way, or 8 miles total.
We blithely agreed to do the hike even though we are not really a hiking kind of family. We joked that our style would have been to take a helicopter tour to the Na Pali cliffs, taken photos of the waterfall, and flown back. No muss, no fuss.
But the Bengos are an adventurous family and we have enjoyed this push out of our comfort zone on past vacations with them. What I didn’t realize was that the mom, who had done this hike twenty years ago, was silently dreading it. You see, this hike, not recommended for grandparents in the guidebooks, goes up and down in elevation on a trail of narrow switchbacks, many of which border a steep and deep ravine. Slipping and falling into a ravine is tantamount to injury or even death.
And did I mention the 22 water crossings? Two of the water crossings are across a wall of rock over a ravine where a stream of water comes down in a steady stream. You sort of have to hug the rock as you sidestep carefully across the slippery rocks.
The water in the streams and waterfall is also not potable. We read about Leptospirosis, a bacteria in freshwater here in Hawaii. There are signs about it at the foot of waterfalls, ponds, and inlets. You can get infected through open cuts or sores if you wade in the water or if the water is in your eyes, nose, or mouth. The symptoms include high fever, headache, bleeding, muscle pain, chills, red eyes, and vomiting are some symptoms. Without treatment, leptospirosis can lead to kidney and liver damage and even death.
This means that you have to carry drinking water in with you. We miscalculated on how much water we needed and had to ration our water on the last half of the hike. This was unfortunate because it was a hot day and hiking is thirsty business.
My son, who complained that one of his ankles hurt from the previous hike to Queen’s Bath and the other had a cut from the coral reefs while swimming in the ocean led the way. We had told our group that our goal was to go slow and easy. He, however, kept us at a fast pace that had us doubled over, gasping for breath. His training in nordic ski has, apparently, developed some cardio stamina. The hike to the beach was supposed to take two hours, but we reached it in 1 hour 20 minutes. Not surprisingly, the beach wasn’t crowded. I wish we had time to explore the natural caves that bordered the beach, but it was time to push on.
The second leg of the Kalalau hike from the beach to the waterfall felt mostly uphill, though we definitely went up and down the mountain. Buoyed from a quick lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the beach, this leg went the fastest. Of course, the meal also made us thirsty and we drank far too much of our water supply by the time we reached the waterfall.
We had collected wild ginger flower pods on our way to the waterfall. There is gooey liquid inside that can be used to wash your hair. It seems wonderful and, in a pinch, can also be consumed as a liquid source. We took photos — lots of photos — because this was a major moment in the Bengo family bucket list. And then we heard thunder directly overhead. And the rain came down. Torrentially.
All the hikers around us snapped into action at the sound of the thunder. They stood up and whipped out their raingear. Alas, we had none. But everyone at the waterfall hoofed it out of there. The trail was wet and more slippery than before. My daughter Zoe and I, who were wearing glasses, could not see very well because of the rain and we didn’t have anything dry to wipe off our glasses. This was not going well!
Things got worse at the .25 mile mark on our way out when the Bengo’s oldest child sprained her ankle while hopping over a large rock outcropping which was the only way out. For a minute, we thought we would need a helicopter to get her out (and perhaps we could catch a ride too!), but her father declared that she would walk out the remaining 3.75 miles of steep and slippery trail. He helped her every step of the way and fashioned crutches out of sticks. It was onward for us all.
The last leg of the trail — from the beach back to the car — felt the hardest of all. We were tired and thirsty. The youngest Bengo got low blood sugar and started weaving, looking like she would faint at any moment. We gave her the rest of the water and some food. Zoe, my oldest, developed a blister so uncomfortable that she did this leg with only one shoe. The two middle children from both families paired up to hoof it out of there together, as they felt the need to get out of there as fast as possible. I was happy to hear about their adventures after meeting them at the car. Apparently they both slipped on a water crossing over a ravine. Ethan had to hang onto a small plant to keep from going over.
They say “all’s well that end’s well.” We decided to forgo a food stop in Hanalei in case the bridge would close due to flooding. There had been a flash flood warning in place for the past few hours. After a one hour drive home, a shower never felt better. This was an adventure of a lifetime that we will use as a yardstick of the epitome of overcoming obstacles. Nothing, we felt, would be harder than this hike. At least, we hope so. But there will be more vacations with the Bengos and more adventures to come! Next time, we will bring more water!