Climber stranded on Mount Logan will be rescued Friday, partner says

Climber stranded on Mount Logan will be rescued Friday, partner says

An Argentine climber stranded high on Yukon's Mount Logan, Canada's highest peak, will likely have to wait until Friday for a helicopter rescue, her partner says.

​Natalia Martinez has been camped out on a high ridge since Monday, awaiting a rescue. She's unable to leave her location because a couple of strong earthquakes on Monday morning triggered a series of large avalanches, and left her surrounded by unstable terrain.  

Her campsite — at about 3,900 metres — is relatively stable and secure, but she's now battling storms and high winds, conditions that are making it impossible for a helicopter to reach her. 

"There should be a good weather window happening by Friday, hopefully, if the forecasts are correct. So yeah, hopefully by Friday," her partner, Camilo Rada said from Whistler, B.C. 

"It's kind of a painful wait, especially with these weather conditions."

Mount Logan lies within Kluane National Park, and Parks Canada is leading the rescue operation.

"Parks Canada is working closely with [Martinez] to assess the situation and determine the best course of action. Weather conditions in the icefields are poor and are preventing any access to the area," the agency said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Parks Canada says there are also two other groups currently in the Kluane Icefields region, including one group on Mount Logan, but provided no further details.

Changing conditions

Tom Bradley, chief pilot of Icefield Discovery Tours, knows his way around the Kluane Icefields and the St. Elias Range, where Mount Logan sits. He also knows Martinez well and dropped her off at her initial base camp last month.

"You've got weather conditions that are constantly changing, no two flights are ever going to be the same," Bradley said. "So it's an area that you've always got to look over your shoulder if you're flying around up there.

"It's the world's largest non-polar icefield, so it's just a sea of snow and ice. The mountains there are on a grand scale — they're the largest mountains in the world, by girth."

His company uses airplanes to reach the icefields, but Martinez's current location can only be reached by helicopter. 

Bradley describes the Argentine adventurer as bubbly and energetic, "but underneath all of that, you've got a really gritty climber, like a highly-skilled climber as well, that doesn't back down in the face of a challenge."

Waiting and shovelling

Rada — Martinez's life partner as well as her climbing partner for the last decade — is staying in contact with her by phone and text, although it's been difficult to talk on the phone because of the strong winds.

He says she's healthy and in relatively good spirits, and has plenty of food and supplies for the wait. He says she's a little disappointed, though, to give up on her goal of traversing Mount Logan.

"It's different waiting for a storm when you're in the climb and you're looking forward to continuing. But now, it's just waiting to be evacuated," Rada said.

She's also working hard — repeatedly shovelling out her tent to keep from being buried by blowing snow.

Martinez is an experienced climber and has been on Mount Logan before. Rada says she was fully prepared to face nasty storms and other challenges, but didn't expect a couple of big earthquakes.

"A big surprise," Rada said.

A mental toll

Rudy Sudrich, a Whitehorse-based mountaineer, knows better than most what Martinez is facing right now. Twelve years ago, he also found himself stuck high up on Mount Logan, enduring a three-day storm.

He thinks she's done the right thing by calling for a rescue. The earthquakes have made things unpredictable.

"I don't blame her, she doesn't want to make a step out of the camp — just shovel the snow out, so she doesn't get buried and suffocate," Sudrich said.

Sudrich and his climbing partner also had to work hard to not be buried by snow.

"You choked — you couldn't face the wind," he said.

Sudrich thinks Martinez is in "a more difficult place" than they were — on the mountain's more challenging east ridge, and by herself.  

"The satellite phone works both ways — at least you have contact with somebody, but for us it was very disturbing because we were getting the information from Whitehorse, and nobody could help us ... and it's tough," he said.

"Physically you may be OK, but mentally it takes a toll on you. It's a very, very traumatic experience."