App Makes for Safer, Smarter Hikers

Hike Aloha informs hikers of checkpoints and basic trail details, and comes with an emergency messaging system. HIKE ALOHA PHOTO

Hike Aloha informs hikers of checkpoints and basic trail details, and comes with an emergency messaging system. HIKE ALOHA PHOTO

Once, while hiking along one of his favorite trails, Pu‘u Manamana in Ka‘a‘awa, Kent Kawahara and his friends got a little turned around and ended up traversing a separate, more rugged path. One section was just two-feet wide — with a 3,000-foot drop on either side.

There, he slipped. Luckily, his foot got caught on a root.

“That is what saved me from falling to my death,” Kawahara says.

That experience was one of the things that prompted Kawahara to develop a new app, Hike Aloha, which was released last month.

Kawahara has been an avid hiker for the last couple of years, and while he’s found a lot of resources online, those things had their shortcomings. For one, the sites sometimes didn’t translate well onto smartphones — and plus, he’d sometimes lose reception once he was on the trail and wouldn’t be able to access the site at all.

So Kawahara, who at the time was a computer science major at University of Hawaii, set out to build an app that would equip Oahu hikers with pertinent trail information as well as an emergency messaging system.

“I want to reduce the amount of casualties on hikes,” says Kawahara, who has since graduated and now works as a software developer. “I just want to make hiking a bit safer — by providing the information that people need to know, what to look out for, and give them a back up.”

Teaming up with hiking buddy Myles Enriquez, Kawahara went to last year’s AT&T Mobile App Hackathon. Along with their teammates, they developed an early iteration of Hike Aloha — and ended up taking first place.

“When we won, we thought maybe this isn’t something that’s just useful to us, maybe it actually can be a real thing to help people out,” Kawahara recalls.

After the competition, Kawahara continued to flesh out the app. It’s got a map that will inform hikers of checkpoints along the way, with a picture and description of the area to let people know if they’re on track. Plus, Hike Aloha also can help you plan hikes beforehand, with details about various trails. Then there’s the just-in-case safety feature, an emergency messaging system that will notify your designated emergency contact of your last-known GPS coordinates if you’ve failed to check in at a specific time.

Currently, Hike Aloha has 13 hikes. But Kawahara constantly is building its base by going on a new hike almost every weekend. (Whenever he goes on a new hike, the app will automatically be updated for users.) Hike Aloha will only feature legal hikes — but Kawahara does want to focus on those that are potentially dangerous.

To put the app’s content together, Kawahara personally goes on each of the featured hikes, watching out for details he thinks would be useful, or areas that people should watch for. It’s a lot of work — but he truly enjoys hiking.

“I don’t think you can beat the views on Oahu,” says Kawahara, adding that ridge trails are his favorites. “And it’s just nice to get fresh air and get away from civilization and be in nature.”

Currently, Hike Aloha is available for Android. Kawahara aims to launch it for iOS by the end of the month.