Family, friends mourn after hiker falls to death from Waimanalo trail

WAIMANALO (HawaiiNewsNow) - An estimated 150-foot fall from Puu O Kona Windward -- commonly known as Bear Claw because of the image created by its ridges -- killed avid hiker and father of two Leslie Merrell, 48, Sunday.

Merrell was a carpenter and a widower with two children.

Police say Merrell and the rest of his group were nearly at the last phase of their climb, when he tried to pull himself up to the next ledge. The boulder he grabbed dislodged.

David Concepcion was not on the ill-fated excursion, but had gone on hundreds of hikes with Merrell since meeting him in 2008.

"Ever since then, he's been my wingman," Concepcion said. "I take comfort that he passed away enjoying what he really loved to do. I'm sure he would love all of us to continue that."

Those who hike Bear Claw use a method called scrambling to traverse the rugged terrain. Concepcion says the Internet has boosted the popularity of the unsanctioned trail that starts in Waimanalo, leading to hazardous conditions.

"The more traffic it receives, the more degraded it becomes," he said. "It's already degraded as it is."

Fellow hikers have established a donation fund for Merrell's teenaged daughters.

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