The long path to paradise. Kalalau Trail, Hawaii.
We have a common dream: to explore Hawaii’s most stunning trails by tracing the four elements of ‘Earth’, ‘Water’, ‘Air’ and ‘Fire’. We’ve written about our adventures so that we can share them with the readers of the GORE-TEX blog. The highlight of our trip is the Kalalau Trail. It is famous for its beauty and notorious for being dangerous.


We have a common dream: to explore Hawaii’s most stunning trails by tracing the four elements of ‘Earth’, ‘Water’, ‘Air’ and ‘Fire’. We’ve written about our adventures so that we can share them with the readers of the GORE-TEX blog.
The highlight of our trip is the Kalalau Trail. It is famous for its beauty and notorious for being dangerous.


There is a place like paradise: In the middle of the ocean, thousands of kilometres from the mainland, a white-sand beach protected by steep cliffs. At the end of the beach a waterfall cascades down the cliffs. A few lucky people live there in tents, living off fruit picked from a nearby plantation that has been left to grow wild. When a friend told us about Kalalau Beach, it sounded almost too good to be true. But, how do you get to a place as remote as that? It was when we heard the answer that our thirst for adventure got the better of us. You follow a path, 11 miles long and totalling 1,300 m of ascent, running along the awe inspiring north-west coast of the island of Kauai, otherwise known as the Kalalau Trail. Starting at Kee Beach, it leads through 5 valleys and ends at Kalalau Beach. It’s one of the world’s iconic hikes. Considered one of the most dangerous trails in the US, it is also one of the most spectacular.


Just one year later, we wake to the sound of rain on our tent. For the time being, setting off is out of the question. After about half an hour the rain lets up, at least a bit. Wasn’t that what we’d packed our GORE-TEX jackets for? We pull our hoods over our faces, fold up our tent and pack our backpacks.


When rain comes big time, the Kalalau Trail regularly has to be closed because of erosion and the streams along the trail swelling up to dangerous levels. But we’re lucky, and the clouds disperse. At the start of the trail, we shoulder our backpacks in a state of excitement. However, the steep ascent up the slippery, rock-strewn trail quickly brings us back down to earth. I can feel my pulse racing. The trail is exhausting right from the start. After about 1.5 miles a fork in the path leads to the Hanakapiai Falls. We cross the Hanakapiai River, hopping from rock to rock. The river isn’t always this low: In 2012, 121 hikers had to be rescued after fast-flowing waters made the river impassable for several days. This is the site of many accidents - sometimes unfortunately fatal.


The path passes Hanakapiai Camp, the first of the three camp sites on the trail. The terrain gets rougher and the vegetation denser. Tropical plants offer welcome shade. At the entrance to the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, we are suddenly overwhelmed by the majestic beauty of the trail. Ahead of us lies pure and unspoiled nature, shimmering in the midday sun. Dramatic cliffs rise up from the valleys. The only things we can hear are our own heavy breath and the roar of the waves from the Pacific crashing against the rocks below. The trail is mostly narrow with sheer, vertigo-inducing cliffs dropping down to the waters below. Minor landslides repeatedly rip holes in the path. To keep safe you have to give the trail your full concentration, and continue to do so for hours on end.


As time goes by, the trail almost seems to have a meditative effect on us, the constant exertion and deep concentration giving us a sense of inner peace. Each time we climb up out of a valley we are greeted by yet another stunning view of the coastline. At the 7 mile mark we cross Crawler’s Ledge, the most difficult section of the trail. At this point the path becomes narrower. It is cut into the cliff, in places into an extremely exposed part of the cliff, at a height of 300 feet. Rocks can easily fall from the cliffs above. Some hikers end up doing this section on all fours, hence its name. We are already feeling exhausted from the long distance and the load on our backs. Our nerves are beginning to get the better of us. But that’s not something we hadn’t expected. Yes, the Kalalau Trail is dangerous, and the weather could have been far worse. Luckily I’m able to say that thanks to our training over the past few weeks and our good equipment, the whole thing really was an enjoyable experience, even in tricky situations like on Crawler’s Ledge.


By the time we’ve safely navigated this section, the sun is getting lower in the sky and we still have three miles to go. The evening light brings a touch of magic to the trail. We so much want to reach the beach before nightfall that we start to walk as fast as our legs will carry us. We round a headland and there in the distance is a strip of white sand. In the last light of the day, we see Kalalau Beach ahead of us. When we finally get there, we feel blissfully happy. Over the next four days that we spend at the camp we see other people experiencing exactly the same emotions. They have all gone to their limits. You can see it in their faces: That look of amazement mixed with happiness. That’s the true beauty of this place.


The Kalalau Trail has taught us that you need to have a thirst for adventure, the willpower to push yourself to new limits and equipment that you can depend on. At the end, you’ll find yourself in paradise.