Why I don’t hike as much anymore

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There was a time when, just about every weekend, I was lost in the mountains somewhere.

And most often, I’d be alone.

I’d hike everywhere, with friends, with hiking groups, alone. We’d drive to the other side of the island just to get a different summit view. We’d cross private properties, jump fences and made our own trails at times.

I used to climb the tracks at Koko Crater when there was a tree growing in the middle of the bridge. And more often than not, I was the only at the top.

But that all changed.

It seems with this GoPro-Instagram-Facebook culture, hiking has become the “it” thing to do. Everyone wants to post that cool summit photo on her social media platform — and the more dangerous, the better.

I got tired of waiting for people — many of whom weren’t in condition — struggling up the tracks at Koko Head or stopping every few minutes to snap photos at Olomana. I just want to be outside, feel the air in my face, listen to the quiet. I don’t need to hear a 20-minute FaceTime conversation about the latest drama at work.

Don’t get me wrong: I still love to hike. But once I got Sunny about six years ago, I started looking for trails that were dog-friendly — and, of course, that limited me to only a few. At first, it was an adjustment. I liked wandering in forests, clinging to trees, crawling along narrow trails, breathing in that moment you reach the summit. But I realized I wasn’t missing the crowds and sharing that experience with people who don’t seem to get it.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to brave the late-morning crowd — that never existed before — at Koko Head to get in a quick workout. I was horrified to see nearly 100 military personnel with heavy packs, along with the dozens of other people, climbing the stairs. It was slow-going up and even slower going down. One guy sprained his ankle, another woman looked like she had heatstroke, and a few couples completely stopped in the middle of the trail and sat down, blocking the way up.

I’m conflicted. On the one hand, I love that people are getting outdoors and being active. I do. But I wonder about their safety — and the safety of others. I was nearly run down by a guy plugged into earbuds who decided he wanted sprint to the bottom of the tracks regardless of the people still climbing up.

I realize this is a contentious topic — and it’s no wonder Civil Beat is hosting a #CivilCafe on hiking today at Fresh Cafe. (RSVP for the event here.) It’s something we should probably start talking about now before anything really bad happens.

In the meantime, I’m going to walk my dogs to the top of Makapu‘u. And if I wanna wear my sturdy Merrell Moabs for purely nostalgic reasons, I will.

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11 Responses to “Why I don’t hike as much anymore”

  1. Christopher Young June 26, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    Worse yet, seeing ‘hikers’ attempting to hike in heels! I try to beat the crowd by hiking or running really early on the trail.

  2. Kahele June 26, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    I hear ya. I haven’t given up on hiking just yet, but I find myself retreating deeper and deeper into the mountains/valleys to avoid the crowds.

    P.S. I’m going to make them bury me in my Merrell Moabs. :-)

  3. Annoddah Dave June 26, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

    CAT: I wish that some kind of sign is posted on trail heads to let people know that if they get into trouble and have to call rescue personnel to get them out that they will be charged for the manpower and equipment costs. As it is, we local taxpayers are really footing the bill in many cases for their rescue. I do not understand how some people can go hiking without proper equipment and clothing.

  4. M June 26, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

    Hello Cat,

    I haven’t hike in awhile. Too focus on just standup paddling 4-8 miles 2-3 time a week.

  5. Justin June 27, 2014 at 9:35 am #

    Great article. Thank you! Hate to be a trail name police, but I believe you’re talking about Koko Crater (not Koko Head) when mentioning the stairs. It’s the most wrongly identified hike in Hawaii.


    • Catherine Toth June 27, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      LOL, I fixed it. Sometimes my hands type faster than my brain moves!

  6. Cindy June 27, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    I remember hiking Koko Crater for the first time over 10 years ago. I thought we were going to be arrested for trespassing because it wasn’t well know and we accessed it through the old Job Corp site. And absolutely no one was climbing the stairs. When I hiked it just two years ago, there was a line of people coming up and down. Diamond Head is worse. It’s always been crowded, but now, it’s almost link you’re standing/walking in a long line! Hard to reflect and be one with nature when you’re with so many people!

