Heroics on a Dangerous Kauai Trail

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View of Haena from beginning of Na Pali Coast on Kauai’s North Side

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






  1. I am so glad that everything turned out well for you and your friends. I'm glad you did not try to recover the bag on your own and that the state archeologist was so helpful.

    This area to refer to is a wilderness area and while calling it a state park is technically correct, it is not your normal state park with picnic benches, ball fields, and pavilions, and that is what makes it special. I recently hiked all the way into Kalalau, and I for one, do not want it to become like any other state park. The fact that it is untouched is what makes it so special. When you go there, it is your responsibility to take the proper precautions and understand what you are getting into. You should have a map, compass, and/or gps to navigate to and from this area. This area has not potable water, and you either need to carry water in or have a water filter or UV pen with you.

    You request that the state "employ the necessary measures to improve safety for your residents and guests." How far should the state go to do this? Should they put up railings so that people can't fall off the trail, because they have and will? Should they add a lifeguard at Hanakapia since this is one of the deadliest beaches in the world? What about adding bridges to the rivers that flow into the ocean as many people have been swept away to their death? The trail is very hazardous, particularly when wet, maybe they could pave it?

    The state is not responsible for irresponsibility or ignorance. What makes this place so special is that it is, for the most part, untouched. Let's leave it that way !

    • Aloha Bill__Are you the Bill that sells coconuts? Need to get a hold of you. Tropic Isle Music 245-8700__mahalo sandy_

  2. It's good to know you can still find people willing to help just out of the kindness of their hearts, even if they have to go out of their way.

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