Pain 'was like a 10,' says Pioneer Peak climber impaled by ax

The woman flown off Pioneer Peak near Palmer after a climbing tool stabbed her in the back during a fall Tuesday night said she was still recovering Wednesday, but thankful to have escaped more serious injury.

Alaska State Troopers said in a dispatch that an Alaska Air National Guard helicopter crew rescued the 23-year-old Australian, Shawnee Whitehorse, after word of her predicament came in around 9:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Whitehorse said in Facebook messages Wednesday that she is originally from Melbourne, Australia, but has been living in the U.S. for the last two years. She spent the first year of that time in Palmer, at a home below Pioneer Peak; she returned to Alaska just two weeks ago from her most recent address in New York City, with a climb on her mind.

"I just wanted to do Pioneer Peak ever since I lived under it," Whitehorse said.

She asked 46-year-old Lisa Pierimarchi, a friend and much more experienced climber, to accompany her on the hike Tuesday. Whitehorse brought an ice ax with her to help traverse snow and ice the two thought they might encounter near the summit; they didn't make it all the way to the top but took photos before they headed back down.

Sometime between 8 and 9 p.m. Tuesday, as they were descending on muddy ground at an altitude of about 6,000 feet, Whitehorse fell and was impaled by the ax, which she referred to as an "ice pick."

"(The ice ax) was in my backpack and went into my back next to my spine," Whitehorse said. "I fell to the ground screaming; Lisa pulled out the pick out and called 911."


"The pick was over an inch into my back touching bones and got my lung," Whitehorse said. "(The pain) was like a 10."

Whitehorse said the evening chill didn't register with her.

"We had lots of layers, but after the injury I wasn't cold or at least didn't feel it at all from the adrenaline," Whitehorse said.

Troopers said Pierimarchi provided their GPS coordinates during her 911 call. As temperatures dropped, the Air Force's Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage was contacted for help due to the ruggedness of the terrain. At the same time, Butte paramedics began hiking toward the women's location to provide additional assistance on the ground if needed.

Guard spokesperson Tech. Sgt. Nancy Halla said Wednesday an HH-60 Pave Hawk launched from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson with an HC-130 aircraft for support. The helicopter hoisted Whitehorse and flew her directly to Mat-Su Regional, returning to Anchorage by 11 p.m.

Whitehorse said she was treated and released after the fall, although she has follow-up appointments scheduled. She'd been stitched up after suffering what she described as a punctured lung and injuries to her ribs. She expressed thanks to the guard members who rescued her.

She said the fall hasn't affected her plans to climb Pioneer Peak — she hopes to try again next summer — or her feelings about Alaska.

"I love it so much," Whitehorse said. "It's my favorite place in the world."

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.