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Terrifying sign on notoriously dangerous Hawaii hike

It’s no secret that Hawaii’s Olomana Trail on the island of Oahu is extremely dangerous. Two people have already died this year after falling off the trail, one in April and one just last month. At least six people have died along the way since 2011, and that number would likely be higher if tourism to the islands hadn’t declined in 2020-21 due to the pandemic.

Now local officials are trying to scare would-be hikers outright.

Within weeks of the latest fatality, a new harrowing sign had been put up, warning hikers of the dangers they might encounter.

“CAUTION: Olomana Trail users: Six people fell to their deaths after hiking the first peak,” the sign reads. It then gives the year and approximate location of each death.

“I just said, ‘You know what? We need something up here immediately because we’ve had two deaths this year,'” Honolulu Director of Emergency Services Jim Ireland said in a phone interview with SFGATE.

The hike traverses three peaks, but becomes significantly more dangerous after the first. To get to the second and third peaks, hikers must traverse a trail that has 150 to 400 feet of drop on either side. According to Ireland, 90% of falls from more than 84 feet are fatal.

All six of those killed were men, and three were visitors from Hawaii. Ireland says it remembers the names of everyone who died along the way. Hearing him say so, the sign is both a warning and a memorial.

“Each of these dates is a person who has been a vibrant adult and loved by their family and friends. And everyone has their own sad story,” Ireland said. “If that prevents another death, maybe they didn’t die in vain.”

Two of the three peaks of the Olomana Trail on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

Two of the three peaks of the Olomana Trail on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

Nicolas Prendergast/Getty Images/500px

The Olomana Trail is part of a three-way system in the Kailua neighborhood that’s unfortunately very familiar to local emergency response teams. Ireland estimates that Honolulu emergency services have to conduct a rescue on the Kailua trails every week.

May, an experienced hiker who spoke to KHON2, was one such rescue. In January, May tried the Olomana but fell and slipped over 100 feet. She sustained multiple injuries, including fractures in her spine, but considers herself lucky to be alive.

“One wrong move and you’re dead,” May told KHON2. “You asked me a while ago if it was worth it. No, it’s not worth it, definitely not worth it.”

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But as Ireland notes, the Honolulu Ambulance Service isn’t telling people not to come to Olomana, but rather that visitors should understand the risks.

“We purposely didn’t say do it or don’t do it because it’s a legal way,” Ireland said. “But especially for the people who have never been up there, I hope that (the sign) is helpful to them.”

Ireland believes that with the right, meaningful signage, the path can be made much safer. He also expressed his willingness to put up similar signs in other dangerous locations across Oahu.

“If we fast forward five years and there are no fatal falls. It’s a success,” said Ireland.

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