I just returned from my first trip to Hawaii. During our time, we wanted to add some adventure and decided to backpack the scenic Kalalau Trail. Little did we know what type of adventure we would be getting ourselves into. I will be sharing another post once all my pictures and video have been edited, but I did want to share most hikers were evacuated December 24th due to impassible rivers. We were two of them.
First and foremost, I do want to thank the Kauai Fire Department for taking us back to the trailhead on the helicopter. Most of the news sources I have been reading report that hikers ignored warnings. The trail was not closed until Monday, the day after we started our hike. Most of the hikers we interacted with had started the trail at least a day or more before the trail was closed to hikers. We only met one that ignored the warning, who did not get rescued.
Andy and I checked multiple weather reports for the time we would be on the trail and even called a local tour company to inquire. Three out of four of the forecasts called for scattered showers. Since we have never been to Hawaii and are not familiar with its weather patterns, we wanted to do our due diligence and try to find locals to see if we should continue with our plans. However, it was hard to find the local resources to help with our decision. We were prepared for rain and are used to hiking in less than perfect conditions. NOAA was the only weather forecast that had reported a high volume of rain. If we canceled outdoor trips and excursions based on a chance of rain, we would never go on any hikes.
After posting a photo of the helicopter that helped us cross the Hanakapiai River on Instagram, Good Morning America (GMA) contacted me to hear my story.
Don’t underestimate the power of hashtags!
I worked with GMA on Christmas Day and talked to staff on the phone and emailed the team of news reporters. I also found wifi to send videos of the conditions and rescue on the trail.
Email to Good Morning America
We started the Kalalau trail on Sunday, December 21st. After checking the weather from 3 sources, we decided to go forward with our trip since only 1 of 4 reported significant amounts of rain. We started at the trailhead later than we had hoped after flying into Kauai from Maui earlier in the day. We left the trailhead at 1:40 pm and read the trail signs, which were not closed (the trail closed the next morning due to heavy rains). We made it to Hanakoa at mile 6 at roughly 4:30 and decided not to try to make it to Kalalau beach that night. Then the rain started…
Monday we woke up to puddles in our tent. It had rained heavily through the night. Fortunately, there was a shelter on the Kalalau beach side of mile 6 (the toilets were on the other side). Along with the other hikers, we worked hard and started a fire. Andy and I packed up camp and debated whether or not to continue to Kalalau beach or return. We had decided that the beach may not be too pleasant with continuous rain and decided to cross the river to head back towards the trailhead. Andy went down to check the river and found a backpack washed up on a rock. Concerned, he returned to the shelter and shared the news. One of the other campers went with him to see if it was his friend’s pack. He was able to make it across the stream and find his packless friend cold but relatively unharmed on the other side. As it turned out, he was unable to handle the current and had to remove his pack after being swept downstream for 50 yards and getting pinned on the underside of a rock.
We were at our side of camp with 11 people camping for Monday night. A group of two had made it from mile 8, but only after abandoning their shelter and most resources hoping to make it out in a single fast push. With the high river, they were stuck with us. At one point in the night, there were 9 people sharing one picnic table as the floor of the shelter flooded and all the campsites turned into cascading waterfalls. By 2am, the weather eased off and we were able to return to our tent.
Tuesday morning, another camper awoke us telling us the river receded and they were going to make an attempt to cross. We were able to cross and the rain was scattered as we made it to the Hanakapiai river at mile 2. This river was impassible even at 9:30 am. We continued to monitor the conditions as the rain fell. We found another shelter without a picnic table. It was better than nothing and hiding in our tents. We met a guy on the beach that made it across the Hanakapiai river earlier in the morning, but had to retreat at the mile 6 river that we crossed earlier in the day. He crossed at the beach, so we knew it was possible. However, due to the swells the tide remained high throughout the day, not allowing us an easy beach crossing. As it became clear that we would need to spend another night, we started to focus on conserving our resources and drying our shelters. Our tent was wet, but we still had dry sleeping bags. Throughout the night, it continued to rain.
Wednesday morning we woke up before sunrise hoping the tide was low enough for a beach crossing. We waited there until 9ish. The guy that crossed the day before found the best window out of 2 hours and cross on the beach. He got carried and pushed into the rocks at the end of the river before stumbling to the trail. I was not willing to risk the crossing afterwards, but wanted to continue to watch the tide to see if we would get a chance. Andy and I started to flag down the helicopters that were flying around knowing the other couple without resources and shelter would have a rough day if we did not finish the last 2 miles to the trailhead.
All of us were exhausted of the rain and missed flights, family meetups, and ironically a helicopter tour. I believe we were some of the first “rescued” that day even if we could have survived a couple more nights. I am thankful for new friends met on the trail. They made it more enjoyable with collaboration on food, resources, and company. I doubt most of those rescued endured real injury, but I do know that all those we met except the one at mile 2 had left before the trailhead was closed on Monday.
The Interview for GMA
Our trip ended late Christmas night. We arrived home early in the morning, took a nap, and I went into work for a few hours. After work, I headed down to a local news station for the interview. I was extremely nervous being a spokesperson for the story since 60 others were also helped by the fire rescue team and did not know what to expect. The crew was extremely comforting and put me at ease.
I was interviewed over the phone by ABC’s Aditi Roy. It was a little awkward being interviewed over the phone and not talking to a person directly. I answered her questions and told our story. I was prepared for the hard questions, but none were asked. Since I lived through the experience, it was easy to share.
Check out the entire news story on Good Morning America.