OHE May 10, 1999 (Sacred Falls Tragedy)

Date: Sun, 9 May 1999 22:41:50 -1000
From: Karen Cinnamon (karenc@lava.net>
Subject: Sacred Falls Tragedy

My father and his girlfriend are in town on vacation, so we decided to take a trip up to Sacred Falls. They'd never been, and I knew it was a "wuss" hike we could all enjoy. It was a pleasant stroll to the falls on a beautiful, sunny day. Brian, my 11 year old skipped along ahead, climbing into low hanging branches and jumping down to the trail at our feet. Upon reaching the extinct fall, just before the main attraction, I joked with my dad that I was sorry to disappoint him but someone must have forgotten to pay the water bill. We ate lunch on the rocks while watching the falls and the swimmers. Brian poked at grouchy crawdads in the puddles and gaily rock-hopped around the valley floor while my dad snapped pictures.

Funny how I feel about all that at this moment. What for us was a pleasant family stroll on Saturday was a nightmare of death and mayhem for others on Sunday. Yesterday we gaped in awe at the beautiful vertical canyon walls. Today those walls came tumbling down.  No, people, there are no "wuss" hikes, just fortunate hikers.

To the families of those who died at Sacred Falls today, I send my deepest sympathy. To the injured and possible missing I pray for your speedy and complete recovery.

To my friends on the OHE, please join me in praying for all who were at Sacred Falls today and for their families.  May we never take for granted our safe returns.


Reply From: Dayle K. Turner (turner@hawaii.edu>

The trail clearing crew of the HTMC was working in Koloa Gulch today, not far from Sacred Falls, where today's tragedy took place. Am sorry to hear about the loss of life and injuries there. Rescue crews were doing their work when I drove by the Sacred Falls lot on my way home after 5 p.m.

On a related note, near the terminus of the trail up Koloa Gulch is the remnant of a huge landslide that rained down from upslope. I never give much thought to the possibility of something like that happening when I'm hiking in places like Koloa, Kaipapau, or Sacred Falls, but now I will. I'm still picturing the pools where we swam today. If a landslide hit during those interludes, I'm doubtful if we'd all been able to avoid a tragedy.

Last year at the Kaipapau trail maintenance outing, a rockslide hit while we were hiking out. Fortunately, it wasn't large and no one was in its direct path. Makes me wonder how often slides occur.

Bill Gorst once told me that gulch/stream hikes are more hazardous than ridge hikes. After getting banged up at Koloa today and hearing about the SF catastrophe, I'm inclined to agree.

Like Karen suggested, let's pray for those involved in the tragedy at Sacred Falls.


Reply from: Greg Kingsley (gkingsle@hawaii.edu>

I'm sure I can speak for all of us HTM trail clearers by extending our deepest sympathies and highest hopes for the families of those lost and the survivors of the landslide at Sacred Falls.

We were clearing Koloa Gulch - only five minutes north of Sacred Falls. On the ridge back, I remember hearing multiple ambulance sirens whizzing by. We figured it was some traffic accident down toward Kaneohe. After seeing HFD and additional ambulances go by an hour after, we assumed it was big. Kris pointed out that some of the ambulances were coming as far away as from Waialua. It wasn't until late that a phone call by Carmen made us realize it was this tragedy to fellow hikers just down the road.

It really broke my heart to learn that as we were having so much fun between similar vertical cliffs, six others (maybe more) had died with almost 30 (one report said "50") injured.

Tonight's news reports did not indicate a help fund.

A sobering reminder to us all...

Safe hiking, everyone...


Reply from: Kukailucy@aol.com

ditto here in San Jose, I was working the graveyard and heard it on national radio, right after kosovo and the louisiana bus crash. They said "30 miles north of Honolulu" and I knew it was Sacred Falls, only place that would have so many people at once. Unsuccessful later on at trying to find more detailed news on the internet (I don't have a TV), I called my brother, a cop, whose beat is Hauula. Sure enough, he was called there immediately and worked the next 14 hours straight, right at the site. He had a lot of heartbreaking stories to tell (a lot of witnesses related details to him), and awful visuals to contend with: the haole woman who told him she recognized the sound as similar to an avalanche, yelled to the others and pushed her son into the wall, then watched as others stood there and were hit. There was a body impaled by trees. There was a little girl who chatted with rescue workers as she was being airlifted only to suddenly die later on. The father and son who saw their mother's head taken off by a boulder. The boy whose hand he held while a laceration on his back was being stitched, screaming for his parents (they were both missing). The bodies he says would be a challenge to identify, you couldn't even tell if they were male or female. The two unclaimed cars in the parking lot and the sad task of tracing the owners. He said the wounds were horrific of the people walking out, lot of compound fractures.

