Natalia Mar­tinez’s am­bi­tion to stake a claim for fe­male climbers took her to Canada’s high­est peak. That same de­ter­mi­na­tion would save her life.


IT WAS 5 A.M. ON MAY 1, 2017, and Natalia Mar­tinez sat in her tent in the Yukon, boil­ing wa­ter from snow she’d chipped from the side of Canada’s high­est moun­tain. She was 3,901 me­tres above the sea, perched on a hang­ing glacier two-thirds of the way up the east ridge of Mount Lo­gan. The Ar­gen­tinian climber was still three days from the peak. The night had been cold, -10 C. But now the Arc­tic sun was ris­ing slowly, a drawn-out dawn soon to glow through the frost-cov­ered can­vas of her tent.

Once the wa­ter had heated up, Mar­tinez turned off her camp stove, poured a cup of tea and be­gan mix­ing oat­meal, just as she’d done ev­ery morn­ing for the past 10 days.

The 37-year-old ate a spoon­ful of oats and re­flected on the dan­gers ahead. An­other 600 me­tres of push­ing and pulling both body and gear up the frozen ridge and she’d reach the sum­mit plateau. From there it would be a six-kilo­me­tre trek, sidestep­ping the deadly crevasses and frag­ile cor­nices of a crack­ing glacier on her way to the top of the moun­tain. Only then would she be­come the first woman to reach Lo­gan’s peak solo. She was so close.

Mar­tinez was near­ing the end of her meal when the ice and snow be­neath her tent be­gan to shake. Then Lo­gan be­gan to roar, and in that mo­ment it felt to the climber as if both she and her tent were go­ing to be wiped clear from the ridge. IT WAS 5 A.M. some 2,500 kilo­me­tres south­east in Whistler, B.C., too. Camilo Rada, Mar­tinez’s part­ner, was in their apart­ment, sleep­ing lightly, when his phone rang. He’d been with Mar­tinez for 10 years, long enough to know that she’d only call at this hour if there was an emer­gency.

Rada shot up as Mar­tinez shouted into her satel­lite phone that some­thing was ter­ri­bly wrong—but then she paused in con­fu­sion. Lo­gan had gone quiet. Mar­tinez was cer­tain her tent had been un­moored from the ridge by an avalanche. She sat still, ter­ri­fied that any sud­den move­ment meant her death.

Rada lis­tened, fear­ful, as Mar­tinez worked up the courage to sur­vey the dam­age. She promised to call her part­ner back, then hung up and un­zipped her co­coon.

Fif­teen min­utes later, Mar­tinez phoned Rada again, still per­turbed but calmer. She was stand­ing out­side

her tent and as far as she could tell, it hadn’t moved. But many of the nar­row snow bridges that had strad­dled the moun­tain’s crevasses had col­lapsed, re­placed by loosely packed snow that had been pushed over the crevasses and now con­cealed their haz­ards.

And yet Lo­gan seemed tran­quil. The only sound Mar­tinez could hear was that of a west­erly wind fun­nelling around the moun­tain as an arc­tic storm rolled in off the Pa­cific.

“I’m go­ing to pack up and go higher,” she told Rada. “I don’t feel safe here.”

She hung up and crawled back into her tent. As she be­gan rolling up her sleep­ing bag, the moun­tain rum­bled to life once more.

MAR­TINEZ HAD DREAMED of scal­ing Lo­gan since she’d first glimpsed its mas­sive ice walls and pro­trud­ing ridges from the neigh­bour­ing Mount Malaspina. Un­til Au­gust 15, 2015, the day Mar­tinez and Rada reached its sum­mit, Malaspina had been the high­est un­climbed named moun­tain in North Amer­ica. But even it was dwarfed by Lo­gan, which stood supreme over the hori­zon.

Lo­gan’s colos­sal beauty wasn’t the only thing that at­tracted Mar­tinez, nor was it the tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties. It was that no woman, or team of women, had ever scaled the moun­tain.

In 2007, Mar­tinez, who had been climb­ing since the age of 15, met Rada dur­ing a wilder­ness first-aid course on the Ar­gen­tinian bor­der with Chile. They fell in love and were soon be­lay­ing each other up and down walls in the An­des and the Hi­malayas.

When Rada enrolled at the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia in 2011 to study geo­physics, the cou­ple moved to the Cana­dian Rock­ies, set­tling near Whistler so they could use the sur­round­ing moun­tains and cliffs as a train­ing ground.

It was four years later, on Malaspina, that Mar­tinez told her part­ner of her in­ten­tion to climb Mount Lo­gan with a fe­male friend—and with­out him.

