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Solo Expedition Up Kauai's Kalalau Trail
Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state in 1959. Technically, its territories consist of 137 islands, a number that includes all atolls, islets, and reefs. The eight largest stretches of land constitute the main islands, some of which you've probably heard of: Maui, Oahu, and of course, "The Big Island" of Hawaii. Of these main islands, Kauai is the oldest, having risen from the Pacific Ocean nearly 6 million years ago.
A pair of prominent geologic features shapes Kauai, one of the wettest places on Earth. In the middle of the island, Waimea Canyon, "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific," comprises enormous waterfalls and hundreds of steep ridgelines. In this episode of Motion, Greg explores the other best-known visage, the Napali Coast, formed from a 4,000-foot rise of ancient lava.
The only way to traverse on foot through the Napali Coast State Park and its lush Kalalau Valley is scaling the Kalau Trail. As experienced hiker, Greg knows that pacing and hydration are keys to a successful climb.
After only an hour of roaming the jungle, Greg arrives at his first creek crossing, Hanakapiai Beach. Between the boulders, rip tides, and strong surf, Greg must be especially cautious. Not everyone has survived to see the other side of this dangerous mountain curve.
Greg regrets that he is in such a hurry -- he'd like to linger amidst this paradise of rare, rugged beauty. But he's on a mission to get as high above the ocean as he can in the shortest amount of time.
Thankfully, not all of the Kalau Trail is as daunting as what Greg initially encounters. Several creek drainages have carved deep valleys along the coast, taking him inland and away from rocky crags. His only complaints now are the abundant bugs and increasesd heat.
Two hours later, Greg reaches the trail's halfway point, the beginning of the Hanakoa Valley. Campgrounds are located here. Anyone wanting to go farther, like Greg, requires a permit, which runs $20 per person, per night. A maximum stay is five nights.
As Greg climbs higher, he realizes that he is one of few backpackers to travel this far, which makes fruit is easier to find. During some stretches, dense, fast-growing jungle almost swallows the trail, which becomes exceedingly thin.
Now accustomed to the encroaching forest and its awe-inspiring ocean lookouts, the terrain begins to change. Greg approaches both vast clearings and near-vertical drops to the Pacific. He is extra mindful of the hikers below; fallen rocks could spell disaster. This steep section is regarded as the most menacing part of the Kalau Trail.
"If you just keep your head on right and keep your feet where they're supposed to go, you should be alright," Greg says.
Although he's in an area with generally a muggy climate, Greg is able to continue because of that day's dry February conditions. A rainstorm would prevent him from moving forward.
Since Greg is serving as his own cameraman, he almost feels as if he has to walk the trail twice to setup and retrieve his equipment. Needless to say, his body aches.
Following two more miles of climbing, Greg can finally see his destination: the Kalalau Region of the Napali Coast. Kalalau Beach is one of the most perfect places Greg has seen; a white, mile-long stretch of "the best piece of sand I've ever sat on." This will be his home for the next two days.
The campground sits on a slight rise in a large expanse of trees. There is limited space, but still enough room to build a tent. Greg soon meets his amiable neighbors.
Bobby and Tommy are identical twins from Mobile, Alabama, here for their fifth time. They invite Greg and some fellow campers to hike up the Kalalau Valley the next morning.
Temperatures are in the 70s and a slight breeze carries from the ocean as Greg starts this phase of his journey with a group of strangers. Luckily, the brothers know the land well -- the valley is a nearly two-miles deep, half-mile wide labyrinth of unmarked paths.
The hikers pick guava, passion fruit, and breadfruit. Greg is famished from his Pop-Tart breakfast. Then, everyone reverts to his or her inner child, splashing around a basin Bobby and Tommy have nicknamed the "Fountain of Youth."
Greg is dazzled by the next natural wonder, a 100-foot waterfall in the heart of Kalalau Valley. Seeking some alone time to contemplate his surroundings, Greg navigates back to camp. He arrives at sunset, and has the whole beach to himself.
"It feels very special to be on a beach that people can't just buy their way onto," Greg says. "Everyone that visits Kalalau pays the same price in sweat. And I can tell you, it's worth every drop."
- Segment 1
- Greg Hikes to First Creek Crossing at Hanakapiai Beach
- Greg Aiello, who is on a solo 11-mile climb up Kauai's Kalalau Trail, reaches his first benchmark: Hanakapiai Beach. So far, it has been a grueling hike, but he's certain that the views promised at the end of the trail will leave him feeling rejuvenated.
- Watch Segment
- Segment 2
- Greg Reaches Hawaii's Kalalau Beach
- Greg Aiello is about halfway into his solo journey on Kauai's Kalalau Trail. Now the rocky jungle landscape eases up, food is more plentiful, and paradise in on the horizon.
- Watch Segment