Hikers run out of food, water as phones die 11,000 feet up volcano, Hawaii rangers say

Two hikers got lost 11,000 feet up a freezing volcano in Hawaii without food or water, rangers say.

They were trapped there overnight in a severe winter storm that closed the peak of Mauna Loa — the largest active volcano in the world — above 10,000 feet, the National Park Service said in a news release.

The pair called 911 for help the morning of Sunday, Jan. 14, reporting that they were out of food and water, stuck in the “windy, freezing” weather — and their phones were dying, rangers said in the release.

A search-and-rescue ranger from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park flew with a helicopter pilot and found the couple around 11,000 feet “on the remote slopes of Mauna Loa,” rangers said. They landed so the ranger could check on the hikers, but the high elevation and “dangerous gusting winds” made it too risky for them to fly off the volcano in the helicopter.

The ranger gave the hikers food, water and a satellite phone and told them to hike to the nearest shelter and then hike out on their own, officials said.

Then just after sunset, the hikers texted the ranger that “they had lost the trail near 10,300 feet in the foul weather.”

The pilot wasn’t able to fly the helicopter safely in the dark and stormy conditions, so rescuers flew up again on Monday morning and extracted the hikers one at a time, officials said.

The couple had hiked out with two others from O’ahu, but their companions became separated from them on the grueling hike up to the closed summit area, officials said. They hiked back out on their own.

The “extremely grueling, rocky and steep 10.2-mile hike is not for everyone,” the National Park Service says of the Mauna Loa trek. “Hikers are urged to be prepared and know their limits.”

All four hikers were cited for hiking the volcano without a permit, officials said.

“The search-and-rescue mission could have been prevented if the hikers had followed explicit directions to check in and pick up their permit from the park’s backcountry office,” Jack Corrao, the park’s chief ranger, said in the release.

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

What to do if you get lost while hiking

If you think you’re getting lost, experts say it’s best to stop where you are and not panic. You should go over how you got to that point and if you’re able to see any landmarks around.

“Do not move at all until you have a specific reason to take a step,” officials with the U.S. Forest Service said.

You should come up with a plan but stay put unless you are “very, very confident in the route.”

There are steps hikers can take to avoid getting lost and be better prepared for the unexpected:

  • Have more than enough food and water with you.

  • Take a compass that you know how to use, or have a GPS device on hand.

  • Don’t rely solely on your cell phone. It probably won’t work because of a lack of signal or a depleted battery.

  • Study the terrain and your route, and you should know how you’ll return.

  • Have the right clothing. Sturdy hiking boots and layers can help you be prepared for rapidly changing weather.

  • Pack a blanket, flashlight and matches.

  • Check with a local ranger for special warnings. They can tell you about “fires in the area, bear sightings, flooding, trail or road closures.”

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