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Warning to all of us in hiker tragedy

Kauai, Hawaii
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Warning to all of us in hiker tragedy
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December 22, 2006 article from San Diego Union newspaper reinforces the fact all that fascinates us in paradise can also lead us to dangers we know so little of.

"WAILUA, Hawaii – A local family is grieving after Encinitas resident Elizabeth Ann Brem and her cousin fell about 300 feet to their deaths while hiking Tuesday on an unmarked trail on Kauai.

Kauai police identified the women as Brem, 35, and Paula Gonzalez Ramirez, 29, from Colombia. The women were vacationing in Hawaii and were heading to Opaekaa Falls.

Monte Brem said from his home yesterday that his wife was “just starting her life.” He said the couple – with their sons Aidan, 5, and Ryan, 1 – were beginning work on her ocean-view “dream house.” She also had recently been appointed to the California Coastal Conservancy.

She was a partner in the Orange County office of the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where the couple met. She joined the firm in 1996 after earning a law degree from Yale Law School.

“Liz was trying with all her energy and heart to lead a balanced life between being an incredibly successful professional and a very focused and dedicated mom,” her husband said. “It wasn't easy, but she was working as hard as anybody could to achieve that.”

He said he planned to meet her Tuesday but was notified of her death shortly after arriving on the island. He said he returned to Encinitas yesterday. The family hopes to hold a funeral next week after Christmas. Her parents also live in Encinitas.

Officials were investigating why the women fell but they don't suspect foul play.

There is no state trail from the lookout over Opaekaa Falls to either the top or the bottom of the scenic waterfall. Officials posted warning signs at the viewing area after previous accidents there.

But many attempt the trek anyway, some relying on guidebooks with sections on secret hikes off the beaten track.

It was unclear where the women fell from, but there is a small clearing at the top of the falls where hikers can stand and look down to the pool nearly 300 feet below.

According to Kauai fire officials, the two women fell hundreds of feet down to the base, about 35 feet from the pool.

“It's dangerous down there,” said Kauai police Officer Kekoa Ledesma. “A lot of people come from the cities and aren't used to this outdoor lifestyle. Even experienced hikers, they don't understand the dangers” of hiking in Hawaii."

South Dakota
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1. Re: Warning to all of us in hiker tragedy
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Oh, that is such a sad story . . . how I ache for that family. What else can you say other than to keep getting the word out.

Kauai / Los Angeles
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"She was a partner in the Orange County office of the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where the couple met. She joined the firm in 1996 after earning a law degree from Yale Law School"

Oops - I'd say Kauai County hasn't heard the last of this.......

Kauai, Hawaii
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3. Re: Warning to all of us in hiker tragedy
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kwils...don't know where I read it but wild pig trails can be mistaken for maintained hiking trails and lead folks into harms' way at times.

South Pole
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Yes, it's VERY sad, all the more so because Brem left young children behind.

But lawyer or no, why would the County (or State, if I remember right this is state land) be responsible for people hiking on a non-trail, ignoring warning signs not to do it?

The state and county do what they can to tell people there is no safe trail. It's guidebooks, travel articles, blog entries and other trip reports that encourage people to do this hike -- none of which can be held accountable ... and the State can't control this kind of unwanted promotion of a dangerous hike.

Even when people have fatalities, people who have been there will just turn around and say it's a fabulous hike and well worth the trouble, and people will continue to go and some will get hurt.

It's very odd that they both fell; I wonder if the ground gave way, or maybe one reached to catch the other. How awful for them to fall such a long way.

Kauai, Hawaii
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KamainaK...It is not clear how anyone could know for sure, but one article alluded to one woman attemptingo to hold onto the other who was slipping in mud.

South Pole
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"wild pig trails can be mistaken for maintained hiking trails"

well, only by people who don't realize that all maintained trails are signed and have clear signs of human maintenance.

Interesting you said that though, as this person who wrote a glowing review of the hike called it a "pig trail" (no mistake that it was a real trail). She then quotes a brochure they had, which says, in part:

"There is a trail to the top of the waterfall but take care as it is a long drop if you fall. "

and goes on to write " HA - but we did MORE than that we hiked to the BOTTOM of the waterfall!! When you first get to the 'starting point' of the hike, you can look WAY down and see the bottom - it seems a LONG way down! So we set off on this 'pig trail' that took us down (not that steeply) to a river (to the left hand side and before the waterfall) that we then had to cross (lots of boulders and a tree across it so not hard) then you find that you are on the 'plateau' at the TOP of the waterfall (and right side, looking at it from the lookout point.) For a brief moment we thought that that was the end of it that we couldn't get down to the bottom, but we persevered and went up and away from the falls and found the trail (steep and rope assisted!) down to the bottom. I think Nils was shocked at my "mountain goat" abilities!! See we don't 'hike' together that much (Florida is pretty much FLAT!) so he had no idea!! "

http://bertelsonfamily.com/fam/photos/kauai/ab_kauai.html

Best places of Hawaii has a page on this hike too. http://www.bestplaceshawaii.com/tips/hidden_places/opaekaa_falls.html

They do warn it is dangerous and considered "extreme" -- but why feature it at all? Their May 2006 newsletter said:

"Find your way to the special places in Hawaii that other visitors may miss. This month we are focusing on Opaekaa Falls Hike, Kauai . A hidden hike at the famous Opaekaa Falls"

This "trail" is in the Ultimate Kaua'i guidebook listed under "adventures" -- and the tourist below talks about following it in her TA GoList:

"Beautiful falls - they say it is not accessible, but we found our way to the bottom! It was quite a hike, but there was a rope to help you at certain points. The directions to do so were in the Ultimate Guide to Kauai - the directions aren't perfect though...you have to kinda look around and find your own way. Quite an adventure but it pays off when you get to take a swim in the falls and get a breakthtaking up-close view."

