Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hawaii Honeymoon Part V

For the final segment of Cool Places I Visited While You Spent the Month of October Working, I'll be talking about hikes. I'm always been a fan of hiking (of the "go up a mountain with a water bottle and then go home and eat dinner" variety, and not the "BOIL YOUR WATER AND CHECK FOR SCORPIONS IN YOUR UNDERPANTS variety, or even the "Dulles Toll Road Fare" variety), and Kauai is eminently hikable with surprisingly diverse scenery for an island only 18 miles across.

Kuilau Ridge: After our 2008 trip to Europe, on which I was forced to hobble around London like a hunchback, we played it safe with our first hike. We traveled inland from our condo to the Kuilau Ridge Trail, a constantly elevating but easy three-mile hike into the jungle. Thankful for bug spray and munching on cheap sandwiches made from cheaper Safeway bread, we made it to the summit to find the view completely blocked by clouds. These clouds pursued us back down the mountain in the form of a monsoon, completely soaking us through our protective rain gear and vividly illustrating the reason behind every guidebook's admonition to "bring old shoes".

Pihea Trail: Our second hike started with a fifty minute drive up the side of Waimea Canyon, until we were 4000 feet above sea level and accompanied by no one but chickens. The terrain of this hike was a series of mud and lava-rock scrambles like the picture on the right, and looked fake enough to resemble some Hawaiian's take on some sort of Adventure World theme park. After peaking at another foggy summit, the trail descended into the Alaka'i Swamp, a chilly, squishy locale despite the presence of wooden boardwalks over every OTHER mudhole. It started to rain towards the midpoint, so we ended up hiking just four miles before returning to the lower elevations and sunny beaches.

Kalalau Trail: This trail is eleven miles long, and actually requires a permit since it involves camping, but we took the day-tripper approach of hiking four miles in and four miles back out (just in time to devour prime rib at the Hukilau Lounge that night). The weather was much warmer on this coast, but since the trail followed the serpentine coast, each plunge into the humid jungle was rewarded with a coastal lookout point complete with free sea breezes.

The second half of the hike was characterized by giant bamboo stands, fallen guavas that exploded satisfyingly when you landed on them, and very poorly-marked trails over stream crossings. We bonded in solidarity with two other couples traveling in the same direction -- coincidentally, one couple, Mark and Natalie, were from my hometown of Alexandria and had gotten married the weekend after us. (In another "small world" happenstance, the pair we took our helicopter tour with had gone to UVa).

Nounou Mountain Trail: By this point, we were hiking pros and tackled this short three-mile hike with ease. I tried hiking both in sandals and barefoot (which was much more comfortable and less prickly than I would have expected). At the top, after a few near-deaths on the narrow spine of the mountain summit, we got a panoramic view of the island and climbed into what must have been The Sleeping Giant's nostril.

The thing I really liked about hiking in Kauai was the lack of hazards other than mosquitoes. You never had to worry about stumbling into a spider web or brushing past a stand of poison ivy, and this made it easy to plunge blindly into the jungle the way we did on our last hike to the Secret Lava Pools. The hike itself was brief, less than half a mile, but it crossed a small stream where the clouds of mosquitoes were so thick, they looked like gnat swarms. The pools themselves were worth this adventure, but the presence of several other hikers at the location made us realize that there was a path with a much lower wilderness quotient. It involved walking along a beach and hopping on a rock or two, then climbing a ladder bolted into the side of the cliff face.

All in all, we probably hiked and walked over 24 miles of trails and beaches in Kauai, and on the final day, I tossed my sneakers into the trash. I hate mildew.

The End

The blizzard seen from space
Bacon Cups
Man dressed as animal killed during animal hunt

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