Mindful Hiking in Hawai'i
This piece was greatly contributed to by my friend Ryan Chang (@ryanschang), an Invasive Species Associate at the Oahu Invasive Species Committee (OISC). Over the last few years I’ve had the great pleasure of canyoneering and learning small bits of “best practice” from him, Cory Yap, and Katie Ersbak, all of whom work in conservation here in Hawai'i. Their patience, logic, kindness and fun have made me hopeful that there is room for a multitude of voices and uses in the places we recreate as long as we can do so thoughtfully.
If you are hiking in the Hawaiian islands some guidelines to follow:
Clean your shoes. The main vector for invasive species are our clothes and our shoes. Rapid Ohi'a death, a fungal pathogen that is wrecking ohi'a on Hawai'i island, has recently been detected on Kaua'i. If you hike on Kaua'i and/or travel interisland, spraying down your shoes with 70% rubbing alcohol is a good practice to mitigate the further spread of this pathogen. (You can find more here.) If you hike frequently clean your shoes before coming and hiking here.
Leave no trace. Humans, this one seems really easy and straight forward - Pick up after yourself and pack out any tidbits of rubbish. More of a not talked about/weird subject is how to poop in the woods. I find the remnants of used toilet paper and other unsavory bits in some of the most pristine areas. General rule: Use the bathroom away from streams and campsites about 200 ft or 70 paces. The best thing to do is pack it out but if you cannot, burying it 6 inches below the ground is another method. Use natural objects to wipe or do your best to pack out your TP. Yup it’s kind of gross and annoying no one WANTS to carry a bag of poo (myself definitely included) but it’s just respect for the environment and our fellow/future nature lover. Everything we do in the mountains carries to the ocean or into our drinking water. Carry an extra Ziploc and tp just for this, if you’re camping or on a long extended hike.
Know a bit about plants and Hawai'i’s wildlife. The higher on the mountain you are chances you’re in a native ecosystem. Or alternatively, just respect the plants and stay on trail especially if you don’t know what you are walking on. I’ve seen what used to be a narrow and lush trail turn into a muddy, potholed mess 5-10 ft wide in less than a year. That is the power of our collective single footsteps.
No campfires. Our ecosystems are not fire adapting and if we burn the forest, we risk doing a lot more damage than we think. As soon as an intact native forest is burned it is extremely hard to recover from that because invasive species quickly move in and out-compete the few natives plants that could be there. I read an article that listed Hawai'i as one of the extinction capitals of the world for native endemic species (this means they are found nowhere else on Earth). Moreover, big scorch marks and charcoal pieces in my favorite camping areas make me sad. They give the impression to the next user that fires are ok/permitted in that area and as a result make the situation continuously worse. I don’t blame anyone wanting a fire, it’s such a great feeling, and I used to make them before I realized the impact I was having. Now I bring a portable camp stove (I’ve used both the Jetboil and MSR whisper light I think it’s called) that runs off a gas canister.
Hiking etiquette: Trail parking. This is less of an issue on Kaua'i (where I can only think of two trail that start in neighborhoods) but just some etiquette while parking in neighborhoods or residential areas. Leave space for the residents and vehicular traffic to pass. Hunters/hikers would really want you to park with as much space for other people to fit their cars or trucks. Keep the chatter to a minimum in residential areas and try to shut cars doors once. Maybe this is a Chelsea thing, but even once you’re on the trail be mindful of other peoples experiences by turning down your music when another group approaches.
Study and know the place you are going to travel to if you are venturing on your own or with friends. Do not rely on your friends to know everything, come up with a plan and study blogs, videos and get as much information as you can before you go. On Kaua'i there is zero reception in most hiking areas, O'ahu is more forgiving in this respect but basically just don’t plan on having cell service to look things up.
If you are going with a guide be sure they are reputable and can keep you safe - education should be a key component in their program.
Tips on what might make your hike more enjoyable. Know your weather patterns and plan for rain. I always pack a rain jacket. Hawai'i can be much cooler and intermittently rainy than people assume especially in the mountains. Food, water, and first aid should be top on your list of things to pack. Rules with biodegradable food scraps - best option is to always pack it out with you. My looser version of that rule is that if what I’m eating grows in the immediate vicinity I can throw the peel/rinds in the bushes. The vast majority of the time this is not the case.
I was prompted to write this after seeing the immense rise in usage across hiking trails in Hawai'i. While I generally believe in the good in humans, the trail systems here are often completely unmaintained and very susceptible to erosion, cross contamination from invasive species, and general misuse. Although I don’t want to advocate for limited use, I do think many of the trails in Hawai'i would benefit from a more managed approach. Until that happens I would love for you to take these into consideration when hiking in Hawai'i and feel free to comment additional thoughts below! Thank you and happy hiking! :)