In early June 2016 we made an attempt to summit Mt Steele in Kluane National Park, Yukon. Due to a large storm and inappropriate avalanche conditions relative to the final 1000m ascent, we did not attempt the summit. There were four of us in the group, of which three were old friends from Canmore and originally Swiss migrants to Canada, past and present Mountain Guides, and very active outdoorsmen. The oldest in the group was 72, I was the youngest, 43. Two in the group had been to the summit of 'nearby' Mount Logan in 1977. It was a privilege for me to be invited to join this great group on an expedition style trip.
The logistics and dependency on weather requires patience and commitment. Here is how the trip unfolded:
- Fly to Canada, spend 3 days finalising gear and food for 20 days on the icefield
- 3 days to drive 2800km to Haines Junction
- 5 days waiting for fly weather
- Fly into our zone, only to be restricted by low clouds and forced to land and make base camp at 2600m, 7km further down glacier than anticipated. Doesn't sound like much, that that added 3 days of work to relocate our supplies to the intended base camp
- Another 7 days moving and stocking camps 1, 2 and 3 while acclimatising
- Day 10 at camp 3, 4000m. We had momentum and fitness, ready to move to camp 4 the next day, and make the summit the day after that
- It then snowed for 30 hours, and we remained at 4000m for 3 days while summit chances plummeted
- Day 14, reverse to camp 1 collecting caches along the way, fly out
I think I'd like to go back there or to another zone in Kluane NP and ski tour the area from a base camp. The massive scale and views are worth it. Perhaps I'll team up with a senior guide and offer a guided trip there some time, though not for the easily frustrated types.
Here are some photos...
The massive Donjek Glacier.
Hauling loads to the next camp. Mount Steele in the distance, about 25km away and 2000m higher.
Unsettled weather arrived as we neared 4000m, and some of the more interesting approach terrain.
We changed lead role each day. Kobi working hard up-front in a whiteout on a narrow finger of terrain. Huge exposure and cornices one side, crevasses and a steep slope on the other. The arriving storm was supposed to deliver 10-20cm, not 70cm. It almost buried all of our route wands.
After the storm. 5,959m Mount Logan behind our venerable kitchen tent at our 4,000m camp.
After the storm. Myself, Ernst, Albert and Kobi. Day 11 on the ice, plus 8 days getting there. All in good spirits and otherwise physically ready for the task that we turned our backs on the day prior. It was the fittest I have felt at 4000m and I was eager to see how our long acclimatization period would benefit us at 5000m.
Just endless mountains and glaciers. If it wasn't exposed rock, it was glacier, and if it was glacier, it was crevassed.
Mount Logan, just before midnight.
Mount Steele. This was as close as we got. It is not a very hard summit technically, just high and distant (depending on where you land). But a good portion of the final 1000m climb pictured here has few reliable solutions to high-consequence avalanche uncertainty. There were three Old-Not-Bold mountaineers in our group. And one Middle-Aged-Not-Bold, and planning to be old. No summit.
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