  7. John June 27, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    It’s going to get worse, I assure you.

    I remember back in 2005 doing the Makapu`u Lighthouse trail for sunrise, and there were only 3 other people. This was long before there was a parking lot that had tons of parking. Now, I don’t hike it anymore (unless visiting friends/family just have to do it). The ridiculous number of people on that trail at any time has just ruined it.

    It’s not just trails by the way. I don’t go to China Walls/Spitting Caves anymore (this place is going to be completely ruined by idiots who don’t know how to swim). Paddle out to Mokulua Nui? Kailua/Lanikai Beach? Manawili Falls? Dragon’s Nostrils? Olomana? Sunset Beach? All of these have been taken over by hoards of people!

    You have to remember that the population of O`ahu is DOUBLE what it is listed in any given month. And that tourist half of the population is not completely limiting themselves to Waikiki anymore. Unfortunately, this is where I think the majority of the issues come from. Too many people hike Diamondhead on any given day, so now more tourists do Kokohead. Too many people are doing Kokohead on any given day, so they do Makapu`u. Or Kamehame Ridge (until it was closed). Or Mariner’s Ridge (until it was closed). Or Lanikai (how long till it’s closed?). The list goes on and on….

    And of course there is no regulation or proper information, so that’s why there is so much trail damage, litter, tagging (I believe this to be a local issue), and noise. And why there are so many rescues from injury or lack of physical preparedness (either on land or sea). I’m going to go on a limb and say that the majority of rescues in the state are not for people that live in Hawai`i. It would be interesting to see some statistics on that. Then, at least, the state could determine if they need to assess a financial burden to these people who burden the state (again, I don’t know why they don’t do this already).

    How many times have you read about a rescue on Kokohead? Or Olomana? Or Pu`umanamana? Or Stairway (don’t even get me started)? How about drownings at spots few tourists should be in the water? Sandys? Spitting Caves/China Walls? North Shore during winter? It’s just general ignorance on most peoples part.

    The solace I have is that there are still locations that are not well-known, or that I can jump on a surfboard and paddle out to the middle of the ocean for some quiet time. However, surf spots are suffering the same indignities as trails in Hawai`i. I used to surf in Waikiki at Kaisers, Threes, Pops, Bowls, etc. Never again. More and more, I’m seeing unfamiliar faces with little to no experience in the lineup. And even worse issues than hiking emergencies are the surf injuries occurring because of ignorance and lack of experience in the water. You see this on North Shore too, just not at the same quantities (probably because most tourists have enough sense not to go in to 5+ surf). We’ll see how long that lasts…

    Get used to it though, because it’s the new norm. As long as there is free flowing information on the internet and people coming to Hawai`i for vacation, this is going to continue (by that I mean forever). Unfortunately, it’s only a matter of time before everything good that you love about Hawai`i will be taken away.

  8. Dennis June 30, 2014 at 6:28 am #

    I’m not a hiker but I can understand your concerns. Good blog!

  9. rayboyjr June 30, 2014 at 8:36 am #

    Hey Cat … I agree … crowds should be for concerts and sporting events … hikes, err … no!!! …

    … just gotta do a little creative scheduling, I guess … plan a hike, when there’s some other big social event going on …

    … or hang on and a few years … until something new starts “trending” …

  10. jim flint July 7, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    I, too, used to hike the mountains overlooking Honolulu. Now, those pesky tour vans are dropping people off by 9 AM. I’ve seen people dressed in white, low cut Chuck Taylor basketball shoes, little or no water, apparently not prepared for “just-in-case”, well every conceivable way you should not go into the trails up there. When I saw girls/women with umbrellas… I gave up. Haven’t been up for a couple of years. Haven’t been to KCC Farmers’ Market either. I’m afraid our quiet times are pau here. Oregon is looking better all the time.

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