BY KAREN E. BLACK – This letter is both a thank you and a request.
The greatest act of kindness I’ve ever personally witnessed happened on the Kalalau Trail, Kauai, from a Hawaii State Parks archaeologist.
My two girlfriends and I had just hiked the first 6 miles, the goal we set to mark our 50th birthdays. Our late start, coupled with our strong desire to see the Hanakoa Falls, put us in the inevitable position of walking out past dark. The lure and anticipation of the falls trumped our common sense.
Just as we began our trek back, my friend Angela dropped her borrowed camera, attached to a small bag, containing her license, cash and credit card, down the steep embankment we were uncomfortable even standing on. It had dropped about six feet, but we could see it. Knowing she couldn’t travel back to New York without her ID, and certainly not wanting to lose the pictures she just took of the trail’s breathtaking beauty, she began to panic. After a few failed attempts to reach it with a hiking pole, it had slipped down another four feet. She finally conceded it was too dangerous to keep trying. We marked the spot with an empty water bottle and tied part of a plastic bag to a nearby tree and left.
About ½ mile later, we ran into Alan Carpenter, an archeologist with the Hawaiian Park Services, who was working on the trail with Tracy Leo Tam Sing. We explained the situation, and Mr. Carpenter said he felt confident he could retrieve it, and to meet him at the airport two days later at noon.
Angela met him there, where he told her he went back that same day. He tried, but it quickly became too dangerous to continue. So Mr. Carpenter returned the next day after work accompanied by other kind souls who helped in retrieving it. He adamantly refused her offer of a monetary reward.
While Angela will remain forever grateful for his help, we are all astounded by his and others’ immediate willingness to help, risk their own safety, and go way out of his way twice, to help a complete stranger.
Having hiked difficult trails in several other states, I was very surprised at the lack of signage and zero ranger presence on the Kalalau Trail, compared to other state parks, especially given its many safety hazards and no cell service. We saw one marker at the ½ mile point and that was it. We were confused as to how to get to the Falls, but had we not asked other hikers who told us to follow the pink ribbons tied randomly to branches, we would have easily gotten lost.
While we take full responsibility for the risks we took by hiking later than we should, I can’t help but wonder how the thousands and thousands of tourists fare each year, who most are likely not experienced hikers and don’t fully understand the challenges and possible dangers of this trail until it’s too late. Thankfully, the weather that day was perfect and posed no threat to rushing streams and slippery trails, but how many unknowing hikers learn the hard way, resulting in serious and yet preventable injury?
Later that week, we took a cruise along the Napali Coast where the captain shared how they are often called upon to rescue hikers. The expense of boat and helicopter rescues must be incredibly more costly to taxpayers than prevention measures like clear signage, warnings, education and staffing the trail, even if it’s just one ranger at the trailhead!
I strongly encourage and respectfully request that the beautiful State of Hawaii employ the necessary measures to improve safety for your residents and guests. Thank you.
Karen E. Black is a resident of Bloomfield, NY