Thursday, March 12, 2009

Flying on foot at Awa’awapuhi

As you head up Waimea Canyon, overlooks on the right side of the road reveal a deep gorge worthy of the American Southwest. To the left of the road—amazingly—the Napali (The Cliffs) radiate out from the canyon rim like spokes of a wheel, separated by deep valleys and ending at overlooks nearly 2,000 feet up from the blue Pacific. You have a choice among nine hikes, all 7 to 10 miles roundtrip and all down and back up 1,500 to 2,000 feet.

The most popular is the Awa’awapuhi Trail, which swerves a slippery 3-plus miles through a natural area of native ohia and koa forests (as well as the flower for which the trail is named) before ending abruptly at a railed lookout with a point-blank view down the green escarpments. Here, at home with the goats on a cliff face, we ran into Charlie Cobb-Adams. You may guess by looking at him that this super-guide has been hunting these rugged valleys since his youth. But his Anglo name belies his heritage that dates back to ancient Polynesia, in a bloodline that includes both the earliest Marquesans as well as the Tahitians that followed. His grandmother was one of the last people to live in Kalalau Valley. His knowledge of Hawaiian culture and nature is superlative. He does search and rescue for the state and carries ropes and harnesses with him on his adventures.

Charlie isn’t the kind of guide who is going to make happy talk and cut the crusts off your cucumber-and-sprout sandwiches. But when adventuring into the wilds of the sometimes-treacherous high country of Kauai, you can be damn sure he’s going to bring you back out no matter what. To take a trip with Charlie, contact Native Hawaiian Conservation & Hiking Expeditions at, 808-652-0478.