FOR THE NEXT TWO YEARS, while work­ing as a moun­tain guide and ski in­struc­tor, Mar­tinez stud­ied Lo­gan, im­mers­ing her­self in its ge­og­ra­phy and his­tory. She knew there were risks: in 1987, ac­com­plished climbers Cather­ine Freer and David Cheesmond died when a cornice broke off. An­nu­ally, an av­er­age of 25 climbers try to scale the moun­tain, and not all of them suc­ceed. In the last five years,


four had re­quired evac­u­a­tion. Mar­tinez for­mal­ized her plans. The friend she had hoped to climb with could no longer make the jour­ney, so she would tra­verse Lo­gan’s 38.6-kilo­me­tre length from east to west alone, ex­posed to the winds and storms that make the moun­tain one of the cold­est places on earth. While gain­ing 3,819 me­tres in el­e­va­tion, she would need to choose her ev­ery step care­fully and suc­cess­fully nav­i­gate the treach­er­ous ridge­line known as the “knife’s edge.” From there, she would reach the sum­mit and be­gin the long de­scent via the moun­tain’s west­ern face.

At 11 a.m. on April 20, 2017, Mar­tinez kissed Rada good­bye at the Van­cou­ver Air­port. Fly­ing first to White­horse, she then trav­elled by car to the en­trance of Klu­ane Na­tional Park and Re­serve. There she hired Tom Bradley, a bush pi­lot with a sin­gle-en­gine pro­peller plane on skis, to take her the rest of the way to Lo­gan. They touched down on the glacier at the east­ern base of the Lo­gan mas­sif on April 22.

The sky was clear as she clipped into her skis and be­gan drag­ging her 80 kilo­grams of gear by sleigh. It took two days to reach the base of the east ridge. She pitched her camp and lay alone with her thoughts. She knew this climb meant more to her than to any­one else. There wasn’t much at­ten­tion on her, just Rada and a few friends mon­i­tor­ing her progress through the co­or­di­nates she was post­ing on­line via the satel­lites cir­cling over­head.

On the third day, she strapped her cram­pons to her boots, took out her ropes, fixed her ice axe in her hand and be­gan scal­ing a 60 de­gree in­cline lined with con­cealed crevasses. On the sixth night, she reached the knife’s edge, a near ver­ti­cal stretch of the ridge that re­quires climbers to cling pre­car­i­ously to the side of a cornice, re­liant on the moun­tain’s frozen crust not break­ing away be­neath their weight.

By the eighth night, she was above the knife’s edge. She pulled out her shovel, built a wall out of snow and ice to shield her tent from the wind, then set up camp. The sun was hov­er­ing low in the sky on the other side of the moun­tain by the time she closed her eyes.

IT IS LO­GAN’S LO­CA­TION near the con­flu­ence of two tec­tonic plates and a smaller mi­croplate—a frag­ment of the earth’s crust, bro­ken off from the Pa­cific floor—that ac­counts for its im­pres­sive mass and size, the re­sult of mil­lions of years’ worth of tec­tonic shifts.






At 5 a.m. on May 1, while Mar­tinez ate her break­fast, a mag­ni­tude 6.2 earth­quake was de­tected near Lo­gan. It had been strong enough to shake the moun­tain’s crust, trig­ger­ing avalanches and ren­der­ing it im­pos­si­ble to climb.

In the mo­ments af­ter the first earth­quake, Mar­tinez had thought it safest to con­tinue her as­cent to­ward the sum­mit plateau. Af­ter the sec­ond earth­quake, and with 130-kilo­me­tre arc­tic winds com­ing in from the Pa­cific, she be­lieved it wiser to go back down to a more shielded sec­tion of the ridge. She moved cau­tiously into a thick­en­ing cloud. Try­ing as best she could to re­trace her foot­steps over the knife’s edge, Mar­tinez bat­tled self-doubt and grow­ing ter­ror as she lost the trail in the snow and fog.

Mar­tinez had de­scended roughly 300 me­tres when she was forced to set up camp. She pitched her tent near a crevasse, fig­ur­ing that if the storm blew her shel­ter apart, she could lower her­self into the fis­sure to dan­gle in dark­ness and wait for the weather to break. Af­ter zip­ping her­self in­side the tent, Mar­tinez set a rolling alarm: ev­ery two hours, she’d go out­side in the bat­ter­ing wind to clear the snow from the can­vas to pre­vent a col­lapse.

“My tent is my cas­tle,” she told her­self aloud, an en­cour­age­ment and a re­minder.

Her dili­gence kept her safe into the next day. Pe­ri­od­i­cally, she could hear her satel­lite phone ring­ing be­neath the sound of the storm. It was al­ways Rada or the Klu­ane Park of­fi­cials wait­ing for a win­dow to mount a res­cue. The na­ture of Mar­tinez’s lo­ca­tion made a re­trieval op­er­a­tion dif­fi­cult. The only way to get her off the moun­tain was to send a chop­per, but the weather was far too dan­ger­ous to nav­i­gate by air. Mar­tinez had no choice but to hang on.

