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Earthquakes and storms leave climber stranded on Canada’s highest peak

Argentine Natalia Martnez was nine days into solo traverse when tremors triggered avalanches that left terrain unstable

A mountain climber from Argentina has been stranded for days on Canadas highest peak after a series of earthquakes left her surrounded by unstable terrain and is now fending off a heavy storm that has delayed any possibility of a rescue.

Natalia Martnez began a solo traverse of 5,959-metre Mount Logan in the Yukon late last month. She was nine days into the trek and at an elevation of about 3,900 metres when a 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit Yukon and Alaska early on Monday, sending snow and glacial ice crashing down around her camp. A few hours later, the mountain was rattled by a second earthquake of magnitude 6.3 along with several aftershocks.

Martnez ensconced in her tent about 135 miles from the earthquakes epicentre was unscathed by the avalanches triggered by the quakes but was left stranded.

She has been working hard to keep the camp safe and to stay safe, said Camilo Rada, her climbing partner of 10 years. He has been in regular contact with Martnez via satellite phone from his home in British Columbia.

The snow and the earthquake have made the area more dangerous than usual. Its not safe for her to either go up or down, so the plan is to get her a rescue by helicopter.

After the earthquakes, however, a storm moved into the region, making a helicopter mission impossible. Current forecasts suggest the storm will begin to subside on Friday, after which, Rada said, Martnez would evaluate whether it was safe enough for her to climb down to the base of the ridge or whether she needed to be retrieved by helicopter.

He described Martnez as a highly accomplished climber whose experiences in Patagonia had readied her for heavy winds and extreme cold. Shes used to really serious weather in Patagonia, she had been through a number of storms and she knows what to do. But that doesnt mean its easy its very tiring, especially if you have to do it alone.

While prepared to weather storms, Martnez had not been expecting earthquakes, Rada said. The 37-year-old was in her tent on Monday morning when she heard what she described as a tremendous roar. She didnt know it was an earthquake, she thought the glacier she was on was collapsing, said Rada. The whole ground around her was shaking and moved a lot. She was pretty scared.

She emerged from her tent to find debris from the avalanches littering the ground. The ground beneath her was highly unstable, making it too dangerous to continue the trek she had been planning for some two years. After contacting Rada, they began planning her rescue. When the storm began to gather intensity, the pair realised any rescue would likely be days away.

Martnez carefully moved her camp to a slightly lower elevation, pitching her tent under a narrow ridge offering better protection against falling debris. Most of her energy in recent days has been spent keeping her camp safe, going out with a shovel every few hours to fend off the blowing snow that threatens to bury her tent.

She was now in a relatively safe location, Sian Williams of Icefield Discovery, the tour company that flew Martnez to the base camp, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I mean, the Saint Elias [mountain range] is a very wild part of the world. Were expecting storms with high winds over the next couple of days, and she is still up on the ridge. 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.

Rada said he was confident Martnez who works as a mountaineering guide in Argentina knew how best to stay safe. These have been very difficult days for her, first by finding her route devastated by an earthquake, forcing her to abandon the dream of the summit, then due to a forced wait in the middle of a serious storm, he said on Wednesday. However, she is doing extraordinarily well, keeping herself safe even under all this circumstances. Hopefully shell be back soon and this will just become a great story to tell.