The “Grand Canyon” of the Pacific: Climber Meets Kauai
I recently returned from my first trip to Kauai, which also happened to be my first non-climbing vacation ever as an adult. For those of you who have not been, it’s breathtaking. The landscape is straight out of Jurassic Park, literally, and the topography provides for some of the best hiking I have ever experienced. I broke my ankle this past fall and the hiking on Kauai more than made up for the break I had to take over the winter.
Waimea Canyon is home to my favorite hike I did on the island. It lives up it’s name as the “Grand Canyon” of the Pacific. The hike weaves around huge canyons with near vertical walls. Coming from the mountains of Yosemite, I am not used to the lush plant life that grows on the sides of the steep walls. But just like the Valley, waterfalls jettisoned out from the walls, making for some of the most spectacular views I’ve seen.
Being a professional rock climber, I do fairly well with heights given a few guidelines. First, I need to have a harness on and be tied in. I know this seems obvious when climbing on El Cap, but I also need to be tied in when I am near large drop offs (i.e., near the side of a cliff). I prefer solid ground, such as granite. I don’t prefer dirt, especially crumbly dirt, which made this particular hike very challenging for me. All of the exposed parts were on ridges or look outs that I feared might spontaneously crumble below me. Who the heck would walk out onto something that looked like dried cookie dough? It didn’t help that there were signs along the trail that exacerbated my fears. Regardless, I looked like a pansy. I would come within ten feet of the edge and would start to get overly nervous. I felt like one of those moms that gets really anxious when their kid comes within twenty feet of a bridge and makes them back away. After the first five miles, I became a bit more trusting of the crumbly red dirt below my feet. Eventually, at the last vista point I was able to walk out onto a small exposed ridge without completely losing it.
I get the sense that most of the visitors in Kauai are looking for a relaxing beach vacation, leaving this spectacular trail empty. I definitely did some beach time, but I was so motivated to explore the bright teal ocean and tropical hiking trails on Kauai. Friends in the past have always mentioned that I would love Kauai because it has so many activities and things to explore. Naively, I wrote it off because of it’s lack of climbing, but now it’s definitely on my list of “must return” locations.
With a week of no climbing and no mountain air, I’m psyched to head back to the unseasonably warm winter of Yosemite. And, I’m pretty happy that I still have the faint tan I picked up on the beach.
Climber Beth Rodden made the first ascent of what is likely Yosemite’s single hardest traditional pitch: Meltdown, a 70-foot 5.14 crack at Upper Cascade Falls. Beth lives near Yosemite and loves to bake in between climbs and travels.