POLITICS

Climbing trio rescued after severe weather prevents descent from Mount Logan

06/19/2015 05:19 EDT | Updated 06/19/2016 05:59 EDT
HAINES JUNCTION, Yn - Three experienced climbers are recovering after sheltering inside a snow cave and tent for a week before being rescued while descending Canada's highest mountain.

The men from Alberta, British Columbia and Alaska were descending Mount Logan in Yukon when they were stranded by whiteout conditions and winds gusting up to 160 kilometres an hour.

The trio used survival skills to hunker down at about 5,100 metres elevation, but were then evacuated by helicopter.

"As the days wore on, it became more apparent to the climbers, and as well as to us, the seriousness of their situation," said Craig McKinnon with Kluane National Park, where the mountain is located.

The three climbers, between the ages of 40 and 60, started their journey up the mountain in late May. They reached the summit of the 5,900-metre mountain on June 2.

All three were professionals, with one man boasting six climbs up Mount Everest and 14 climbs to Mount Dinali, also known as Mount McKinley, he said.

But harsh weather conditions prevented a smooth descent. The men found a crevasse on a plateau, dug a snow cave and stayed there for three days to wait out the wind storm, McKinnon said.

"This was a key move with these very experienced climbers and knowing what to do in this situation," said McKinnon, noting it was minus 20 C and likely colder due to wind chill.

"If they had set up a tent there's a good chance that the tent could have blown off the mountain."

When visibility improved, the men attempted to move onwards but made no progress, McKinnon said. They managed to set up camp at the same elevation and stayed put for five more days.

The evacuation mission was launched two days after one climber using a satellite phone asked his wife to contact park officials.

Not only were they running out of food and fuel by that point, one of the men was suffering frostbite. Then another climber was feeling ill from the high altitude.

"It went from doing a food and fuel drop to, 'We should be doing a rescue of the one climber,'" McKinnon said.

A team of about 20 rescue personnel from three national parks planned the risky manoeuvre, he said.

McKinnon said the helicopter made two flights to the climbers on June 11, rescuing the man who had frostbite before returning to get the others.

"I'm sure they were happy to see the helicopter and the rescue being attempted, but until they were on solid ground at a lower elevation I'm sure they were aware of the seriousness and the risk involved."

McKinnon said all three men are back in high spirits, although doctors say it's possible the frostbitten man may lose a finger.

The park will pay for the rescue costs, he said.

— By Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver

— Follow @TamsynBurgmann on Twitter