OHE June 3, 1997 (part 2)

List member Mike Tuggle sent me the following about eight months ago. It's a beautifully written piece about a loop hike I had the good fortune to complete recently with some of the HTMC gang.

Again, pardon the flood of email. Still testing the system. Thought you might enjoy Mike's post much more than a mundane "This is a test" message that I could have sent.

--Dayle


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 26 Sep 1996 02:33:09 -1000
From: MIKE TUGGLE 
To: turner@hawaii.edu
Subject: Trail Stuff
I sure enjoy all your trail notes. FYI, here's one of mine.

Awa`awapuhi-Nualolo: Walking the Edge

One of Hawaii's less-discovered treasures has to be the 12 mile loop in Kauai's Kokee State Park. This circuit consists of the Awa`awapuhi, Nualolo Cliff and Nualolo Trails, plus about two miles of Highway 550 to complete the loop. For whatever reason, the trail, apart from the Awa`awapuhi section, is not well publicized. Rick Carroll, in his Great Outdoor Adventures of Hawaii, put me on to it.

Awa`awapuhi and Nualolo Trails descend from the road some 3 to 3-1/2 miles along parallel ridges to spectacular overlooks of Kauai's north coast. The Nualolo Cliff Trail connects these, near their lower ends.

Because the walk takes most of a day, I made a 5 AM departure from my B&B in Kapaa to get through Lihue before traffic time and arrive early at Kokee. Many folks start out at the Awa`awapuhi trailhead, just beyond the 17-mile marker. I opted to park at the Kokee Museum lot, near the Nualolo trailhead, and walk the two miles to Awa`awaphui to get my "roadwork" out of the way first. (There is a fine parking area at Awa`awapuhi trailhead, but I didn't relish the idea of the two miles at the end of the day.)

The ever present junglefowl (moa) greeted me on my dawn arrival at Kokee. It was still fairly dark because of the low cloud cover, but good weather was called for today. As I passed the YMCA camp a few young souls were stirring, starting a fire and hanging out sleeping gear. The road up to Awa`awapuhi was all mine. Not a soul at the trailhead. Into the forest and down the hill I went.

Awa`awapuhi is more like a parkway than a trail: gentle grade, cleared wide enough to drive a vehicle down, and almost overly manicured. Was this Kokee or Kahala ? Numbered guide signs identify various flora along the way. Occasionally one might encounter a remnant of Iniki's havoc, such as an uprooted koa or ohia, now cut up and cleared out of the way. Must have been quite a blow. About 7:30 I stopped for a little breakfast - yogurt, some of my hosts' fine baked pastries and my staple drink, POG. Halfway down, and making very good time.

By 8 o'clock, or a little after, I reached the Awa`awapuhi Lookout. Stunning. There lies your classic Na Pali vision - except someone reversed the picture. Absolute quietness, except for the wind. Up high, the barren lava-rock cliffs, dry, and at a distance seemingly devoid of life. Down through the valleys, the distant shore, breakers - but not a sound from them - the occasional sailboat, and the infinite, blue Pacific. In the valleys, green, looking like it was poured down the sides and settled in the bottoms. From up here, the texture looks velvety soft, mottled by the pale green of kukui stands. But we know better - the terrain down there is every bit as rough.

Nualolo Cliff Trail is much less "civilized" than Awa`awapuhi - and much more my idea of what a trail should be. In traversing from Awa`awapuhi to Nualolo, the Cliff Trail winds in and out of the sharply fluted face of Kauai's northwest coast, following (more or less) the contour. Often you can look across a bottomless gorge to see that your path has, somehow, gotten across to the opposite side. You wonder how you will. The trail gently descends back along the Awa`awapuhi Ridge into the deep cleft cut by Nualolo stream. There's a bird's nest, at eye level, alongside the trail, now empty. What a life. The gently descending path nears the level of the not-so-gently ascending streambed, takes a sharp dip and scrambles across large boulders and thick brush to cross the now dry stream - then up along the contour of the opposite wall. Blackberries. Only a few of them; the finest I've ever tasted. Sobering to realize they've become a real scourge.

As the Cliff Trail climbs up and out of Nualolo Stream gorge and wraps around the steep, near-vertical ridge, there's not much between the right edge and eternity, except, maybe, a quick prayer. The drop-offs around these parts are on the order of 2000 feet - not sheer drops, but that's how far down you'd be after you stopped bouncing. Here and there, the trail dips in and out of damp stream bed copses - in just a matter of feet you go from arid terrain to quite lush, and back again. I stopped for a late morning granola bar and water break at a picnic area. White tailed tropicbirds sailing the drafts down in Nualolo. The view is heaven on earth; the temptation is to stay here forever.

For all the 2000-foot drops, the most dangerous part in the 12 miles was the approach to Nualolo Lookout. Here, the path is a faint trace through loose, side-sloping scree toward a mere 30-foot drop. One slip and you'd never be able to stop yourself. Gave me the willies, but maybe I'm too cautious.

A second eye-opener came backtracking from the Nualolo Overlook: scanning along the Cliff Trail I'd come over I saw how close the path came to the hairy, undercut edge - and I never realized it until now. Just as well.

The only person encountered on entire walk was a Park staffer at Nualolo, measuring trail distances, running out a long spool of sewing thread, which I encountered some time before I did him.

Nualolo gets very steep just above the Cliff Trail junction - down on all fours for this one. Lunch part way up Nualolo - more pastries and a passion fruit provided by my hosts - my first, but I still prefer guavas - especially from the wild. Ascending Nualolo, path becomes deeply cut by erosion, chest deep in places. Vegetation picks up noticeably near the moisture-blessed top: huge vine-clogged thickets interspersed by pleasant grassy areas. Cocks crowing are a good sign Kokee is near. One last steep stretch, and suddenly the trail pops out onto 550. A few steps up the road to the car, off with the shoes and over to the store for some well-deserved liquid refreshment and a few moments to think it all over. Funny thing, I haven't stopped.

-RMT-


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