East Hawaii News

Blizzard Traps Hiker for Two Nights on Mauna Loa

January 30, 2014, 5:26 PM HST
* Updated February 3, 12:11 PM
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***Updated Monday, Feb. 3, to correct that access was closed Tuesday to Mauna Loa, not the entire Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.***

A New York man was rescued by helicopter this morning after spending two frigid nights on the slopes of Mauna Loa when his hike was interrupted by a snowstorm.

Alex Sverdlov, 36, began the 18-mile trek to the volcano’s summit on Sunday.

According to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane, he spent that night at the Red Hill cabin located at the 10,000-foot elevation, and Monday night at the Mauna Loa cabin near the summit.

Sverdlov then dropped his backpack before making the final hike to the summit on the other side of the Moku`aweoweo caldera.

He reached the 13,677-foot summit on Tuesday, but as he was making his return in the late afternoon, a snowstorm descended upon the mountain, creating blinding white-out conditions.

Ferracane said Sverdlov made a few futile attempts to locate his pack before deciding to hunker down in the snow until daylight.

She said his only protection were the clothes he was wearing. The bottle of water he was carrying had frozen.

In the meantime, park officials had closed access to Mauna Loa earlier Tuesday because of the dangerous weather. Sverdlov was the only hiker registered on the mountain.

After trying unsuccessfully to reach Sverdlov by cellphone, rangers drove up to the trailhead at the top of the Mauna Loa Road where they found his car.

Up on the mountain, Sverdlov located his pack Wednesday morning.

But the deep snow made it difficult to travel, and he spent a second frozen night on the trail, although this time armed with heavier clothes and a sleeping bag.

On Thursday morning, when Sverdlov still hadn’t returned, Ranger John Broward, the park’s search-and-rescue coordinator, decided to look for him via helicopter. He was located by 9 a.m.

Rescued hiker Alex Sverdlov (middle) stands with his rescuers, park rangers John Broward (right) and Tyler Paul (left) outside the park's Visitor Emergency Operations Center today. NPS/J.Ferracane photo.

Rescued hiker Alex Sverdlov (middle) stands with his rescuers, park rangers John Broward (right) and Tyler Paul (left), outside the park’s Visitor Emergency Operations Center today. NPS/J.Ferracane photo.

Sverdlov, a professor of computer science at Brooklyn College, later told park rangers that he was worried that he’d die on Mauna Loa, and was astonished when he heard the chopper.

“I’ve done many crazy hikes, but this one pretty much tops the bill,” said Sverdlov, an experienced hiker who successfully summitted Mauna Loa last winter.

“Even the most experienced and prepared hikers can get into trouble in the park,” Broward said in a statement issued today by Hawaii Volcanoes.

“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,” Broward said. “We’re all fortunate this had a happy ending.”

Ferracane said this afternoon, the sun-burned and wind-whipped Sverdlov applied for another backcountry permit — for the park’s remote coastal area.

“This time I’m going to the sunny part of the park,” he said.

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