Hikers cited after trespassing and getting stranded in freezing Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in winter
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Two hikers have been cited for engaging in activities without a permit after getting lost while attempting to climb Mauna Loa in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park without a permit. All high-elevation backcountry permits are currently suspended in the park, and rangers have closed the summit of the mountain, but that didn't stop the pair heading out and trying to tackle it anyway.

Their actions put themselves, the pilot and our ranger at great and unnecessary risk

Jack Corrao

They were badly underprepared, and ended up calling 911 on Sunday morning after realizing they were running out of food and water, and their phone batteries were running low. (Cold weather reduces the life of lithium batteries because it slows the electrochemical reaction – see our guide how to keep your phone warm in winter for ways to mitigate this.)

A search-and-rescue ranger and helicopter pilot deployed, and found the hikers on the mountain's remote slopes. The icy winds made trying to transport the pair too dangerous, so the ranger gave them food, water and satellite communicator, and told them to get themselves to the nearest shelter and try to hike out on their own.

On Sunday evening the pair messaged the ranger, having lost the trail a little way down the mountain. The helicopter pilot was unable to fly in the dark, but headed out with the ranger again on Monday morning and managed to carry the hikers to safety one at a time.

"The park closed the summit of Mauna Loa and canceled all high-elevation backcountry permits on January 9 due to severe winter weather, and we immediately posted a closure alert on our website and social media outlets," said Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park Chief Ranger Jack Corrao after the rescue. "Their actions put themselves, the pilot and our ranger at great and unnecessary risk."

A challenging hike

Hiking Mauna Loa can be tough even in good weather, and the National Park Service (NPS) describes it as a challenging but rewarding expedition.

"The summit is high altitude and the trail is over rough, jagged, and often loose lava rock," the NPS adds. "The trail is marked with cairns (stacked rocks) and can be very easy to lose in times of low visibility."

The lost couple started their journey with two other hikers, but the group split up along the way and the other pair made their way back down safely. All four were cited for engaging in activities without a permit.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.