Wednesday was a busy day on Kauai with three separate air rescues that picked up hikers in distress. Luckily everyone was safe. However, we’ve seen articles indicating the cost estimate for air rescues can range between $10k and $47k. This brought to mind Hawaii hiking safety and our best tips from decades of experience.
Kauai Fire Dept. spokesperson Michael Gibson said, “Air rescue missions serve as a reminder of the risks that these situations can place upon our residents, visitors, and first responders. When planning outdoor activities such as hiking and camping, please let others know of your intended destination and return time, remain on marked trails, and stay alert of changes in weather conditions.”
The first incident was related to two hikers in distress on the Kalalau trail early in the morning.
A rescue helicopter was dispatched to Kalalau Beach and found the hikers, one of whom had sustained a back injury. They were dropped at the Princevile Airport, where ground units took over. However, after they received an evaluation by paramedics, the county said that the hikers refused medical treatment.
The next incident occurred in the Alakai Swamp areas of Kokee State Park.
In that case, trail maintenance crews notified rescuers of a potential knee injury. A helicopter was dispatched for a short-haul flight, secured the hiker, and flew him to a landing zone in Kokee. From there, paramedics provided help on the scene and reported that they “Later released the hiker who sought medical care via private vehicle.”
Then in the last incident of the day, first responders reacted to a hiker at Kalalau Beach who had a possible head injury.
A helicopter was dispatched, “And found a hiker with possible injuries after being struck by a wave and landing on her head on the sand. First responders applied a c-collar on the hiker, secured her on Air 1, and flew her to Princeville Airport. Responding medics with American Medical Response provided advanced life support and continued efforts on the hiker while in transport to Wilcox Hospital.”
Hawaii hiking safety tips from Beat of Hawaii.
We love to hike. But sometimes, we, too, have had issues. For example, Rob recently looked up while on a trail and tripped on a tree root; Jeff once was looking down instead of forward and ran headfirst into a tree limb that crossed the trail; both of us have experienced unexpected rain and forgot to pack jackets; we once aborted an unplanned hike at Queens Bath because we had the wrong footwear. Things happen but safety first and follow these tips, which include more blunders that we have experienced.
1. Hike in pairs if possible or use trails that are frequently traveled. For example, we have gotten lost in the thick vegetation at Kokee state park ourselves and can speak to how disorienting it can be even in an area with which we are very familiar. Once, we made a wrong turn and then could not right the issue for some time. The same has happened on the Sleeping Giant trail many years ago that had us close to rock climbing.
2. Plan to be back well before dark. In Hawaii, the time between sunset and darkness is shorter than in some other places. We once hiked the strenuous Awaawapuhi Trail at Kokee late in the day and were the last hikers out before dark. That might not have been smart because we would have spent the night on the trail if something happened.
3. Swim only where it is safe. We’ve mentioned before that Jeff saw a visitor drown at Hanakapiai Beach once. That beach, with many hidden rocks in the water and often big waves, is rarely safe.
4. Avoid dehydration. Pack adequate water. It can be very warm in Hawaii and even with cooling tradewinds, dehydration is a real problem when hiking.
5. Stay nourished. Pack enough snacks ad energy bars. You sometimes will be on the trail longer than expected.
6. Proper shoes are important. We’ve seen hikers in slippers on the steep Diamond Head trail. Once you get off cleared trails, you may need to climb narrow ridges or rocks. This may come as a disappointment, but your Crocs will not make the cut.
7. Be prepared for rain. Here in Hawaii, the rain came come seemingly out of nowhere. So for us, we say if we have a rain jacket it won’t rain, but when we don’t pack one, it inevitably rains more than expected.
8. Sunscreen needed. You already know how harsh the sun in Hawaii can be. Sun exposure adds to fatigue. A year ago last fall, we were hiking the tallest dunes in the world in Africa and realized we had no sunscreen and not able to turn back.
9. Pack light but adequately.
10. Watch for loose rocks and slippery tree roots. The ground can be unstable even when it doesn’t appear that way. Rob recently slipped on a wet tree root. Mind your footing. Be aware.
11. Caution at dangerous river crossings. Flash flooding is a real problem in Hawaii and can occur when it seems most unlikely.
12. Stay on the trail. Going off-trail damages the area and leads to erosion too. We’ve been off-trail, mostly by accident, and we don’t recommend it.
13. Avoid cliffs. We’ve seen hikers who have slipped on graveled steep slopes. When there are railings, please don’t go beyond them for photos. Be aware that cliffs can have crumbly surfaces and are highly unpredictable.
14. Lastly, don’t keep valuables in your car. You will likely be parking in a remote area. Avoid trouble.