Last week I spent one of my two precious weeks of annual vacation on one of the greatest adventures of my life: hiking the Kalalau Trail in Kauai, Hawaii. Sarah has wanted to do this trip her whole life and when she pitched it to me two years ago I was all in, it just took us two years to get our act together and finally plan it. This trail traverses the Napali Coast, an area of Kauai that is impassable by any vehicle that’s not a boat, kayak, or human feet The word Pali in Hawaiian means Cliff so when they call it the Napali Coast (the cliff coast) they really mean it. The 11 mile hike into Kalalau Beach is almost entirely on the side of a cliff, in other words, it was pretty epic. My challenge this week was to still find a way to do a different exercise every day. However, after our first day of hiking 10 miles I quickly decided that hiking and only hiking would take up three of the five days on Kauai. I had absolutely no energy for anything else on those days and it didn’t seem reasonable to expect myself to add an additional exercise just because it’s different, exercise is exercise and I certainly got a lot of it during my stay in Kauai. I’ll combine three days of hiking into one post because they’re really the same activity and in the same area. I’ll write about my beach yoga session and Trevor Smith’s Gymless Backyard Workout on separate posts.
We woke up at 3:30am on Oahu and had a friend drive us to the airport for a 5:00am flight to Kauai. From there we caught a taxi to a bus stop where we then caught a local bus that drove us one hour to a family friend who would drive us the rest of the way. The trail head to Kalalau is literally at the end of the road in Kauai, you simply can’t go any further in your car. So by 9:00am we hit the trail on foot.
Sarah and I bright eyed and bushy tailed at 9:00am after 5.5 hours of traveling.
Shortly into the hike we realized that it wouldn’t be so easy while carrying 5 days worth of food and booze. We didn’t weigh our packs beforehand because we were too scared but based on past experience the packs were close to 50lbs but probably not more than that. I’d say we were fairly minimal in the gear we brought. I had 2 tech shirts, 1 pair of running shorts, 1 pair of board shorts, and two pairs of socks. Then we had some shared gear like the tent, stove, water filter, med kit, food and wine. That was pretty much it, but having to carry around 5 days worth of food plus a few liters of water really does add up.
That pack was mostly food plus 3 liters of boxed wine, we made lots of friends along the way :)
Two miles into the hike we reached Hanakapi’ai Beach and the trail split, one direction would take us to our destination Kalalau Beach and the other would take us up to Hanakapi’ai Falls. We hadn’t planned on going to the falls because the out-and-back would add another 4 miles to our trip but we decided why the heck not? It came highly recommended by everyone we talked to and who knows when we’d be back in this area again so we dropped our packs 100 yards up the trail, hid them behind some trees and continued to the falls.
Hanakapi'ai Falls was one of those life experiences I'll remember forever, a totally unreal experience to swim under a waterfall that is over 300 feet high.
Rejuvenated from the swim at the Falls and the 4 mile hike without our packs we got back onto the Kalalau Trail and headed for the Beach. There was a campsite area at the 6 mile point on the Kalalau Trail called Hanakoa Valley. This made it a 10 mile trip for us to Hanakoa with another 5 miles to go before reaching our final destination. We made the executive decision to camp there for the night instead of continuing on. We chilled in the hammock, got eaten up by bugs, and passed out as the sun set. My min/max/average heart rate for the day of hiking was 64/139/103. I think the average was driven pretty low by the number of breaks we took and the fact that heavy load carriage is pretty slow going. My quads were certainly working harder than my lungs were, too bad I didn’t have an EMG setup (anyone want to spot me $20K to buy an intro EMG system?). On the way out I decided I would stop my watch during breaks to try and get a more accurate measure of my heart rate.
Our humble abode in Hanakoa Valley along the Kalalau Trail.
The next day, with 40+ bug bites on my exposed legs and arms, we headed off for Kalalau Beach 5 miles away, our home for the next four days. We arrived by 9:30am ready for a day on the beach but not before some stellar views and sketchy, eroding cliffs:
On the trek from Hanakoa Valley to Kalalau Valley.
This picture is mostly in shadow but it definitely gets across the cliffs we were walking across. If you look closely on the left you can see Sarah traversing a particularly gnarly section.
Finally at Kalalau Valley. I have to admit that I half-expected to see a pterodactyl soaring over the cliffs or a pack of brontosaurus walking through the valley, I felt like I was in Jurassic Park.
Each view was a million-dollar postcard view. These are only but a few of the particularly breathtaking ones. We avoided taking pictures on some of the more dangerous sections. Falling off the trail would be pretty unlikely but had you fallen you most certainly would have died, with nothing between you and rocks/water hundreds of feet below you. It definitely added an element of danger and adventure to the trip while still keeping it relatively “safe”.
My heart rate on this leg of the trip was fairly consistent with Day 1, my min/max/average was 65/150/105. Again I didn’t stop the heart rate monitor during breaks for over the 2.5 hours of hiking there were several periods where my heart rate dropped to below 90 while resting. I think overall though, trekking with a heavy backpack and having to pace yourself for hours on end, your heart rate generally has to stay pretty low, I’m not sure I could sustain a 150bpm heart rate for very long while carrying 50lbs of gear through a series of mountain cliffs.
Day 3 (of hiking, day 5 of the trip):
On the way out, with backpacks close to half their initial weight (minimal food left, zero wine left), I kept a closer watch on my heart rate, however it stayed around the same levels as the trip in. From Kalalau Beach to Hanakoa Valley my heart rate was 66/139/105 for 2.5 hours. From Hanakoa Valley to Hanakapi’ai Beach my heart rate was 66/141/103 for another 2.5 hours. Lastly from Hanakapi’ai Beach to Ke’e Beach (trail head) my heart rate was 65/146/113 for just under 1 hour. We crushed the last two miles but I definitely felt like I was working harder on the trip in, not just because of the heavier packs but also because it was dry and we were moving faster. The trip out on the 5th day was pretty wet and slow going because it sprinkled rain almost the entire time. This made the sketchier sections of the trail much sketchier so we took our time. There are several stream crossings in the dozen or so valleys we crossed through that are prone to flash-flooding when it rains so we were also concerned about that. However, it hadn’t rained in several days and this rain was more of a mist than anything else, so we weren’t too worried. We were more concerned with the immediate threat of slipping and falling off the cliff to our deaths.
The Kalalau Trail was pretty muddy on the way out, it made for slow going on the trail, especially the sketchier parts.
This trip was definitely one of the most amazing adventures I’ve ever had. Because this blog post is about fitness I’ll avoid going into many of the other awesome aspects of this trip like the naked hippies who welcomed us, partied with us and fed us with their Kalalau Pizza Deserts. As I’m writing this blog post I’m most certainly in reverse culture-shock but all in all it was a great fitness experiment combining travel on lack of sleep, carrying heavy loads for hours on end, wandering through dozens of valleys and cliff sides, lot’s of logistics, and finally ending up on one of the most beautiful, remote, and untouched beaches in the world. It was a totally unreal trip and I’m sure it’ll take a while to come to terms with being back in Boston.