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Thursday, April 6, 2000

band together
to survive storm

A walk on Kauai became a five-day
endurance test for 22 strangers
trapped with little food or gear

By Anthony Sommer
Kauai correspondent


LIHUE -- For five days and five nights, a group of people stranded in Kauai's rugged Na Pali Coast endured high winds and heavy rain and helped each other survive.

The 22 hikers, who ranged in age from 11 to 63, were mostly strangers when a storm brought them together. They were hiking in different groups on the Kalalau Trail and were trapped since Friday when the Hanakapiai Stream flooded.

The group huddled together under a makeshift shelter of strung-together tarps until the storm passed and the stream receded.

"We shared what food we had and drank rainwater," said Jonathan DeSelle, a wet, tired Hawaii Pacific University student whose planned two-day outing lasted a week. "There was plenty of rain water."

Twenty hikers walked the final two miles to the trailhead at Kee Beach yesterday. Two were flown out by Air-1, the Kauai Fire Department rescue helicopter.

For Maui residents Chuck Stephens, 63, and his wife Kristi, 46, it was the second time they were trapped on the Kalalau Trail in a storm and the second time they were rescued by helicopter. The first was in 1992, when they were cut off by Hurricane Iniki.

Veteran backpackers, the Stephens and several others were well-equipped. Many others were day hikers and had no food or equipment at all.

Some had been living at Kalalau, a semi-permanent tent community on the beach, and had left their food and spare gear with friends there. Two other swollen streams behind them prevented them from going back.

The storm hit Kauai on Thursday night. A few hikers managed to cross Hanakapiai Stream on Friday by forming a human chain, but one woman lost her footing and almost was swept away.

"After that, the stream continued to rise and we decided we better not risk crossing," Kristi Stephens said.

"Our little group started with six and then it was 12, and then it was 18 and then it was 22."

No one knew that anyone had been trapped on the trail, part of the state parks trail system, until Monday, when one of the castaways managed to get a note across the stream to a day hiker on the other side.

The note, by Honolulu firefighter Jack Lauer, who was hiking with his son Daniel, 16, asked the day hiker to call Lauer's wife in Honolulu.

She called the duty battalion chief at the Kauai Fire Department. At dusk Monday a crew of firefighters reached the stream with two packs filled with food, dry clothing and ponchos. They sent the gear, along with a two-way radio, across on ropes.

The firefighters used the radio to get the names and telephone numbers of friends and family of the trapped hikers and called to let them know they were safe.

The storm continued all day Tuesday with winds far too strong and gusty to use the rescue helicopter. It finally let up Tuesday night, and the stream began to go down.

The first members of the group reached Kee Beach around 8 a.m.

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