Gwinnett County hiker survives 4-day ordeal on Guatemalan volcano

A missing hiker from Gwinnett County is back home safe and sound. Zain Waliany disappeared while hiking up a volcano in Guatemala. He was missing for four days. His family pulled out all the stops to search for him before he made it back to civilization on his own through sheer willpower, a lot of luck and help from a little friend. 

Waliany had been looking forward to his trip. "I was really excited," he said. "It is an absolutely beautiful place." 

Waliany and his friend Josh decided to hike up the demanding 13,000-foot Acatenango, near the Volcan de Fuego, the Volcano of Fire. "You could actually see the volcano go off periodically every 15 to 30 minutes," he said. 

Waliany and his friend split up. "I ended up having altitude sickness, I was showing a lot of signs," he said. 

Waliany followed another group of hikers. "I realized I was going the wrong way and tried to get back onto the map. That actually led me off course a little bit." 

Waliany badly sprained his ankle. But he kept trudging up the steep and treacherous climb. "It was almost a 40-degree angle going up. I’m on all fours at one point," he said. 

Then things grew a lot worse. "I fell almost 400 feet," Waliany said. 

Foliage broke his fall. Waliany was stuck, injured, with altitude sickness and a dead phone in a foreign country. He didn’t speak a word of Spanish, not that it mattered. He was in a dense forest with predators waiting to pounce. "There’s vipers, there are snakes, there are spiders, jungle cats. There were so many things out there that could kill me. "There were multiple times I thought I was going to die. 

"I had one PB&J that I cornered up into four pieces," Waliany said. But he had help. A dog he befriended at basecamp showed up. "I feel like this was an angel in disguise." 

Waliany says that dog helped keep him alive. "Its ears just point straight up. I immediately be like ‘nope, not going that way. We’re going the other way,’" he said. 

The whole time, local volunteers as well as search and rescue teams looked for him. His family pulled out all the stops to find him. "I did not know how many people cared about me. I had people ready to move the mountain for me," Waliany said. 

Waliany made it out to safety on his own, hungry but with only a few bumps and cuts. "I was more scared of my mom coming out than I was scared of a mountain. One will actually kill me," he said. 

Waliany says he will go hiking again. "If I get my passport back, my parents confiscated that right away," he said. 

Waliany says he’s grateful to all the people who sacrificed their time and safety to look for him. He especially thanks his family.