The pres­sure of the storm was bend­ing the tent’s poles, threat­en­ing to col­lapse the shel­ter. Mar­tinez raised her hands above her head and trans­ferred the strain from the poles onto her­self. When her arms were too tired, she switched po­si­tion and used her head. When she couldn’t do that any longer, the climber got on her hands and knees and arched her back into the can­vas.

Through­out the night, Mar­tinez grew weaker. She couldn’t eat or drink for fear her tent would col­lapse, and she would be forced to aban­don it to take her chances in the nearby crevasse.

Back at their apart­ment in Whistler, Rada pre­pared him­self for an emo­tional flight to White­horse. He had




planned to greet Mar­tinez in Klu­ane Park on May 6 af­ter she com­pleted the tra­verse and let her know how much her ac­com­plish­ment meant. In­stead he was field­ing calls from lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional me­dia, none of whom had cared about the first fe­male solo ex­pe­di­tion on Lo­gan un­til dis­as­ter loomed. ON THE AF­TER­NOON of May 3, the tem­pest fi­nally sub­sided. Af­ter 24 hours of hold­ing up her shel­ter, an ex­hausted Mar­tinez was at last able to lie down. Vis­i­bil­ity was still poor. She knew from talk­ing to Rada that an­other storm was ap­proach­ing and won­dered how much more of a beat­ing her tent and body could take.

That same af­ter­noon, Tom Bradley, the pi­lot who’d dropped Mar­tinez at the base of the moun­tain, flew back to­ward Lo­gan in ser­vice of two clients who wanted a panoramic view of the moun­tains. It was Bradley who first no­ticed a break be­tween the storms bat­ter­ing the east ridge and no­ti­fied the park rangers.

Around 7 p.m., as Mar­tinez was about to shut her phone off for the night to pre­serve its dwin­dling bat­tery, she got a text from Rada telling her to call the park’s head­quar­ters. Scott Ste­wart, the vis­i­tor safety and fire op­er­a­tions co­or­di­na­tor, wanted her to be ready within the hour. Ste­wart had been mon­i­tor­ing Mar­tinez’s sit­u­a­tion since the ini­tial earth­quake woke him in White­horse, nearly 300 kilo­me­tres from Lo­gan. But he’d been un­able to or­ches­trate a res­cue while the winds pounded the moun­tain­side. Now he was air­borne, along­side Ian Pitch­forth, a White­horse-based he­li­copter pi­lot, and two other parks of­fi­cials. For an hour they flew to­ward Lo­gan, watch­ing it grow un­til it was all that they could see through the cock­pit win­dow.

Mean­while, on the east ridge, Mar­tinez packed up her tent and tried to dig out a flat land­ing pad for her res­cuers’ ar­rival. Look­ing around, she got her first proper glimpse of her sur­round­ings in days—the cracks in the ice and snow told her of the avalanches that had sur­rounded her.

Then came the sound of blades cut­ting through the air, echo­ing off the peaks and through the val­ley be­low. The chop­per hov­ered low, cir­cling Mar­tinez as she crouched in the snow. Twice Pitch­forth tried to land next to the climber only to be blinded by a pow­der cloud of snow caused by the pro­pel­lers. On the third at­tempt,


he touched the front of the air­craft’s land­ing skids on the moun­tain­side. Ste­wart un­buck­led and stepped out and onto Lo­gan to help Mar­tinez. In less than a minute her gear was on board, and so was she.

FOL­LOW­ING HER OR­DEAL, Mar­tinez was shocked by the amount of news cov­er­age she’d re­ceived from the Cana­dian and Ar­gen­tinian press. She was hum­bled by the at­ten­tion and yet dis­mayed it had taken a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence to at­tract no­tice. “If the earth­quake hadn’t hap­pened, no­body would have known that I was even climb­ing the moun­tain,” she says. That fact strength­ened her re­solve even more.

Since the res­cue, she and Rada have al­ready made it to the sum­mit of an un­climbed peak in Patag­o­nia. They named it En­roque, the Span­ish word for “castling” in chess, a for­ti­fi­ca­tion move and the only one where two pieces can pro­ceed at once.

Watch­ing the sun set on the Pa­cific Ocean while achiev­ing a his­toric first was mag­i­cal, but it wasn’t enough. Lo­gan still calls out to Mar­tinez. One day, she says, she’ll fin­ish the climb.

In­side the res­cue team’s he­li­copter, a few min­utes af­ter leav­ing the east ridge of Mount Lo­gan. From left to right: Pi­lot Ian Pitch­forth, climber Natalia Mar­tinez and Parks Canada staff mem­bers Sarah Chisholm and Scott Ste­wart.

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