Rescued hiker worried that he’d die on Mauna Loa

escued hiker Alex Sverdlov (middle) stands with his rescuers, park ranger John Broward (right) and park ranger Tyler Paul (left) outside the park's Visitor Emergency Operations Center on Thursday. (NPS Photo/J.Ferracane)

Two nights alone in freezing temperatures without food. That’s what a hiker faced on the Big Island’s Mauna Loa, until he was rescued on Thursday.

Alex Sverdlov was stranded on Mauna Loa in a snowstorm and worried he would die.

On Sunday, the New York resident began his 18-mile trek to the summit of Mauna Loa. It was a clear and gorgeous day.

“So he probably didn’t have any idea and there’s no cell phone reception up there on the mountain, so he didn’t realize it was coming,” said Jessica Ferracane with the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

It was a snowstorm.

The hiker reached the 13,677-foot summit on Tuesday after dropping off his heavy gear at a lower elevation. But Mother Nature followed quickly behind with the temperature dipping into the 20s.

“It produced between one and two feet of snow up on Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. It hasn’t happened in the last several years,” said Steven Businger with the University of Hawaii Meteorology Department.

The snowstorm struck on his late-afternoon descent, creating a blinding white-out.

“He laid down for the evening in the clothes he had on and his frozen bottle of water and said he slept very fitfully and hoped someone would come looking for him,” Ferracane said.

Earlier on Tuesday, park management closed the mountain because of the dangerous weather. Sverdlov, who has hiked Mauna Loa before, was the only registered hiker which park rangers say helped save him.

They couldn’t reach him on his cell phone, but they knew he was out there.

On Wednesday, they found his car. Then on Thursday morning, they searched for him by helicopter and found him.

“He was in almost two feet of snow up to his hip level and could barely move. So he only made a mile or two yesterday. It was a combo of luck and skill and keeping his head about him,” Ferracane said.

Sverdlov said, “I’ve done many crazy hikes, but this one pretty much tops the bill.”

He walked away with his face sunburned and wind-whipped. But things could have been worse.

“And on top of the hypothermia, the brain doesn’t function well at 13,000 feet. So he may not have been thinking very clearly,” said Dr. Kalani Brady with the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Sverdlov, who is a computer science professor at Brooklyn College, isn’t taking a break. He already applied for another back country permit for the park’s remote coastal area. He said this time he’s going to the sunny part of the park.

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