Last month my wife and I hiked the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. The Na Pali Coast is a seventeen-mile road-less expanse along Kauai’s North Shore. It is an area filled with dramatic cliff faces, pristine beaches, and incredible beauty. Most people experience the Na Pali Coast by boat or helicopter, but the most adventurous experience it up close and personal by hiking the Kalalau Trail.
The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile trail that provides the only land access to the rugged Na Pali Coast. The trail traverses five lush valleys and crosses above towering sea cliffs before ending at Kalalau Beach where it is blocked by sheer, fluted cliffs. Backpacker magazine has included the Kalalau Trail in its list of the ten most dangerous hikes in America. The magazine article states that the footing is treacherous after the island's abundant rainfall turns the track into a greasy slip and slide–not amusing when you're edging along a 300-foot cliff that spills straight into a rocky surf. But despite such dangers, tons of visitors continue to make the 11-mile (one way) pilgrimage to Kalalau, one of the world's most beautiful beaches. Kathy Valier, a Kauai resident who has written guidebooks on hiking the island, writes "the trail bed is narrow and crumbly, and I've talked with many people who have either fallen off the trail or seen it happen."
The day before we hiked the trail, we saw the Na Pali Coast by helicopter. The tour was incredible and gave us dramatic and up-close views of the emerald-hued cliffs with razor-sharp ridges that tower above the Pacific Ocean, revealing beautiful beaches and waterfalls that cascade to the lush valley floor. As amazing as the helicopter tour was, we were only able to spend a few minutes near the Na Pali Coast. I wanted to see more and made plans to hike the Kalalau Trail.
To be able to hike beyond the two-mile point on the trail, you have to purchase a permit from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. The number of permits issued is very limited and must be purchased well ahead of time. Not that it mattered, because I was not prepared for a 22-mile backpacking trip. I didn’t have the time, equipment, or the physical stamina. But I dreamed of hiking the trail. I knew that was an impossible dream, so I set my sights a bit lower. I wanted to hike the trail to the first vantage point where I could get a good view of the Na Pali Coast.
We set out to accomplish our goal of walking a mile on the Kalalau Trail. That seemed like an easy goal. But the trail was steep, rocky, muddy and slick. The other hikers that we met on the trail were all much younger than us. We took our time and carefully made our way up the trail. There were places with steep drop-offs beside the trail. We hugged the rocky wall to the inside and continued to make our way upward. From trailhead to the first vantage point, the trail gains almost 800 feet in elevation. It is a strenuous hike. As we made our way upward, the hikers that we met coming back down encouraged us and told us how amazingly beautiful the view was.
It took us about an hour to carefully climb our way up to that first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast. We were not disappointed. There is no way to describe the view. Even though I had read descriptions of the scenery and seen photographs that were taken from that very spot, seeing it with my own eyes surpassed everything I had imagined. We stayed there for about fifteen minutes, taking photos and visiting with other hikers. That moment was a highlight of my vacation.
Since we have returned home, I have been obsessed with the Kalalau Trail. I have been reading anything I can find about it, and have watched scores of YouTube videos that people have made of their hike. The views from the hike are some of the most beautiful in the world, and there is no way to see them other than making the 22-mile hike. It is still a dream of mine to hike the Kalalau Trail, but I realize that it is all but impossible for me.
As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have something to look forward to that is even more exciting than the Kalalau Trail. God has made many promises in the Bible, and each one has been or will be fulfilled. But the return of Jesus is one of the greatest promises of all. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NKJV) gives us this promise, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Gentle Reader, I realize that my obsession with the idea of hiking the Kalalau Trail should pale in comparison to my eagerness for the return of Jesus. I wonder how I can spend so much time looking forward to earthly joys such as the beauty of the Na Pali Coast and spend so little time thinking about and anticipating the second coming of Jesus. “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” Philippians 3:20 (NLT) Are you eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus?