Injured hikers rescued by mules, horse at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Stock manager Jordan Barthold (right) and first responder TJ Magno head down Keauhou Trail last Thursday. (Photo: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park)

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, they come in the form of a team of park mules and horses.

On Aug. 27, park officials say a Hilo couple planned to hike to a remote coastal campsite, but was not prepared for the intense heat, lack of shade, and rough terrain.

They set off on Keauhou Trail, but both turned their ankles and were unable to continue. So they called the park.

A team of mules and first responders were dispatched and located the couple. Park mule Dozer and horse ‘Ōhi‘a transported them to safety, while Sparkles and Clyde hauled their backpacks.

Stock manager Jordan Barthold holds Sparkles the mule with rescued visitor from Oahu astride. (Photo: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park)
Stock manager Jordan Barthold holds Sparkles the mule with rescued visitor from Oahu astride. (Photo: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park)

It wasn’t the first rescue for these hardy stock animals. In mid-July, Sparkles carried an Oahu man from Keauhou Trail to safety. The man, in his 60s, was separated from his group and became dehydrated and fatigued on the grueling eight-mile hike.

Although the stock team and the first responders saved the days, both incidents were preventable, said park ranger Jack Corrao.

“It’s extremely important to be prepared when going into the backcountry, or on any hike,” Corrao said. “Have plenty of water, four quarts per person per day, and make sure your water filter works. Never get separated from your group. Know your limits,” he said.

The 333,086-acre park currently utilizes two horses and four mules on a daily basis.

“In Hawaii, the stock has been used off and on pretty much through the creation of (Hawaii) Volcanoes National Park,” Corrao said. “It’s a pretty great tool to use when sometimes helicopters cant be used or if the injuries aren’t life-threatening and using a helicopter, which is a little bit risky, may not be the best tool.”

Strong and sure-hoofed, mules are able to carry heavy loads over uneven terrain, said stock manager Jordan Barthold.

They were vital to the recent replacement of the wooden boardwalk at Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs.

The mules are also used to transport equipment to the Hawaiian hawksbill sea turtle crew, and haul waste from the pit toilets in the coastal campgrounds, among other duties.

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