After the tribulations of Denali, it would have been easy to give up on high altitude climbs. Why be a pack mule, subjected to constant abuse by a martinet leader, only to arrive on a summit from which the view barely extends to the length of one’s arm? Still, I had achieved the summit when more than half in our group had not. There was no sense of triumph on top; rather I remember thinking, as I gazed into the mist, “Is that all there is?” But later, the lure of altitude, the sense of being totally isolated from the valley dwellers of the world, the unforgiving glimpse into my insignificance in the universe drew me back to the big mountains.
Ursula, John and I were active members of the Edmonton Section, Alpine Club of Canada. We wanted to climb Mt. Logan, the highest mountain in Canada, but needed a fourth climber to make a safe party. During a ski mountaineering week with Canadian Mountain Holidays we spoke of our plans with our guide Kobi. He said that he was planning an expedition to Logan with some fellow guides and would welcome us as participants. And so we found ourselves on a trip with four professional guides for which we were paying only our food and transportation. Ursula and I made it to the east summit, which is not the highest point, but is plenty high enough. With such good companions and leadership we thoroughly enjoyed the expedition. Even more important to me, I used this trip as a springboard to the Alps, where I was to do the most memorable climbs of my career.
Logan is a monstrous mountain, so huge that it fills the entire front window of our bush plane.
Our route was the King Trench; it’s the easiest on the mountain but it offers more objective danger and technical difficulties than the route I had done on Denali. Above, Cathy, our cook, and John organize the massive load of food and gear we must take with us.
We begin to carry loads to a camp on King Col (above with King Peak), skiing down each day to sleep at base camp. One afternoon a massive avalanche roars down and covers the tracks we had made in the morning.
King Peak is a magnificent structure, arguably the most beautiful part of Logan.
On the lower parts of the climb we need two or three days to establish the next camp, carrying loads high but sleeping low in order to acclimatize.
Of course we have to act as pack mules; that’s the reality of a trip like this. Somehow the fine weather and majestic scenery, which is almost Himalayan in scale, make one forget the load on one’s back.
Eventually Logan’s fiendish weather catches up to us and we spend a few days trying to keep from being buried by snow.
When the sky clears, we continue our carries. Sometimes we leave a cache halfway between camps to shorten the distance and time required to move the load. In many places we must dance with enormous crevasses.
Our goal is a gigantic high plateau which gives access to all of Logan’s summits and which also serves as a research base. Kobi has come to do a construction job for the research station (seen in the background), after which he plans to climb the main summit. Meanwhile, Ursula, John and I will try to summit with Eddie, one of the guides. Because of Kobi’s project, however, our camp is at the far end of the plateau from the main peak.
Lying in my sleeping bag I know that the outside temperature is bone chilling. That means clear weather and a good day to go for the summit. It takes all of my courage to emerge from my down cocoon into the -36 degree cold. We set off at a good pace, but after an hour or two John is having trouble and decides to return to camp. Eddie ploughs a track through the snow for Ursula and me, and slowly we gain elevation.
At last Eddie stands atop the east summit and brings Ursula and me up to join him. We gaze in awe at the mountains of the St Elias range, now all below us. Across a crevasse-riddled flat area we see the main summit, too distant and too hazardous for us. We are already far from camp and will need all our determination to make it back in the harsh cold. Eddie serves up some schnapps, and then we start down.
John developed frost bite and also showed signs of high altitude cerebral edema; he was flown out from the high plateau, spent some time in hospital, but suffered no permanent damage. Eddie joined Kobi on his project, while Hans Peter was delegated to take Ursula and me to base camp. We spent almost a week there waiting for good flying weather. Kobi and the others arrived, having completed the project and climbed the main summit.
Hans Peter and I remain friends to this day. I joined Kobi on several more ski and climbing camps and still see him occasionally in Banff. Eddie returned to Switzerland to resume his guiding career there, and I decided to fly over in hopes of hiring him for some climbs. It was to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.