Hiker Stranded In Snowstorm In Hawaii Rescued At Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

(Top) This photo, courtesy of search-and-rescue pilot David Okita, shows snow-covered Mauna Loa and the cindercone Pohaku o Hanalei in foreground, near where Sverdlov was spotted. (Bottom) Rescued 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.

There have been plenty of tales over the years of hikers marooned by snowstorms in national parks, but one of the latest occurred in what may seem an unlikely location: Hawaii. Earlier this week, a New York resident, and an experienced hiker, found himself in that situation high on a mountain at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

For many of us, the word "Hawaii" conjures up mental images of sunny skies, sandy beaches, and palm trees, and it's true that Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park includes some tropical shores. However, this park also includes perhaps the greatest range of elevation and climate of any NPS area in the country.

The park stretches from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet, and that lofty peak was the destination of a hiker earlier this week. Unfortunately, the weather proved to be anything but "tropical."

Last Sunday, New York resident Alex Sverdlov, 36, began a grueling 18-mile trek from the top of Mauna Loa Road—elevation 6,662 feet—and headed towards the summit of Mauna Loa. He reached the 13,677-foot summit on Tuesday, after dropping off his heavy gear at a lower elevation.

During his late-afternoon descent on Tuesday, a major snowstorm struck the mountain, creating a blinding white-out. Night fell, and after a few futile attempts to locate his pack, Sverdlov wisely decided to hunker down in the snow until daylight. His only protection was the clothes he had on, and a bottle of frozen water.

Earlier that day, park management had closed the mountain to visitors because of the dangerous weather. Sverdlov was the only registered hiker, and park rangers tried unsuccessfully to call his cell phone. They drove up Mauna Loa Road, and were able to locate his car. When Sverdlov’s vehicle was still there Wednesday afternoon, Park Ranger John Broward decided to search for him by helicopter when conditions permitted. Sverdlov was located by 9 a.m. on Thursday morning and brought to safety.

“I’ve done many crazy hikes, but this one pretty much tops the bill,” said Sverdlov, an experienced hiker who successfully summited Mauna Loa last winter. After locating his pack Wednesday morning, the deep snow made it impossible to gain much ground, and he spent a second frozen night on the mountain. Sverdlov worried that he’d die on Mauna Loa, and was astonished when he heard the helicopter.

“Even the most experienced and prepared hikers can get into trouble in the park,” said Broward, who serves as the park’s search-and-rescue coordinator. “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.”

On Thursday afternoon, his face 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.