By Cathy O’Dowd
Mount Logan, the second highest peak in North America, sits hidden from the sight of tourists on the Alaska / Yukon border. Where Denali now gets well over 1000 climbers a year, Logan attracts less than a hundred.
It is also notorious for high winds, very cold temperatures, and climbers getting trapped on the eight mile long plateau which sits at 5000 metres. It sounded like a fine objective for an Eagle Ski Club - Alpine Club undertaking.
Six of us went over, taking skis and sleds, flying in to the glacier below in a tiny wheel/ski plane. Our route - the Kings Trench - is as prosaic as it sounds, a long snow ramp hemmed in by high ridges, the only reasonably easy access to the plateau. Given the distance and the height gain - over 3200 meters, we had to move double loads. Skiing back down between carries provided some surprisingly good turns.
The only technical challenge is an icefall just above Kings Col at 4100 meters. An heavy snow winter provided good crevasse cover and allowed for a fairly easy passage. On the steeper ground above, the sleds hung behind us like sulky deadweights, sliding sideways on every zig-zag. Our reward was the opening of the view, across the broad Seward glacier to the picturesque Mount Saint Elias and the Pacific ocean beyond.
We hired a Delorme Inreach (satellite 2-way text device) from the Alpine Club and powered it with Goal Zero solar panels. We were getting custom weather reports from a meteo professional in Vancouver.
Three other teams gave up while we hung on at camp 4, at 5300 meters, waiting for a weather window that never came. Finally two of us, sick of cold and altitude, decided to descend. The other four pushed on, making use of a slender gap of better weather to enter the notorious plateau.
The next morning we were racing the weather to the summit, racing very slowly. The winds rose as we shuffled our way higher. By the time we swopped to crampons, the mist had enveloped us. The final lump of snow at 5959 meters was a frustrating summit, without views, too cold to stay long - a poor recompense for the many days of work.
Once back on skis, we found the cloud had swallowed up all signs of our track, the slope, and the mountain. Progress slowed to a wobbly snow-plough, the GPS used to work out a bearing, the compass to follow that bearing. The hard-edge, ice-topped sastrugi, undetectable in the greyness, caught at ski edges poorly controlled by thighs shaking with fatigue. We collapsed into our tent nearly twelve hours after we left, exhausted but elated - we’d done it!
Team: Phil Jardine (leader), Chris Allan. Summit team: Matt Horlor, Iona Pawson, David Williams, Cathy O’Dowd
Dates: 8 to 27 May 2016