There have been a lot of bad press surrounding the Hawaii hiking community, as of late. Over the last three days, there have been four reported incidents of hikers in distress and and two of those incidents resulted in death. 70-year-old Paul Yoon fell between 20-50 feet from the scenic lookout at Mariner’s Ridge on Saturday and 23-year-old Elizabeth Tarpey fell roughly 300 feet from the steep and narrow Puu Manamana trail the following day. In another incident, a 33-year-old man and 13-year-old girl experienced minor injuries from an off-the-beaten path waterfall trail in Manoa, known as Waiakeakua. And on Monday, seven hikers had to be rescued from the Kaau Crater trail in Palolo when they were run off the trail by wild pigs. All four of these trails are non-sanctioned hiking trails.
So how can we prevent future incidents and deaths on Hawaii’s beautiful hiking trails? The simple answer is that we cannot. Accidents do happen while hiking. Sometimes, these accidents are beyond our control. However, you can take certain measure that will help you to hike smarter. Here is a list of tips that Marvin and I compiled in light of the recent events.
Tip 1: Bring Essential Gear.
- Proper hiking foot gear (depends on the terrain)
- Backpack to hold your gear
- Water (this depends on the length of the trail, 2-3 liters should be adequate for many half-day hikes)
- Cell Phone
- Essential apps for your iPhone
- GPS (dedicated or app on your iPhone)
- Extra Batteries (flashlight, phone, GPS; Mophie juice pack for your iPhone)
- Rain jacket
- Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Space blankets)
- First aid kit
- Pocket knife
- Mirror (for signaling)
- Water purification tablets or UV pen (in case you run out of water, you can treat stream water)
- Topographical Map
- Trekking poles (can be used to test the ground or as a crutch if your break your leg)
- Food (snacks, lunch)
- Extra food (something to much on, if you need to spend the night)
Tip 2: Never hike alone.
Hiking alone* is one of the worst things that you could do, especially if you are a newbie (though experienced hikers are not immune to accidents). If you were to get into trouble, then what would happen? That cell phone might save you, sure. But what if that cell phone fell out of your bag while you tumbled down and now you are immobile? You would be screwed. Always hike with a partner. You can take extra precautions by hiking with someone that has completed the trail before and knows what to expect. Be sure that this person gives you a breakdown of the hike before you start the trail.
You might also want to consider hiking with an organized group, such as the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club. The HTMC offers hiking excursions every weekend, complete with coordinators that have hiked the trail before, probably many times before.
*There are always exceptions. In fact, we’ve highlighted two such exceptions on this blog in the past. See Chase Norton and Ahnate Lim. Again, remember that experience does not make you immune to accidents. Accidents can happen and they can happen to anyone.
Tip 3: Review the latest trail information before hiking.
Blogs, like Exploration: Hawaii can be a good, up-to-date, resource. When perusing blogs, make sure you take into consideration when the hikers completed the hike and the conditions that they hiked in. What was their fitness level? How long did it take them to complete the hike? What obstacles did they encounter?
We try our best to document our hikes as best as possible. We also provide trail distances and time estimates as best as we can. Check out our hikes page after reading our disclaimer. Also consider picking up Stuart Ball’s book, The Hiker’s Guide to Oahu.
Tip 4: Avoid hiking in bad weather conditions.
If it’s raining, don’t hike. The trails will be slippery and muddy. The clouds will make visibility difficult. And of course, there will be no view when you get to the top. Hiking in the rain, well, it sucks. Don’t do it. Don’t risk it. This past weekend was a particularly wet one. What happened? Four incidents and two deaths. Stay away from the mountains when it’s raining and go watch Man of Steel instead.
Tip 5: Always tell someone where you will be hiking.
Leave your hiking itinerary with someone, anyone. Make sure that they know when you expect to be back home. When you have completed your hike, let them know that you’re done. At the very least, post a photograph of your post meal hike on Instagram so that they know that you are okay. I know that my wife always breathes a sigh of relief when she’s sees my post hiking meals because she knows that I am okay.
Tip 6: Stay on designated sanctioned state trails.
This might be the most difficult tip to follow, mainly because some of the most beautiful hiking trails on the islands are unsanctioned, non-state maintained trails. That said, those who are new to Hawaii’s hiking trails should really consider sticking to the hiking trails maintained by Na Ala Hele. Alternatively, you can take a look at our hikes page. Hikes marked with number 2 are state maintained trails that we have completed.
Tip 7: If your gut tells you to turn around, then turn around.
The other week, I underestimated the amount of water that I needed for a 10-mile hike. We turned around, despite being very near to the end. Why? Because we knew that we didn’t have enough water for the strenuous last leg of the hike. We could have trudged on, and summited, but then what would we drink on the way back? Our gut told us to turn around, and so we did.
Tip 8: Use common sense and pay attention.
Use common sense. Pay attention to your environment. Be aware of every step that you take. Don’t go near the edge just so that you can get that daredevil photo for Facebook. It’s not worth it. Be aware of your energy level. If you are feeling faint then maybe it’s time for a snack. Eat something. Remember, when you summit, you have only completed half of the trail. If you are very tired before summiting, then you may consider turning around early.
Tip 9: Understand your environment.
There are multiple sources of danger on these trails. On both sanctioned and unsanctioned trails, there is a possibility of running into wild pigs. Do not corner them or interact with piglets and you should be out of harm’s way. Accordingly, there are also chances of running into hunters on trails. Generally hikers and hunters get along, but be aware that hunting dogs may not get along with your pet dog. Also, wear bright clothing so you are easy to distinguish from a distance.
There are various obstacles on the physical trails themselves and sometimes there will be ropes to help you. In some cases, the ropes may be weathered and potentially dangerous to rely on. Always test the rope before using and never assume it can support your whole weight. Consider bringing 60-100ft of webbing on all hikes. They are light and can support an elevator when in good condition. Also acknowledge your limits. Do not climb something if you feel uncomfortable about climbing back down, because there may be instances where you will have to turn around unexpectedly.
If you happen to end up doing a gulch hike, take note that crossing streams becomes exceedingly dangerous as rains increase and flash flood conditions appear. Test the water first and reconsider crossing if the water has turned brown. Webbing may also become important on these hikes as they can make stream crossings more manageable. Also consider special footwear, such as spiked tabis and addition of crampons, when encountering slick terrain in these type of hikes. And regardless of whether you are in a flash flood condition or not, there is always the concern of falling debris you will need to be vigilant of. This becomes important towards the end of gulch/waterfall hikes as the area narrows.