I have thought, too, about the awful irony of the "wuss" hike. I'm glad everyone on this listserv is safe. Before hearing it was Sacred Falls, I had a wrenching feeling that some of you were going to be on that casualty list.

Take care, everyone.


From: Carmen C.

Every time I pass Sacred Falls, I pause with the thought of hiking in for the very reason Dayle stated. After 22 years in Hawaii, I've never hiked it. It's sobering to realize that we were laughing splashing while this was going on and as Nathan said, we wouldn't have stood a chance. I've also been thinking over and over about the landslide remains we spent time climbing over and the sheer cliff that resulted. One good thing was that some people knew what to do in such an emergency. Possibility for the future: emergency training (CPR, etc...), safety handbook and training. These were just some thoughts I had during the very long night. Keep safe everyone.

Carmen :-)

Reply from: R. Jackson (ranjack@u.washington.edu>

Or how about Kamapua'a....pig god, half man half pig? I don't think you would want to run into this guy. According to my mom's account, he formed that whole windward area in creating a safe haven for his family and village from Chief Olopana, his windward enemy. He did it by transforming himself into his pig form that swelled up to a huge size. As he backed into the Sacred Falls valley he scraped his back bristles into the mountains, making the valley and the falls. His people then climbed up his body to the top and settled down on the plains above (obviously well before Castle got there!). If that's not spooky enough, she also said something about the Mo'o (a female?) who lives in the pool below. I haven't been back there since I was a kid...


Reply From: Oka Grant A (OkaGA@phnsy.navy.mil>

aloha to all,

what a shock to hear of the loss of life and injuries at sacred falls.

we all hike for personal reasons that are known mostly only to ourselves. the risks involved in hiking hawaiian trails are numerous. i suspect that the risks we face while hiking are not as great as the risks involved in other pastimes (including sitting on the couch watching tv).

nature is wild, beautiful, inspiring, and awesome. i feel intimately connected to something greater than i whenever i experience nature. like somehow nature and i are both offspring of the same parent. nature, however is unfeeling, random, and totally without prejudice. nature is oblivious to how each individual feels or what each individual experiences. it is beyond the realm of nature to know the difference between someone communing with a higher spirit or someone bleeding and dying on the trail.

my thoughts and prayers go out to all those people who were at sacred falls yesterday and their families.

Happy Trails,


Reply From: Greg Kingsley (gkingsle@hawaii.edu>

I agree, Grant.

IMHO, I've always believed that we do not belong *IN* nature... but, rather, *TO* nature. Disregard what she wants, disobey her rules, and she will eventually get-cha. The repercussions come, whether it be slowly, as through environmental pollution, or quickly, as just being in the wrong place at the wrong time (e.g. Sacred Falls): she's a force to be admired and respected.

I love nature because of how "bottom-line" she is... She doesn't care what you think or what you're trying, nor what your intentions were or what you were planning to do. She only cares about your actions. If she decides to flash-flood a valley you're in or crumble the rocks you're climbing, it's up to you the hiker, not mother-nature, to do something about it.

But as "fortune favors the bold", nature yields her greatest appeals to those willing to sacrifice their creature comforts (languid desires, safety, even in the form of money by those who hire a helicopter charter to fly into areas accessible only to hikers). In the process of seeking nature, we learn and better ourselves.

... but nature, as an entity, doesn't care about what we learn or how good we become - she's been around long before us, and will be around long after.

That's just my opinion. Bottom line is, I, as I'm sure many, love her, no matter how dangerous or ruthless she may become, but it truly is unfortunate when we lose some of our own to her.


Reply From: Mahealani Cypher (malama@lava.net>

It was so incredibly eerie to watch the news last night and absorb the incredible disaster at Sacred Falls.

My two young mo'opuna and I hiked Lulumahu Valley yesterday afternoon with Jan Becket, a cultural photographer. Lulumahu, in Nuuanu, is also a very narrow valley nestled in the Koolau's behind the cat-fishing reservoir. We spoke at length during the hike of the magnificent large pohaku that sit alongside the trail. There is a huge "trail guardian" pohaku past which the trail winds, and we taught the youngsters to show respect for the pohaku and also "not to throw stones".

In fact, pohaku was the last thing Jan and I discussed before we left the valley at the end of the hike.

How shocking to later watch the news and see the devastation that large pohaku can bring to so many people! I guess it's important for us to realize that these large boulders we see in our valley hikes all came from "somewhere UP there".

Definitely, respect for the danger is needed -- just as surfers learn to respect those large and powerful waves in the ocean.

Auwe no ho'i...

-- Mahealani

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