WHITEHORSE — A solo climber who waited four days to be rescued from Canada’s highest mountain following two earthquakes in Yukon was too exhausted to say much beyond “thank you” to a crew that came for her, a helicopter pilot says.
Natalia Martinez, 37, was stranded on Monday, but poor weather meant she could not be plucked to safety until Thursday night, said Ian Pitchforth of Trans North Helicopters.
Pitchforth said Parks Canada had been communicating with Martinez on her satellite phone and called her to say a three-member crew would be rescuing her from a camp on Mount Logan in Kluane National Park and Reserve.
“She was packed and ready” when he landed his helicopter, Pitchforth said of the experienced climber from Argentina.
“She was pretty relieved,” he said from Haines Junction. “She was happy to see us. We asked if she was in good health and she said ‘Yes.’ I tried not to bug her too much, you know, just let her relax a little bit.”
Pitchforth said a Parks Canada team member spoke with Martinez and checked her well-being, “but she was very quiet.”
Avalanche debris scattered around her camp and unstable terrain from the earthquakes stopped Martinez from continuing her climb or descending from the camp on the east ridge of the mountain, at about 3,900 metres.
“The weather was pretty horrible for most of the week,” Pitchforth said, adding the forecast suggested Martinez was initially not expected to be rescued until Friday or Saturday.
But at 5 p.m. on Thursday, as he and Parks Canada staff were meeting to discuss a retrieval plan, they heard from another pilot that the weather was improving, Pitchforth said.
Martinez was rescued from her camp at about 9 p.m. Thursday, Parks Canada said.
“Ms. Martinez is uninjured and was safely transported to her support team in Silver City, Yukon,” it said in a statement.
The area is a staging point for most climbing parties that head to the ice fields by ski plane.
Video released by Parks Canada shows a helicopter landing on the mountain near Martinez, who is wearing a helmet and goggles, her backpack by her side and her skis sticking out of the snow.
She’s seen smiling as she sits in the helicopter before takeoff.
Scott Stewart, who deals with visitors’ safety issues at Kluane National Park and was responsible for the rescue mission, said Martinez “did everything right.”
“She had adequate planning, she had adequate experience and she had equipment, including communications for her chosen undertaking on the mountain,” he said.
Stewart said that immediately after the earthquakes, Martinez used her satellite phone to call her emergency reporting person who had the emergency contact phone number for Parks Canada so it could plan a rescue operation.
“She was able to reposition herself in a safe location where she could safely wait out the following storm through the course of the past few days,” he said.
“We’re happy to report that Ms. Martinez is doing well.”
One climbing group remains on Mount Logan, and Stewart said they reported to him earlier this week that they are waiting out a storm.
“That group, I suspect, has another two weeks built into their itinerary, which allows them to successfully and safely have a enjoyable experience.”
Diane Wilson, superintendent for the Yukon Field Unit of Parks Canada, said the cost of the rescue operation is not yet known.
“Overall, for most searches and rescues, Parks Canada does recover the cost.”
Sian Williams of Icefield Discovery Tours, the company that flew Martinez to the mountain, said the woman had climbing insurance that would pay for the lift off the mountain.
— By Camille Bains in Vancouver, follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.
The Canadian Press