Climber stranded on Canada's highest mountain after Monday earthquakes in Yukon
Climber Natalia Martinez is alone and awaiting helicopter rescue that may not come until Friday at earliest
An Argentine mountain climber is stranded alone about halfway up Canada's highest peak, braving high winds and awaiting a rescue that may still be days away.
Natalia Martinez, 37, was nine days into a solo traverse of Yukon's Mount Logan (5,959 metres) when a pair of earthquakes rattled the territory on Monday morning. The quakes — magnitudes 6.2 and 6.3 — set off a series of avalanches on the mountain, sparing Martinez but leaving her surrounded by unstable terrain.
"Right now, she's doing her best to stay safe, keep the camp safe, to keep the tent sound," said her partner Camilo Rada from Vancouver, where he is a student. Rada has been keeping in touch with Martinez by satellite phone.
She's now camped at an elevation above 3,000 metres.
"Things are not settled yet, and another aftershock is possible. So it's dangerous for her to move, basically, whether up or down, so the plan is to get her a rescue by helicopter."
The weather, though, is not co-operating. A helicopter rescue won't be possible until it clears and Rada said that is not expected to happen until Friday.
Martinez is a highly accomplished climber — back home, she's a professional ski instructor and mountaineering guide — and Rada says so far, she's handling her situation well.
Last night, he says, she had to go out every few hours with a shovel to keep her camp from being buried in the blowing snow. Today, she's exhausted and nursing a sore back, but otherwise OK.
"She had a really tough night keeping the camp safe, but she managed to do it," he said.
"She has a lot of climbing experience in Patagonia, which is notorious for the bad weather. So she knows how to make a camp strong and to keep it safe in a storm."
'The mountain was falling apart'
Rada says Martinez was camped high above the clouds on Monday morning when the first earthquake hit, early in the morning.
"Of course, she didn't know it was an earthquake, she only knew it was, like, the mountain was falling apart," he said.
"She felt that all the ground under her camp subsided and moved a lot, and of course she was very scared."
Martinez emerged from her tent to see evidence of "huge" glacial serac avalanches all around. A serac is a chunk or ridge of glacial ice, which can often be unstable.
She had chosen her campsite wisely, though — it was untouched.
Nevertheless, she realized that continuing her journey was out of the question. The terrain was still highly unstable. She made contact with Rada, and they immediately began planning for her rescue.
Then the second quake hit, Rada said, and it was also clear that the rescue would not happen right away. Martinez moved her camp to a narrow ridge that offered more protection from any falling debris, "so it was a safe place, in that sense," he said.
Sian Williams of Icefield Discovery Tours, the outfitter that flew Martinez to her initial base camp, says Martinez is now in a "relatively safe location," but still surrounded by danger.
"I mean, the St. Elias [Range] is a very wild part of the world. We're expecting storms with high winds over the next couple of days, and she is still up on the ridge," Williams said.
"Hopefully everything that was loose came down already, but there could be other dangers that are kind of lurking there that are just on the edge of going. So the route condition has become very unstable.
"I'm sure it must have felt like the whole world was coming to an end, with serac falls and avalanches all around her."
Rada is doing his best to stay calm and positive, trusting in his partner's skills and experience.
"Of course it's worrying," he said. "But I'm positive, in the sense that she will do everything that is possible to stay safe and she [will] know what to do.
"All of her family knows — she's a really strong woman, so she won't give up, and she will stay put there, and strong."
With files from Steve Hossack