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Over the Volcano: Stranded and Hallucinating in a Hawaiian Snowstorm

March 11, 2014

Note: This Village Voice article excerpt by Albert Samaha about the rescue of New York resident and hiker Alex Sverdlov from the summit of Mauna Loa on Jan. 30, 2014  is used with permission.  Be sure the click the link at the bottom to read the entire riveting account.

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. Snow-covered Mauna Kea is seen in the distance.

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. Snow-covered Mauna Kea is seen in the distance.

Alex Sverdlov had climbed the volcano alone a year ago. It took him three and a half days to reach the top and get back to sea level. The hike was peaceful and not steep, but it was challenging enough that he decided to summit the volcano again. He was an experienced outdoorsman and strenuous adventures appealed to him. One time he signed up for a guided group hike in the Alaskan wilderness because a local told him it was “difficult.” He realized within minutes that it wasn’t, so halfway through he split from the pack and ran the rest of the way.

He knew his friends wouldn’t want to join him on the volcano. They had small children and had come to Hawaii’s big island for “touristy stuff” (as he called it), not for a “nutty hike” (as his friends called it).

It’s about a 25-miles hike to reach the summit. Natives long ago named the volcano Mauna Loa: “Long Mountain.” It’s the biggest volcano on earth, but it rises gradually from the sea, like the belly of a submerged giant. Its flat terrain and gentle slopes can deceive. The climate at the top is fickle and conditions are unpredictable. Scottish botanist Archibald Menzies, the first person on record to reach the summit, called his experience in 1794 “the most persevering and hazardous struggle that can possibly be conceived.” David Douglas, the next man to complete the journey (40 years later), struggled to reach the top and described the trip back down as “even more fatiguing, dangerous, and distressing than the ascent had proved.”

Click here to read the entire story in the Village Voice about Alex’ harrowing brush with death in the Hawaiian snow, and his heroic rescue by park ranger John Broward and pilot David Okita.

Alex and his rescuers

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.

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