Saturday, March 14, 2009

Kalalau Trail Backpacking Trip

Kalalau Beach.
Sunday, December 28: We got up early in Honolulu, drove to airport, and easily caught the 7:38am flight to Lihue, Kauai. We checked our two backpacks with all our food, but no water or fuel (when you check backpacks, ask to have them placed in large plastic bags). I carried on my camera and our two RidgeRest sleeping pads rolled together, Amy carried on a small book-bag with a clean change of clothes and some toiletries for each of us to stash at our hotel. We landed in Kauai around 8:15am and picked up our checked bags. It turns out the Lihue - Hanalei bus doesn't run on Sundays, so after failing to bum a ride at the airport we walked out to the Kapule Hwy (51) and hitched a ride to Kapa'a after about a 15 minute wait. We ended up hitch-hiking for the rest of our transportation on Kauai, and 15 minutes ended up being the longest we ever waited --- a big thanks to all the friendly locals and visitors who helped us on our way. We got another ride to Hanalei, where we picked up a fuel canister (the larger 8oz size, unfortunately) and dropped off our clean clothes at the Hanalei Inn. Another couple of rides got us to the trailhead, and we started hiking around 12:30pm.
Amy on the (muddy) trail, day one.
We took our time, stopping at the beach at Hanakapiai and some of the other great viewpoints along the way; we arrived at Hanakoa camping area just as it was getting dark (around 6pm).

Monday, December 29: We had a leisurely morning, broke camp, and then hiked up to Hanakoa falls, an easy trip from the campground, then proceeded to Kalalau. Again we took our time, arriving at the beach a little before 5pm. After ditching our packs and walking around a bit to get a feel for the place, we picked a great little camp site under a tree a bit closer to the beach than the rest. There was just enough room to pitch the tent, and a little rock path down to the beach, with some larger rocks perfect for setting up a kitchen. At least, perfect until the sun goes down and the cockroaches come out ... but I can't really complain.

Tuesday, December 30: Yet another leisurely morning, this time on the beach. Around 11:30 we got motivated and started a hike up the Kalalau Valley trail. When we returned to the beach in the late afternoon, we could see a big squall farther down the coast slowly rolling our way.
By a beautiful small waterfall in the Kalalau valley.
We managed to get water from the waterfall at the end of the beach and have dinner with only a few raindrops falling, but once we were in the tent it rained most of the night, quite hard at times.

Wednesday, December 31: My watch alarm went off at 6am, as we wanted to get an early start on the long hike out so we could enjoy ourselves and still have time to relax in Hanalei. Since it was still sprinkling, we packed up and had breakfast in tent. There was some light by 7am. We finished breaking camp and (rather accidentally) took a detour through some of the higher campsites (including "Honeymoon Suite") above the beach, hiking in earnest by 8:30am. Heavy rains caught up with us 2 or 3 miles from the trailhead at Haena, which turned out to be more refreshing and fun than anything else (though some of the surprised day-hikers we passed didn't seem to think so). The rivers were up slightly from the previous night's storm, but still very manageable. We reached the trailhead around 3:45pm.
On the way to the airport, Jan. 1

What worked:

  • Cook system: pocket rocket stove, 1.3L titanium pot, 2 ziplock 3-cup round bowls: quick, light, and easy.
  • Our REI Quarterdome tent survived it's first real test in a hard rain. When we took it down we found a puddle under the floor, but we stayed dry inside.
  • I used my old Asics running shoes with medium-weight socks and short gaiters, which worked well. A better sole would have been nice in the mud, but the shoes were adequate, they drained quickly and so hiked fine even after getting totally submerged.
  • Convertible pants: The trail is overgrown at places, especially beyond the first two miles. If your skin is sensitive to brush rubbing against it, you may want long pants, but if it's hot and humid you may want shorts --- convertibles let you decide (and change your mind) while on the trail.
  • Camera gear: A polarizing filter is very handy for cutting the glare off plants and the water, it's amazing how much richer the greens come out when using one. My Slik Sprint Pro travel tripod also worked well ... it's not nearly as sturdy as a heavier rig, so I sometimes use it with the self-timer, but having good camera support opens up a lot of options.
  • There is risk of leptospirosis in the fresh-water sources on the Kalalau trail. Filtering alone is not enough, as the tiny bacteria will pass easily through filters with a pore size of more than 0.2 micron (which happens to be the filter size on our SweetWater filter). []. We filtered and then added a sodium hypochlroite solution (and/or boiled), but I haven't been able to find an authoritative reference that recommends this (though MSR did confirm it should be sufficient over email, and we didn't get sick). If going again I'd probably leave the filter and just use iodine tablets.

Things to reconsider for next time:

  • Sleep system: We each brought a light silk sleeping bag liner, a RidgeRest 3/4 length pad, and we shared one synthetic sleeping bag as a comforter. This worked okay, but we could have gone lighter and been more comfortable with different gear. RidgeRest pads are cheap, light, and durable, but they just aren't very comfortable. I can sleep on my back on one reasonably soundly, but there isn't enough padding on my hip when I sleep on my side, so I tossed and turned a lot. We did need some extra warmth beyond the sleeping bag liners, but the sleeping bag was overkill. The surf is also surprisingly loud if you're camping near the ocean, and while you can get used to it, some might want earplugs.
  • The trail can be hot, humid, sticky, and muddy --- some babywipes for the face would have been a nice luxury, though there is also fresh water to wash in.


I recommend going directly to the Picasa album and using the full-screen slideshow.
Kalalau Trail Backpacking

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I spent most of the morning ordering a new camera and accessories, but given the unusually good weather, it would have been wrong not to actually take some pictures as well. So, I took "the small camera" (a Ricoh GX100) for a walk this afternoon, with the intention of just playing around with the manual-focus macro mode and different aperture settings. But the last few days of good weather appear to have tricked a few flowers into coming out, and I got some interesting shots. Unfortunately my Gorillapod broke yesterday, it would have been perfect for the kind of shooting I was doing. Most of the shots used a 2 second or 10 second self-timer, with camera support improvised with a bag of kidney beans in a ziplock bag (or just setting the camera on the ground). Depending on the support, 2 seconds may not be long enough for vibrations to damp out, and so a 10 second delay seems to give better results (assuming the light doesn't change). 

The Ricoh is great for this kind of work, because it's small enough you can position in the scene without disrupting things.   Unfortunately, such camera placements often make it pretty hard to evaluate the composition. It would be awesome to have a direct feed from the camera's sensor to a laptop or other nice detached screen, especially with support for 100% zooming in to support manual focus. A focus-bracketing mode would also be great. Hopefully someday you'll be able to buy cameras that are open for software development (like Android phones)---it would open up some really interesting possibilities for digital photography.
Picasa Album:
Around the Block