ANCHORAGE, Alaska — National Park rangers say they’ve never met a climber on Mount McKinley like the woman from Croatia who refused for six days to walk down and demanded an air evacuation.
Although she wasn’t injured or ill, she was flown off of a camp at the 14,200-foot level last May. When she reached Talkeetna, rangers gave Jadranka Luca-Mrden a rare citation for “interfering with agency function.”
“When I gave it to her, she said I was a big jerk,” said John Leonard, a South District ranger responsible for Denali’s mountaineering program.
He told The Anchorage Daily News she left the country without paying a fine.
Leonard says she abused the rescue system and wasted resources.
“It’s not an area where we like to go in and pick people off. It’s a high-altitude area, and there’s a risk in any sort of helicopter operation,” Leonard said. “For about six days we took the stance that we were not going to fly her off. The last thing in the world we ever wanted to do was fly this person off. We’re here to rescue people in true emergencies. This was a misuse and abuse of the system for us, because it was such a drain on our resources. We kept having to feed and take care of her and deal with her.”
Finally, Luca-Mrden was flown to the 7,000 foot base camp by the park service’s high-altitude helicopter, which came to the 14,200-foot camp to airlift another climber who suffered a dislocated shoulder in a fall. She took a fixed-wing plane to Talkeetna.
Efforts by The Anchorage Daily News to contact Luca-Mrden to get her side of the story were unsuccessful.
She had started climbing the mountain with a companion but turned back at the 15,800-foot level of the 20,320-foot mountain, the tallest in North America.
Rangers say they gave her supplies and offered other help but she refused to leave on her own.