When I was a kid, my dad took me camping to Yosemite almost every summer. I’m sure he only took me on easy hikes when I was younger, but when I got to be a teenager, he wanted to take me on a hike from Tuolomne Meadows up to Vogelsang, which is quite a hike, even for a 17-year-old.
I believe we only got about a mile and a half up the trail before I began to complain and stop so often that my dad got frustrated and took me back down to camp before hiking the whole thing his own damn self. I was never an athletic kid, and I know that was a disappointment to my rugged, former park ranger dad.
Even though I never grew up to be a gung-ho hiker like him, my father did instill in me an appreciation for the great outdoors, and I’m always up for an easy day hike now and again.
Ray has often resisted my attempts to walk around in the woods back home, which is why I was surprised that he agreed to a little adventuring out here in Kauai.
Yesterday (Sunday), we decided to take a look at Waimea Canyon, a trip that I thought would be mostly driving, especially since there were some four-wheel-drive only roads up in the mountains, and we had, after all, rented a Jeep. We drove down Miloli’i Ridge Road until our guidebook said it wasn’t a good idea to go any further unless we were sure it would not rain.
Ray bought a tiny wearable video camera for this trip, and he turned it on during this drive. When we get home, I will upload the video to this post so you can see what it was like. It was quite exciting, and even includes flying roosters!
At the very end of Waimea Canyon Drive is the Pu’u o Kila Lookout, which has a stunning view (clouds permitting) of both the Na’Pali Coast to the west and the Alaka’i Swamp to the east. The lookout is also the top of the Pihea Trail which winds down about two miles to the Alaka’i Swamp, but it looked like there were some nicer views a little farther into the trail, so we started down it. Ray quickly took off his flip-flops and walked in his bare feet (he said he could grip the rock more easily).
I didn’t really think we were hiking until we started clambering down some pretty big rocks into a wooded area and most of the tourists had turned back. Neither of us were really prepared for a hike, and the path was muddy, so we turned around too.
However, something about that walk must have awoken a part of Ray that had lain dormant, because the next morning (Monday), he suggested that we hike one of the trails that Cliff had drawn out for us the first night we had arrived.
We had gotten up early, and although we had scheduled a couple’s massage at 2:00, we had plenty of time to get to the top of the trail and back again. Or so we thought.
When I compared Cliff’s hand-drawn map to my guidebook, I saw that he had suggested we go up the east side of Nounou Mountain, a.k.a. the Sleeping Giant (one of two who guard the island of Kauai). Our guidebook suggested that the climb was steep, but the view is worth the trouble.
How bad could it be? we wondered, as we set off on the trail, Ray in his flip-flops and I in my white shirt and beach pants.
How bad? MUDDY. Muddy and steep. When we got to the quarter mile mark, I had almost fallen down a couple times, and I started wondering what my hiking expert dad would do.
Strangely enough, at that moment, an image of my maternal grandfather — not my father at all! — appeared in my head. He used to take me and my cousins hiking in Hawaii and California, and I remember him always looking for a good sturdy branch to use as a hiking stick. I stopped on the trail and looked around into the brush. Off to my right on the forest floor lay a sturdy tree limb, exactly the right width and weight for hiking. There was an extra branch dangling off the top, which I easily broke off. Perhaps Gung-Gung was watching out for me; I’d like to think maybe he was.
My hiking stick served me well, both up and down the mountain. It was muddy the whole way, and there were times that at least a half inch of mud had accumulated on the soles of my shoes. Ray was struggling in his flip-flops, although he refused to admit as much.
Past the half mile mark, the switchback got so steep that the only way to get to the other side was to climb up several large rocks, almost vertically. I was not interested in rock-climbing, and I thought for sure that Ray would turn back because of his flip-flops, but he started scrambling up, assuming I would do the same.
I was petrified. There was one point where I didn’t know if I could go either forward or backward.
Ray watched me patiently.
I took a deep breath, grabbed a rock above me, and pulled myself up. “I wasn’t expecting to use any upper body strength on this walk,” I remarked.
We walked on.
“We should go back down,” I told him. “It’s just going to keep raining, and not only will we not see the view, we’ll be slipping and sliding in mud the whole way.”
“It’s the rainforest,” he replied. “It’ll stop raining in a bit.”
Sure enough, it did stop raining, but not before we had slogged through another half a mile of mud. Luckily, he had finally exchanged his mud-covered flip-flops for some aquashoes with treads (stuffed in my backpack in a fit of foresight), and I finally stopped worrying that he was going to fall out of his shoes and break an ankle.
At the top of the maintained trail, there is a smaller, less traveled trail that leads all the way to the top of the Sleeping Giant’s chin (or is it his nose?). Our guidebook warned that the trail got incredibly treacherous at this point, so I told him I wasn’t interested in going any further.
But there were a few other hikers up there with us, including a father and son who had just come down from the peak and said the view was amazing. Ray got that look in his eyes, and I could tell that if we didn’t at least try, he would be sad.
“All right,” I sighed. “Let’s see how far we get.”
There was more rock-climbing. My heart was in my throat several times on the way up. But the view was, indeed, spectacular. Just like everyone kept saying.
The descent was more treacherous than the ascent; I got stuck a few more times on the rock-climbing portions of the trail, and Ray managed to mildly sprain his wrist while bracing himself during a particularly nasty spill in the mud.
But we did make it down the mountain in one piece, and the best part of it was that we had a fantastic massage waiting for us as soon as we got back to our cabin. Now, THAT’S a vacation.