Ka’au Crater Waterfall Hike
It’s been a minute since we went on an adventure, and I think we got a little rusty. We made a few mistakes yesterday. We didn’t know how long the hike would be. We packed enough food and water, but we didn’t bring our headlamps and we started at 1pm. We did plenty of research, but we trusted others’ estimations of this trail. When they said it would be a “short hike”, we forgot that we have three kids. Everything takes us twice as long. (Okay, I blame it on the kids, but really I’m just slow.)
We have a list of “beginner” hikes (compiled by a generous Facebook acquaintance), and we’re ready to just start checking them off. With the marathon & its training behind us, we have time to get out there and do things again! (Blog post to come on that.) But it feels like we have to prepare much more than a single twenty-something out hitting the forest with a friend. We have to figure out if our kids can handle the distance and the terrain. We have to be certain we pack enough food and water. And we have to have a good time estimate so we get there early enough. It’s a fun game figuring these things out, but when we make a mistake, it makes the hike a little stressful.
Let’s get back to Ka’au Crater. Our list suggested that a beginner could handle the hike to the first waterfall. The trail itself extends much farther past two more waterfalls, up around the crater’s rim, and then back down a ridge trail where you meet back up with the stream and head on out. When we searched online and saw the pictures of the trail along the rim, we became pretty sure that it wasn’t kid-friendly. Our kids are beasts, and they have been able to handle everything we’ve thrown at them. But this? No. So we decided to take the kids to the first waterfall. If we enjoyed the hike, we’d go back alone and try for the whole thing.
We originally planned to get up super early and drive to the trailhead, but that’s not really our style. We decided that going later would be totally fine because we wouldn’t be hiking under the direct sun. But somehow, we didn’t factor in the length of the hike. Because, as we stated above, we didn’t quite know the length. Dumb. So dumb.
We made our way windward and drove to the back of Palalo Valley. We parked with the other vehicles and covered ourselves with bug spray. James had suggested we wear long pants as a precaution as well, and it ended up being a great idea.
There was no easing into this trail. We immediately encountered mud and stacked gigantic rocks that were both a good precursor to the rest of the hike.
Then we had to climb over this downed tree. We had some pretty insane storms this past weekend, so it could have been from that. Or maybe it’s been there for years. I have no idea. After the downed tree and a few more rocks, things got a little easier. Then we came to the stream. We generally try to explain things to the kids early on because it gives them a set of realistic expectations. “You will get muddy.” “There will be water.” “The hike is gonna take most of the day.” I really think it helps. In this case, we told them it’d be a short hike and it wasn’t, but we did adequately prepare them for the mud and the water.
They each got a walking pole for Christmas. James and I ended up using them during the second half of the hike, but I think they were a good purchase. This kid is a stream-crossing professional. I’m still working on my scenery photography, but this was a really gorgeous trail.
There were quite a few stream crossings, but I think we all had a lot of fun with the process. We need to remember to give ourselves more time though so we can stop and enjoy the journey. It doesn’t have to be go, go, go. The key to this trail (and most others) is to follow the ribbons. When you think you know better than the ribbons, you’re likely wrong. It’ll just make you have to backtrack and the ribbon will then snicker at you as you go by. After following the stream for a bit, it was time to greet this pipe. If you hike this trail, you’ll be hanging with it for the next long while. It’s a trusty companion.
It was at this point that we passed some fellow hikers who had done the entire trail. They assured us that we were close to the first waterfall already. We mistakenly believed them. It turns out that the word “close” is subjective. Deeper into the forest.
Still following the pipe.
Crossing the stream again. He insisted I take his picture inside of this “structure”. Structure. Tree roots. Same thing. Another stream crossing. I don’t know what’s happening here exactly, but it’s safe to assume that Audra is bossing the boys around. And if you look at her feet, she’d given up on avoiding the mud and water.
We finally stopped for a snack because it felt like the trail was dragging on and on. We were probably already two hours into the hike at this point, and we thought that’s about how long the entire thing would take. Oops.
