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Colleagues mourn, mountaineers reflect on death of woman hiking White Mountains

Union Leader Correspondent

February 17. 2015 9:29PM
In photos on her Facebook page, Kate Matrosova, 32, a New York investment banker found dead on Mt. Madison, could be seen mountain climbing several large peaks around the world. 

LOW AND BURBANK’S GRANT — As colleagues mourn her death, mountaineering experts say Kate Matrosova, the New York City woman who died while attempting a north-south traverse of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains, would probably have made the demanding hike in any weather except what she encountered Sunday.

At 5 a.m. Sunday, Matrosova, 32, who was a credit-training associate with BNP Paribas in Manhattan, went up Mount Madison alone with the goal of reaching the summit and then crossing the ridge that links several other peaks, including Mount Washington, before descending and meeting up with her husband at a trailhead in Twin Mountain.

Matrosova began her trek in some of the coldest, windiest weather to have hit the Mount Washington Valley in recent years, as temperatures on Sunday and into Monday were in the area of 30 degrees below zero with 100-plus mph wind dropping the wind chill into the negative 90s.

Although the conditions didn’t initially deter her but possibly because of them, Matrosova activated her personal location beacon (PLB) around 3:30 p.m. Sunday. After chasing down three false sets of coordinates from the device, a search team found Matrosova about 2 p.m. Monday in an area near Star Lake, dead likely from exposure to the elements.

On Tuesday, Cesaltine Gregorio, a spokesperson for BNP Paribas, issued a statement saying that the international banking firm was “… deeply saddened by the death of our colleague, Kate Matrosova. Our thoughts are with her family,” which several media outlets said included her husband, Charlie Farhoodi, a vice president with J.P. Morgan.

Matrosova’s body was found, recovered and returned to her family by teams of volunteers, among them from the Gorham-based Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue (AVSAR).

Yesterday, AVSAR team leader Mike Pelchat said he and his fellow searchers, many of whom are professional mountain guides and avid outdoorsmen — were happy to be able to extend a final courtesy to a kindred soul.

“We never knew her,” Pelchat said of Matrosova, “but she’s our sister and it’s the family that we’re concerned about. We said we’re taking her down, bringing her home.”

The north-south traverse that Matrosova was attempting is about 18 miles long, and while not unheard of in the winter, it is most commonly done in the summer, said Pelchat, adding that it takes experienced, aggressive hikers about 18 hours although it can sometimes take up to three days.

Like Matrosova, the teams that sought to rescue her, including Pelchat’s, began the 4-mile ascent of Mount Madison from the Appalachian Trail in Randolph. With help from a Civil Air Patrol aircraft, the signal from Matrosova’s PLB was determined to be coming from the area of Star Lake and Pelchat’s AVSAR team was directed to go there.

The team found Matrosova about 300 feet off the trail.

Bradley White, president and an owner of the North Conway-based International Mountain Climbing School, said Matrosova’s death should be a wake-up call about the dangers of hiking the White Mountains in winter.

Hiking alone and in winter can be safe, White said, but there are times when it should be a “no go,” like on Sunday when the winds and cold should have made Matrosova reconsider.

A persistent wind will rob hikers of sense and strength and higher gusts, those above 80 mph, will stop their forward progress entirely, said White. Hikers need to do some mental math, he said, and despite having the best polar gear available, “you are not going to be able to function, you will not survive out in that kind of weather,”

Rick Wilcox, who is the president of Mountain Rescue Services and is White’s business partner, said Matrosova’s idea of a Presidential Range traverse was “an OK plan,” but “she just picked a really, really bad day.”

“Hiking alone in winter is fine,” said Wilcox, adding that “even though the general public perception is it’s suicidal, it’s not at all. On a nice day, under good conditions, we could have brought her down safely.” But on Sunday, he said, “even our best climbers could not get above tree line.”

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