Friday, February 26, 2016

How not to die while hiking on vacation in Hawaii

Yesterday, rescue workers searched from morning into the dark of night to find a young father from Chicago who was swept into huge waves from the notorious Queen's Bath off the north shore of Kauai in Princeville. The group entered the area in spite of numerous warning signs and epic waves--up to 40 feet. The wife was crumpled  in despair on the bluff above the tidal shelf all day, looking out at the violent ocean in vain.

Virutally every accident fatality in Hawaii can be avoided. Deaths are heartbreaking for visitors and locals alike. Rescue workers, as well as locals, make heroic efforts to save people almost everyday. Last week, bystanders jumped into shallow waters off Pearl Harbor on Oahu to free a young boy from a helicopter that was forced to make a hard landing. (Please see our blog from February 15 on ocean safety.)

Walking on land in Hawaii can be equally as dangerous as entering the ocean. On the other hand, you are perfectly safe if you take precautions:

1. Watch out for drop offs. Many ridge and coastal trails skirt sheer cliffs. Greenery along the trail disguise the hazard. Stay well back and watch the kids.

2. Stay on the trail. This maxim is to protect hikers, not the environment. The flora is way too lush and deep to cross. In places, the flora also hides earth cracks underneath that formed during volcanic activity long ago. If there is no trail, you can't walk there. If you lose the trail, retreat to a known spot. Forget about trying to go cross-country with GPS. Watch your feet and follow the trail.

3. Bring retractable hiking poles. Many trails are very steep, narrow, and slick after rains. Trails are not built on traverses like Mainland trails, but rather are there because the topography dictates the only possible route.

4. Don't cross a fast stream. Flash floods in Hawaii have been known to cross roads and sweep away cars that attempt to cross. If you get caught on the wrong side of a stream, wait it out. The water will subside. If in a stream valley, be mindfull that fast-moving water may rise and you will have to seek high ground. During rains, staying off the trail is the best bet.

5. Don't rock climb. Even technical climbers with skill will face undue risk trying to scale rocks and cliffs in Hawaii. The ground is unstable.

6. Equip your pack. Bring a rain shell, plenty of water, headlamp, and food.

Trailblazer guides for the island have detailed chapeters on how to stay safe in Hawaii. Specific precautions are given for the locale of each hike and beach. You don't need to be overly fearful of the great outdoors here—but learning how to read the risks is a must for all visitors.