Hiker describes 30 day wilderness ordeal after partner dies

Czech tourist Pavlina Pizova,  whose partner fell to his death, survived a harrowing month in the frozen New Zealand wilderness before being rescued.
Picture: James Allan/New Zealand Herald via AP
Czech tourist Pavlina Pizova, whose partner fell to his death, survived a harrowing month in the frozen New Zealand wilderness before being rescued. Picture: James Allan/New Zealand Herald via AP
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A Czech hiker who went missing a month ago in the snowy mountains of New Zealand has described the “harrowing” ordeal in which her partner died.

Pavlina Pizova said she and Ondrej Petr began hiking the Routeburn track in Fiordland National Park on 26 July, but got lost in bad conditions.

Czech hiker Pavlina Pizova and her partner Ondrej Petr, taking a selfie at an undisclosed location.
Picture: Getty Images

Czech hiker Pavlina Pizova and her partner Ondrej Petr, taking a selfie at an undisclosed location. Picture: Getty Images

After one night in the open, Petr, 27, slipped in a steep ice slope and died, Ms Pizova said.

After he died, she stayed with him through the freezing night.

It would take almost another month before Ms Pizova would be rescued from the New Zealand wilderness in an ordeal she described as “harrowing.”

The tourist from the Czech Republic, who was rescued Wednesday from a park warden’s hut on the snowed-in Routeburn Track near Queenstown, broke down in tears as she read aloud her account in halting English. Czech Consul Vladka Kennett provided more details.

Her comments came soon after rescuers retrieved the body of her partner, 27-year-old Ondrej Petr.

The couple set out on July 26 to hike the scenic track, 20-mile route that typically takes three days in the summer, but which can become treacherous in the winter months from June to August.

Ms Pizova said they made several mistakes: they didn’t tell anybody of their specific plans, they didn’t take a locator beacon, and they underestimated the winter conditions.

“All these aspects contributed to our tragedy,” she said.

Midway through the hike, as they tried to reach the Lake Mackenzie Hut, things started to go wrong.

“The conditions were extreme. We encountered heavy snowfall and low cloud which contributed to our enforced overnighting in the open,” Ms Pizova said. “In our attempt to reach the hut, the tragic accident happened.”

Ms Pizova says she finally found her way to the Lake Mackenzie Hut and broke into the warden’s quarters through a window. She says she tried to hike out several times but her frost-bitten feet and the avalanches she was witnessing discouraged her.

The hiker would end up spending nearly a month at the hut. She used ash to fashion a letter “H” in the snow to signal for help. But other hikers were avoiding the route, and the planes and helicopters she waved at never saw her.

Ms Kennett said Ms Pizova also tried making snow shoes, crampons and walking sticks from items she found around the hut, attempts which would later impress rescuers. But Ms Kennett said she never made it more than a few hundred meters (yards) before turning back.

“She wasn’t confident to carry on but she didn’t give up trying,” he said. “She tried everything she could, given the conditions.”

Ms Kennett said Ms Pizova survived on food left behind by the wardens, who don’t live there during the winter.

Police Inspector Olaf Jensen said it took weeks before friends and family realised the couple was missing and raised the alarm. He said the Czech Consulate informed police on Wednesday and they launched a search the same day.

He said police found the couple’s car at the trailhead and sent a helicopter along the route. He said Ms Pizova was relieved to see her rescuers.

Ms Kennett said she can barely understand how the hiker managed to survive her ordeal.

“I think she is a really tough woman,” she said.