Having already successfully hiked 18 miles up Mauna Loa, the Hawaiian volcano, Alex Sverdlov, 36, of Middle Village, knew it was about a two-mile hike down to reach the survival gear he had left behind.
But then the snow hit and everything went gray.
While he was just a half a mile away from the drop-off site of his gear, the snow had covered the mountain “almost instantly,” wrote Sverdlov in an account on his blog. Holding just a now-frozen water bottle, Sverdlov resolved to sleep in the snow that night.
An experienced hiker, the Brooklyn College professor who enjoys using every three-day weekend to hike, had not yet called out for help. On his second day, he was able to locate his backpack, which had extra food, clothes and fuel to melt the snow.
“The second night out, I was debating with myself whether the situation [was] bad enough to warrant asking for help,” he said in an email. That’s when the hallucinations began.
“I’m walking on the trail, and I see a campsite, with other campers, etc. Then I blink, and there’s nothing but snow again,” wrote Sverdlov in his blog. It was only then that he realized he could in fact call an emergency number. No reception.
Unbeknownst to Sverdlov, park management had closed off the mountain to visitors due to the dangerous weather conditions.
With no other option, he began trekking down early on Thursday morning. Around 9 a.m., he heard a helicopter and then he saw one. This was no hallucination.
“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,” said Park Ranger John Broward, who received a hearty hug from Sverdlov when he found him.
“At the moment, I felt great. I just beat the odds. I was ready for the next adventure,” he wrote.
In spite of the perilous journey, the event didn’t hinder Sverdlov’s excitement for the next hike, as it hasn’t in the past.
Now home, he recounted old injuries. Sverdlov considers twisting a foot a slight problem but has also persevered through altitude sickness when turning back wasn’t exactly an option.
Although he has summitted Mauna Loa, what brings him back is the ability to escape civilization and enjoy the scenic conditions.
Wanting to make the most of his journey, he registered for another permit for a hike that Friday.
This time, however, his recovery from frost-bite and a swollen foot forced him to back down, but not completely.
On his blog, he describes an adventure via car ride, recounting his wonder at seeing kids building snowmen in Hawaii and witnessing a supernova in the sky above a visitor center.
He stays there until the center closes, soaking in the sites under the clear night sky.
“The universe is damn amazing,” he writes.