by Sebastien Galisson, Moise Sutter and Eric Wintenberger
PART 1 PART 2 PART 3 PART 4
Mount Logan is the highest peak in Canada, towering at 5959m, at the heart of the Saint-Elias range. It is a remote mountain located in the middle of the largest non-polar icefield on the planet. Access is by bush plane or via 2 weeks of travel on moraines and glaciers from Kluane Lake. One of the features of Mount Logan is its immense summit plateau, 32 km2 of bare snow and ice, among which many summits point to the sky. The summit plateau is one of the coldest places on Earth, being perpetually swept by winds and storms, with temperatures that can drop below -40. The peak was first climbed in 1925 by a determined expedition after a long approach and several weeks. The route taken by the first expedition is the King Trench, which is nowadays the normal route to the summit. The first climbers to summit had to endure an unplanned bivouac on the way back and the end of the expedition was somehow epic. Our objective was not the normal route, but the East Ridge, located on the other side of the peak. First climbed in 1959, the East Ridge of Mount Logan is a fine snow and ice climb, involving some steep sections of snow/ice with short sections of rock. The route is highlighted by two exciting knife-edge ridges, where the exposure is wild. The East Ridge leads the climbers to the East Summit of Mount Logan, at 5930m, which is separated from the Main Summit by a 3 km-long ridge.
Our first task was to get there. The initial party consisted of Seb, Moise, Javier and me. However, Javier decided not to come at the last minute (6 hours before we were supposed to leave), and I met my friends in the Whitehorse airport alone. We had to rearrange the gear and supplies for the expedition, but that was done that same evening at the youth hostel ("Beez Kneez Bakpackers") where we were staying. The next morning, we boarded the Alaska Highway Bus that took us to Haines Junction. After a brief stop at the Ranger Station to secure the permits, we went to the Silver City airstrip, on the shore of Kluane Lake, where our pilot Andy Williams was based. We were hoping to be able to fly that same day, however, we had to learn the hard way that flying in the Saint-Elias range is entirely weather-dependent, and the weather was to be bad for us for the next 8 days. The weather had to be good at the airstrip, along the Kaskawulch Glacier and on Logan for Andy to fly safely. We started camping on the shore of the lake, and then moved into a small bungalow located there for climbers waiting to fly. After a few days spent talking, reading, tossing horseshoes, or "woodering" (climbing on wooden bungalows...), quite a few people were waiting for the weather to improve. About 20 climbers were in line, most of them for the King Trench, and more scientists were waiting to fly in various areas to do some drilling and sampling on the immense glaciers of the range. Our only highlight during that boring time was our encounter with a grizzly bear wandering a bit too close to our campsite. We had to make him flee by running after him and banging on cooking pots... After seven days, Andy decided to try flying and Seb and I boarded his Helio-Carrier full of hopes. Moise was to fly after us since only two climbers plus gear could fit in the plane. However, our hopes were soon destroyed when we saw the Kaskawulch Glacier clogged up with clouds and Andy turned back.
We were finally able to fly in the next day. However, the weather still had some tricks left. After flying 50 miles among the most immense glaciers I've ever seen, we were approaching the East Ridge base camp and ready to land when too much turbulence drove Andy back on his way. He eventually dropped us off about 20 km back the way we had come, where he could find a safe spot to land. When the plane took off, Seb and I found ourselves utterly alone on the immensity of the Hubbard Glacier. We quickly dug a hole to shelter ourselves from the wind while waiting for Moise, who was next to fly. But after 4 hours of waiting, we realized that the weather window had already closed and that Moise would not fly that day. So we decided to head off to Base Camp. I put on my skis while Seb wore his snowshoes. We were both pulling sleds to help us carry the 45-50 kg of gear and food. The scenery was impressive, Mount Vancouver was facing us before we made a turn east with Mount King George in our back. We finally arrived in sight of our objective. The East Ridge looked like a long and sharp fin of snow and ice on the back of Mount Logan. As we skied in, it seemed that the peak was never getting any closer, as we were in the middle of an amphitheater of incredible dimensions. MacArthur Peak was dominating the north side, while the Hubsew Ridge was delimiting the south side. At our arrival at Base Camp, at 9 pm, we were greeted by fellow expeditioners, some coming down after being stormed for 4 days on the summit plateau, and others going up with the goal of skiing down the King Trench after climbing the East Ridge. This group, composed of 3 women and one man, had skied in for 3 weeks from Haines, Alaska.