Expert: Woman's climbing death offers lessons

By Tom Eastman

MOUNT ADAMS β€” Rick Wilcox, head of International Mountain Equipment and president of the all-volunteer Mountain Rescue Service of North Conway, on Tuesday offered two valuable lessons to learn from the climbing death of the New York woman whose body was recovered near Mount Adams Monday afternoon.

Kate Matrosova, 32, of New York City was found dead Monday, apparently from exposure, a day after she went missing in the Northern Presidentials of the White Mountains. Searchers braved subzero temperatures and winds up to 108 mph to locate the Siberian native after she activated her Personal Locator Beacon on Sunday afternoon, indicating an emergency.

The beacon signal showed coordinates between Mount Madison and Mount Adams. Attempts to contact her on her cell and satellite phones were unsuccessful, and a rescue mission was launched.

β€œThe first lesson involves technology: Did she have a false sense of security, having a spot device on her and probably a cellphone?" said Wilcox, an experienced mountaineer who has summited some of the world's tallest mountains, including Everest as the leader of the successful New England Everest Expedition of 1991.

"The second lesson? The mountains will always be there, so if you get to treeline and it is horrendous, as it was Sunday and Monday, and you continue onward and you make a mistake, you are dead.

"It took rescuers a total of 20 hours to get to her, so you've got to be prepared to be out there alone," said Wilcox.

Matrosova was found between Mount Madison and Mount Adams near Star Lake, going up toward the summit of Adams behind Mount Sam Adams, according to Wilcox, who noted that searchers from New Hampshire Fish and Game, the Mountain Rescue Service and Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue all participated in looking for her.

Matrosova reportedly worked in credit trading at the banking firm BNP Paribas in Manhattan, according to her LinkedIn profile.

According to published reports, her husband, a vice president for JPMorgan Chase, dropped her off early Sunday at the base of the mountains, where she planned to hike the Northern Presidentials Traverse, a route above treeline from Mount Madison, Adams and Jefferson to Mount Washington, and then down the Ammonoosuc Trail to the base of the Mount Washington Cog Railway.

"Her husband dropped her off at 5 a.m. at the Appalachia parking lot on Route 2 at the base of the Valley Way Trail that leads up Mount Madison,” said New Hampshire Fish and Game Sgt. Mark Ober of the Region I office in Lancaster. "He was to pick her up at 6 p.m at the base of the Ammonoosuc Trail (at the western base of Mount Washington). It is ambitious in summertime to hike all that distance in one day let alone in winter with those high winds and cold temperatures."

According to Fish and Game, search crews from Fish and Game and Mountain Rescue Services (MRS) searched through the night in fierce winds and frigid temperatures for Matrosova.

Crews hiked in over 3 miles to a location north of Mount Madison and searched off trail in deep snow and thick scrub trees in an area identified by the beacon signal as Matrosova's probable last known location. After many hours, the crews were forced to suspend the search due to the treacherous conditions. They had to contend not only with temperatures of  -20 F and falling (not factoring wind chill) but also with sustained winds at 60-80 mph and visibility of only 1/16th of a mile.

On Monday morning, the National Guard was able to take a helicopter over the area though due to blowing snow, they were not able to see anything.

An advance team made up of Fish and Game Officers, Mountain Rescue Services members and Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue members finally got to the area, braving 108 mph winds and subzero temperatures.

According to Dr. Peter Crane of the Mount Washington Observatory, the high temperature on the summit of Mount Washington Sunday was 0 degrees F, with a low of -35 F. Also recorded were 9/10ths of an inch of new snow and a peak gust of 105 mph from the north. On Monday, the high dropped to -4 degrees F, with a low of -35 degrees and a peak gust of 141 mph from the north.

As The Conway Daily Sun reported Tuesday, Mount Washington Observatory Summit observer Ryan Knapp received information early Monday from www.wx-now.com that the summit was the second-coldest reporting location on Earth, behind only the South Pole at -51 degrees.

In discussing the death of Matrosova, Wilcox on Tuesday praised the teams of volunteers who worked with Fish and Game in the challenging conditions Sunday and Monday.

He also reiterated that technology is no safety net, noting that "people running around the mountains with technology should not expect to be rescued in those conditions if they are on their own."

The other rule? Those who go above the treeline in those kinds of conditions need a sleeping bag or a bivouac, said Wilcox.

He said that Matrosova was not equipped with snowshoes but was able to climb up the Valley Way Trail by following a path packed down by snowshoeing climbers two days before.

He said Matrosova apparently thought she could do the same coming down the Ammonoosuc Trail down Mount Washington.

"There are two ways to go (in climbing): light and fast, or heavy and slow," said Wilcox. "But if something happens when you go light and fast, you're screwed. That happened to her, and there is no way to spend the night. If you're on Lion's Head on Mount Washington, and there are 40 or 50 people around you, and you get in trouble, that's one thing β€” if you're in the Northern Presidentials, and you get into trouble, there is no one to help you."