Seventeen hours of clinging to a Sheep Mountain ledge showed a woman from Slovenia a side of Juneau most visitors don't see.
Petra Draskovic, 23, said she can't find the words in English to describe the people who saved her life Monday morning.
"When they (risk) their lives to save someone else's life, that's honorable," she said Monday afternoon, wearing the same black T-shirt she wore through the night.
Draskovic slipped onto the steep ledge while hiking Sunday and said she had to cling to a rock face and tree root overnight to keep from slipping farther.
"You cannot fall asleep," she added.
She clutched the rock and root throughout the evening and night, until rescuers spotted her from the air and reached her in the morning.
"That's a long time," Steve Handy of Juneau Mountain Rescue said. "Her spirit was amazing."
Handy and team member Jon McElwain finally put her in a harness and led her on foot to safety, down the mountainside.
"It was awesome that we found her alive," he said. Finding Draskovic in such good condition gave him a thrill he couldn't describe.
Draskovic said she wasn't planning on spending the night on the mountain. At about 9 a.m. Sunday, she hiked up Mount Roberts with a camera, lenses and tripod, looking to get pictures of mountain goats.
She told her host family that she would call later in the afternoon.
"I was planning to be home for dinner," she said.
When she didn't return, her host - who asked not to be named - reported her missing.
A graduate student in biochemistry while back in Slovenia, Draskovic said she visited Alaska last summer to combine a U.S. Geological Survey research stint with a love of photography. She presented 16 Alaska slide shows in Slovenia, then returned to Alaska this summer.
Draskovic said that while hiking Sunday, she met a man who directed her to the Sheep Creek Trail as a good place to see mountain goats.
Around 4:30 p.m. she found the going too steep. She tried to work her way through thick brush, lost her footing and grabbed the rock face and root to keep from falling.
Bruce Bowler of SEADOGS - Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search - said that the search for an overdue hiker was mobilized at about midnight. "It was dark dark - no moon," he said.
From Mount Roberts, McElwain spent several hours listening for a response from whistle calls. The wind made it difficult to hear most of the time, but as the sky began to lighten around 5:30 a.m., he heard three responses to a whistle, faintly and at a distance.
"I was yelling," Draskovic said.
With the morning light, the Civil Air Patrol joined in the search, which included members of the Juneau Alpine Club. McElwain and Handy searched in a TEMSCO helicopter.
Handy said that after they located Draskovic, they had to land about 1,500 feet away at a spot where they could work their way up to her.
The rescuers said it was steep. It could have been deadly for her to let go before they arrived.
Draskovic said her rescuers plucked her from the ledge at 9:30 Monday morning.
McElwain said he was impressed at how Draskovic was able to hang on.
"I climb," he said. "I was on the same ledge she was, and after 15 minutes my arms were getting tired."
They led Draskovic to safety but didn't get out of the area until after noon. She was checked out medically and given her a candy bar, she said. Later they took her out to lunch.
"This was a woman who made her mind up she was going to survive," Bowler said.
Draskovic said she will head to Anchorage today to return to Slovenia and pursue her doctorate. She will take with her slides of animals including bears, deer and whales. She never did get a picture of a mountain goat.
"Maybe that's a reason I have to come back," she said.
Tony Carroll can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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