Step with Care
March 21, 2013
Safety a key theme for every hiker
HONOLULU -- Hiking is an excellent way to explore Hawaii's vast and varying landscapes.
From strenuous treks deep into a mountainside rainforest, to easy strolls along a coastal paved path, there are trails suited for hikers of every age and ability.
However, natural hazards are part of every environment and can be exceedingly dangerous to the careless or foolhardy.
"We are fortunate in Hawaii that our climate allows year-round enjoyment of the many excellent hiking trails in our forest and parks, and even our shoreline areas," said William Aila Jr., chairperson, Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources.
"Along with that opportunity also comes the responsibility for hikers to educate themselves on how to understand the wilderness and keep themselves safe," he added.
In light of the fatal accident that occurred at the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, here, recently-- where a 27-year-old Soldier with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, fell approximately 30 feet after climbing to an area outside the designated footpath above the lighthouse -- Aila believes now is the perfect time to remind individuals of the importance of hiking safety.
"(The DLNR) provides trail and safety information to the public on our Na Ala Hele website, via our Hiking Safely in Hawaii brochure, and through signage posted along trails to warn the public of hazards to avoid, for their own safety (see "The Beaten Path" for more)," he said. "By following established rules and safety guidelines, the public can continue to enjoy outdoor recreation in our beautiful natural areas."
And while safety can never be guaranteed 100 percent in the great outdoors, every hiker should take some important steps before hitting the trail:
•Inform others of your plans. Let someone know the name and location of the hiking trail you plan to conquer, and when you expect to return. If something should go wrong, rescuers will know where to start searching.
•Hike with a buddy. Never venture out alone. In times of trouble, a partner's helping hand can be invaluable.
•Brush up on the ins and outs of the trail. Learn all you can about the route, starting with location and degree of difficulty.
•Assess your capabilities. Be practical and realistic about your level of physical fitness and abilities. Hawaii features a wide variety of trails, so pick one you can complete comfortably.
•Check weather conditions. Clear, sunny skies can quickly change in a matter of hours, and flash floods are dangerous possibilities in narrow gulches along many popular hiking destinations. Call the National Weather Service at 973-4380 for the latest forecast.
•Wear proper hiking attire. Dress in layers, so you can protect your skin from the intense sun, and bring along a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen for extra protection. Hiking boots provide traction and ankle support. Light raingear also is good to carry in case of a sudden downpour.
•Be prepared. Carry a small pack containing water, snacks, basic first aid materials, a fully charged cell phone and a plastic garbage bag (to use for collecting rubbish or as improvised rain gear).
Once on the trail, always stay on the designated path and pay attention to your surroundings. Be extra cautious when crossing streams and walking on wet, slippery trails or on loose soil or rock.
Also, heed any official informational or directional signage that may be posted to ensure you do not wander onto sacred sites or areas of ecological restoration.
"(Other) hazards include going onto un-maintained 'unofficial trails,' going into closed watershed areas, as well as climbing up or jumping off waterfalls or into stream pools," Aila said. "Don't take risks, and avoid preventable accidents, injuries and, sadly, fatalities."
The State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources operates numerous designated hiking sites throughout the state, including eight on the island of Oahu. They include the following:
•Aiea Loop Trail
•Diamond Head Summit Trail
•Kaena Point Trail
•Kapaeleele Point Trail
•Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail
•Waahila Ridge Trail
The DLNR's Na Ala Hele Trail and Access Program manages additional trails and access roads that are open to the public.
Despite the plethora of paths available, many people ignore safety warnings and hike areas deemed unsafe by authorities. Such restricted sites include the Haiku Stairs trail (also known as the "Stairway to Heaven"), which was shut down in 1987, and the Sacred Falls trail, which was closed in 1999 after a landslide killed eight people and injured approximately 50 others.
Take a Hike
The U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Outdoor Recreation Center offers several hiking opportunities for Soldiers and their families.
Current programs include Adventure Hiking, Adventure Biking/Mountain Biking and Custom Hike adventures for groups of six or more. Programs are open to various ages and skill levels, and include a fee.
For more information, call ODR at 808-655-0143.