It really upsets me that these women probably read some glowing review and/or a guidebook that set them off in pursuit of the lovely view & waterfall pool, which resulted in their deaths. How do you judge, when reading some of these reviews, that you shouldn't do the hike if you rate yourself as being in good shape and proficient in hiking?

South Pole
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thanks bjbert, that must be speculation, as you point out, how could they know, because no one saw them fall; the accident was only known by someone finding their bodies. Sounds like a reasonable guess though, as all the warnings mention not to hike it when it's muddy.

Kauai, Hawaii
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KamaainaK...there I spelled it right!

I agree with all you state. I spin to the notion that enticed by the hype we read sitting at our desks or in our workplace, we excitedly overestimate our strength, balance and surefootedness and, perhaps, the skills of our adventure partners. As well, we can underestimate weather conditions, requirements for equipment and/or essential footwear. With scarce prior experience, it is easy to underestimate our surroundings. We cannot "just do it" or be "Survivors." Incidents these past two weeks in Northern California and Oregon and now these three tragedies on Kauai, point to avoidable tragedies.

Kauai, Hawaii
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9. Re: Warning to all of us in hiker tragedy
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ULTIMATE KAUAI GUIDE BOOK ( Page 189-5th edition )

OPAEKA'S FALLS HIKE ( quote )

" First things first. This is NOT a maintained trail. It is pure wilderness on state land. The state isn't encouraging you to go, and they don't mainatian anything here. It's simply a pig trail that's steep and slippery in spots. "

"If you go, you are practically trail blazing. So if things don't work out, blame the pigs, not the state."

"The trail leads down to the stream below, but there are several dicey parts that allow you an opportunity to take a bad tumble if you are not careful. We'd AVOID this path if it is muddy."

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

VISITORS: Years ago, we read this same qoute, in earlier editiions concring the (Opaeka'a falls hike,) which was listed in the index of the UKG."

Just looking at the nearly full page photo ( Pg 189), of the power of Opaeka'a, roaring down from 300', was enough to void any thought what so ever of climbing down near those falls.

We have stopped at the viewing area, stayed behind the rail, and enjoyed the beautiful falls in total safety.

We hike all over this island, and have had nearly 13 years of experience, and we do use the UKG, as a reference, and then we investigate from there. Up in Kokee we always stop at the museum and check with the very knowledgeable lady as to the conditions of the trail that we intend to use.

We also pay attention to the weather, and know that most every trail on this island,can be muddy, if it is within a day or two of substantial rains. Some trails are muddy all the time, to some extent.

We now have hiking boots, and that really does help. We are also in good physcial conditon, and agile, even tho we aint kids no more !

We also totally stay out of posted areas. Violating these warning signs can lead to disaster.

We go on the premise, that we are responsible for what we do....not the guide books, or the state. We have seen areas where ledges have eroded, and if it would give way, it would be a bad situation. But, we pay attention to those things, and take appropriate measures to avoid problems. And if things do not look good, and safe, we turn around. If the ocean is angry, or strong currents, and rips running, we dont go in. Pretty simple.

It is now WINTER. North shore swells are running, and beaches are posted, and radio warnings are reported continually on KONG.

Plus, warnings by life guards, newspaper, locals, and TV. And yet recently, visitors head to Polihale, and to Lumahai, (called Luma"die" by the locals ). One visitor from alabama, and one from illinois , recently lost their lives. Tragic, and Terrible.

I think we are now at 12 or 13 ocean drownings, and 3 at water falls. The kipu kai death, was from a person jumping from the top falls into the water. A few months back, We looked at that, and decided that swinging from the rope, and going into the water was fine, but leaping off that cliff......nope, not for us.

Point being, is that, we need to get info to the visitor to take responsibility to follow WARNING SIGNS, and learn to look at what they are doing. And use some common sense.

This next month, I will be attending a special day long meeting, with the life guard association, the tourist bureau, the mayor, and other

water and ocean safety personnel. It is to get all of us together,and brainstorm to find solutions to the problems and to find out ways to lower the visitor injuries and deaths.

They already have many things in place, but, one problem is you cannot teach common sense. But, I am sure that new programs will be initiated, and I will I pass on what was put in front of the authorities.

We care about you, and want you to have a wonderful and fulfilling visit. Our hiking trials are in beautiful places, our beaches offer new experiences in snorkeling, but please check things out first. in fact, learn about the island before you even come over.

As they say on KONG, every day, IF IN DOUBT, DONT GO OUT !

Denny

Kauai, Hawaii
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10. Re: Warning to all of us in hiker tragedy
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Hi Denny...are informational signs about ocean safety still posted on the baggage claim wall at the airport for new arrivals to read while waiting at the carousel...or was that a different airport?

P.S. Please say Lihue BBQ Inn is not closed...maybe just for the holidays if at all?