At least a dozen Kalalau Trail backpackers were forced to spend an extra night camping in the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park on Kauai after rising waters made Hanakapiai Stream impassable on Tuesday afternoon.
County lifeguards at the Kee Beach tower were alerted and hiked two miles to the stream to communicate with the stranded backpackers.
Before the lifeguards arrived at the stream, Valeria Gracheva and Martin Guski of Germany say they saw two people try to cross the fast-moving waters by fashioning a thin line across the stream.
Gracheva said the man and woman clung to the makeshift line in rushing, chest-deep in water. At one point, the woman lost her grip, went into the stream and was grabbed by the man at the last second. The woman was able to climb onto the man's back before making it safely out of the stream.
"So we thought it was over for her," Gracheva said.
Alexander Lau, of Oahu, also witnessed the incident.
"Pretty much their whole weight was being held up on the line, and the line was very thin," he said. "And had that snapped they would have been sucked out to sea and bashed on the rocks.
"After the last couple came very close to death and at that point everyone said you guys shouldn't cross and I was of the same decision because the risk seemed too high," Lau said.
After spending another night to wait for safer conditions, all of the stranded backpackers were able to make it back to their cars in the morning.
The Hanakapiai Stream has claimed numerous lives over the years, when people attempted to cross fast-moving waters and were swept out to sea. On Christmas Eve 2014, more than 60 hikers had to be rescued when they were trapped by floodwaters. That prompted a Kauai County councilman to propose making hikers pay for being rescued if they ignore warnings signs.
"I think it's time for us to revisit them because these incidences don't end," said councilman Mason Chock. "They're a part of our lives."