A quick moving storm that brought more than 6 inches of snow atop Mauna Loa left a 36-year-old man stranded atop the volcano for two days until he was rescued Thursday morning.
Alex Sverdlov, 36, of Brooklyn, New York, spoke exclusively to KITV4 about his ordeal just hours after being found by park rangers.
Sverdlov says he began his 18-mile trek to Mauna Loa's summit Sunday and reached the peak on Tuesday. When he began hiking back down the volcano late Tuesday afternoon, a snow storm moved in with high winds, creating white-out conditions. To make matters worse, Sverdlov had left his backpack farther down the slope to conserve energy.
"It went from like barely drizzling snow to like maybe 2 feet of snow within literally an hour," said Sverlov, whose face was noticeably sunburned and wind-whipped.
After a futile attempt to locate his pack, Sverdlov decided to hunker down for the night Tuesday evening. He had nothing but his clothes, a frozen water bottle and a cell phone that lacked reception.
"I just slept in the snow," said Sverdlov, a professor at Brooklyn College. "I was shivering all night, but I didn't die."
Unbeknownst to the New York native, park management closed the volcano to visitors because of the dangerous weather. Sverdlov was the only registered hiker and rangers tried unsuccessfully to call his cell phone.
On Wednesday Sverdlov located his backpack about 2 miles down the volcano, but snow up to his waist prevented him from getting all the way down to his car on Mauna Loa Road. He spent another night in the cold and snow, but did have some of his gear.
"The second night I had my sleeping bag, so I did the same thing except in the sleeping bag and it was warmer in the sleeping bag," he said.
Park Ranger John Broward knew Sverdlov might be in trouble after finding his car on Mauna Loa Road Wednesday afternoon. A rescue mission was launched Thursday morning and by 9 a.m. a helicopter spotted the stranded hiker.
"We just followed the trail all the way up to the summit and we found him just below the summit," said Broward. "He just gave me a big hug and said, 'Thank you.'”
"That was the best moment of my life," Sverdlov said about his rescue. "Essentially, if I had to walk down I probably would have made it, but it would've been another three or four days and those would've been a horrible, horrible three or four days."
Sverdlov was undeterred by his near-death experience and applied for another hiking permit for the park's remote coastal area. Sverdlov said this time he's going to the "sunny part of the park."
Broward said even the most experienced hiker can get into trouble, but Sverdlov took the proper step before setting out.
"What saved Alex is that he had a backcountry permit so we knew he was up there, he is extremely fit and he stayed calm. We're all fortunate this had a happy ending," said the park ranger.