As we starting climbing, we came upon this pretty awesome clearing. Most handsome 8 year old in the world. Along with following the pipe, we also had to cross over it a few times. I need you to take a look at James’s feet. This picture is incredibly deceptive, but I’d like you to get an accurate depiction of this trail. Just to the right of that tree root, it starts going downhill fast. This is how narrow the trail was for a good portion (2/3?) of the hike. Now, you’d probably hit enough trees on the way down that it would keep you from tumbling to your death. But it would hurt a whole heckuva lot. And our kids are tiny people with tiny bones. And that means I was on high alert the whole time. It’s exhausting. Thankfully, they like being in the land of the living, so they’re pretty careful. Aidan looks like an old man with a cane in this shot. But no, he was just holding onto that pipe for dear life because it was super steep and scary. Pretty little (muddy) lady. At 3:30, we started to wonder if we should turn around. Sunset is at roughly 6pm, and we weren’t sure how early it’d get dark on the trail. Aidan & Audra were on board with throwing in the towel, but Austin’s always up for more adventuring. And as nervous as I was about hiking in the dark, my stubborn self really wanted to make it to that waterfall. It was just getting frustrating because we had no idea how much longer we had on the trail.
James and I kept discussing it as we walked, and he suggested he run ahead and see if he could find it. Austin’s nearly as fast, so they went together and left us slow-pokes behind. After another twenty-ish minutes, Audra wanted me to call James to find out the status. Except he’d taken my phone with him. Another oops. But thankfully, he ended up turning back around so he found us. He said the waterfall was just four minutes ahead. Except with all five of us, it took ten minutes. (That’s a good gauge of how our hikes go. Slow.)
When we got there, I was so very happy we kept going. It had taken us over three hours, so it was after 4pm. But it was so pretty. If we weren’t in a rush, we would have climbed down another rope so we could be at the base and get much better pictures. But we were worried about the sunset, so we did what we could.
Well this picture reminds me that I a) need to sharpen my photos less and b) use some better moisturizer. Normally I’d try for a family shot, but this section was sketchy and just having the kids this close to the edge made me a nervous wreck. (James was RIGHT there next to them.) Some quick Googling last night reminded me that a young woman fell to her death just a year ago in this very spot doing exactly this – capturing a photo. It’s a somber reminder that Hawai’i may be paradise, but bad things can happen quickly. We climbed back up the short rope and headed back. If we’d wanted to continue on, we would have climbed up another rope so we could get to the second waterfall. But we’ll leave that adventure for another day.
There were only a few ropes on this trail, but they were helpful for the small but steep sections like this one we encountered on the way back. I just read online about a rope breaking on another local hike, so of course that scares me. But we didn’t have any trouble on this trail. We just checked them each time before we made our descents.
This shot gives you a good depiction of the narrow path. And then these quick drop-offs. We were trying to move faster so we could get out before dark, but there’s no going fast here.
Oh I adore this shot. It was after we’d gotten down to the stream again and we’d said goodbye to the pipe. The sun was still gracing us with its presence and we met up again with two guys who we’d seen at the waterfall. They’d gone the wrong way and had to backtrack. At this point, we realized we were going to make it out before it got completely dark, so we were able to enjoy the rest of the trail. We were feeling so confident that we even took a minute to get a posed photo.
In the end, it took us about 3:10 to get to the waterfall, and just about 1:40 to get back out. I was pretty shocked that we made such good time, but I didn’t stop to take a hundred pictures. And we stopped trying to avoid the mud and water altogether. Audra’s feet were pruney and dirty at the end.
We also learned that our Fitbits are amazingly helpful when we aren’t sure how accurate our GPS apps are. My app said the entire hike was about 5 miles, and I’m still not sure if that’s correct. But Audra’s Fitbit Zip (the kids all got one for Christmas) said she’d done 6000 steps when we made it to the waterfall. So as we were heading back, she kept checking it. When it said 9000 steps and we’d made such good time, we were skeptical. But it ended up pretty much perfect, so we’ll remember that for next time. It’s obviously not helpful for a loop, but for this kind, yes.
I am looking forward to leaving the kids with a sitter and checking out the whole trail next time. And we’re all glad we accomplished the hike to the waterfall. But would I recommend this hike for other families? I’m not sure. Our youngest is 8 but he’s the most agile and adventurous of the three. He’s certainly more agile than me. But anything younger than him? I don’t think it’s a good idea. If your kids aren’t able to focus on the path and recognize the dangerous sections, I’d say leave them at home. But it’s a beautiful adventure, and I will happily suggest it to any able-bodied adult.