Although we walk almost daily, we only hike about once a month, and I have not enjoyed a strenuous hike since before the pandemic restrictions were invoked. Throughout the previous six years on Kauai, I have only hiked one trail along the Waimea Canyon Road, and that was over two-and-a-half years ago. So a few weeks ago I started researching the trails on the official website Na Ala Hele Trail and Access, the official website for state maintained trails, to verify which trails were open and to find one suitable for an afternoon hike.
Many of the trails are over four miles each way, and some of the shorter trails include an elevation gain of more than one half mile. Awa‘awapuhi (ginger valley) Trail appeared to fit the bill at 3.1 miles each way with an elevation change of 1,180 feet. Our experience however proved that looks may be cruelly deceiving.
Even so the trailhead is approximately 1,200 feet above the end of the trail, and our hike begins with a gentle half-mile ascent to the highest point at 4,160 feet above sea level. From the summit, a gradual descent leads to a little plateau featuring a plank crossing over the intermittent head of Awa‘awapuhi Stream, and yet another plank crossing lies beyond the next hill. The ocean itself only made a brief appearance through the trees just beyond the 0.5 Mile marker, and then was not seen again for a further mile.
Somewhat steeper and bigger S-curves commence from near trailhead level, approximately 3,600 feet above sea level, marking the beginning of the long descent which is only interrupted by a few narrow ridges that connect the lower peaks of the trail. At one point YaYu remarked, “Mom could probably hike this,” and I recall thinking that this trail wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, in fact, I started running as our turnaround time neared, and only slowed down when we reached the switchbacks.
Toward the end of the trail there’s a great sweeping loop through the dryland vegetation (most of the upper trail is conspicuously wetland) and then we saw the safety railing at the end of the trail—less than two hours from the start and right at our turnaround time. At trail’s end there are two vistas, both guarded by railings, and one of them bears a 3.25 MI marker. We could both see and hear the ocean from here, and it was then I realized that I had not taken a single drink since we started. I quickly opened the first bottle of water and wet my dry, salted lips, and took several photos while we rested and chatted about all that we had seen and not seen.
We only saw two other hikers who reached trail’s end ahead of us, and checking the elevation at trail’s end, 2,560 feet above sea level, before trekking back to the trailhead reaffirmed the warning from the description on website.
“DANGER: Do not venture beyond the safety railing at the end of the trail! Footing is extremely unstable, and the drop to the valley floor below is [well] over 2,000 feet.”
Thus, the actual elevation change then is 1,600 feet rather than 1,180 feet (which was derived from the difference between the starting and ending elevations; not peak to end). Granted, that’s only a 420 foot difference, but that is quite significant when translating that from a horizontal line of text to vertical distance. Also significant is the fact that the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) placed a mileage marker at trail’s end indicating that the true roundtrip hike would be 6.5 rather than 6.2 miles. Also, the return is uphill almost the entire way, which tends to slow down one’s pace.
This was a great hike overall, and YaYu and I made such good time on the hike out and down to the vistas that we were astonished when our best efforts on the return to the trailhead took over three hours (5 hours roundtrip), and we missed our self-imposed deadline by more than an hour—
Laura: Will you be back in time for our walk?
Me: Sure, it′s ‘only’ six miles!
Although it happened slightly later than usual, Laura and I did get in our daily walk. That made it over 10 miles for me that day, and over 21,000 steps. It was a very good day!