Mount Logan—East Peak
David A. Collins and Gilbert J. Roberts
THE airdrop of supplies at the foot of Mount Logan, North America’s second highest mountain, was the most thrilling bit of flying we had ever experienced. In two flights with a Yakutat-based Cessna 140 we skimmed over the surface of Hubbard Glacier and dumped out most of our 40-day food supply at 7200 feet elevation, just two miles below the end of the East Ridge. With three more flights in a ski-equipped Super Cub the five climbers, together with more food and equipment, were deposited eight miles farther down the glacier ready to make the first full-scale attempt on Logan from the east.
The beginning of our operation in this age of airdrop was a far cry from that of the 1925 expedition which made the first ascent of Logan, from the west. In one of the great efforts in mountaineering history that group—Lambart, MacCarthy, Carpé, Foster, Read, Taylor, Hall, Morgan— succeeded in getting the first six to the central summit. Their ascent, by the long ridge from King; Col, was possible only after months of effort which included relaying loads by dog sled in the cold Yukon winter. On the return from the summit the party was nearly overcome in a terrible storm which they survived only through a tremendous effort of will. Every man was frostbitten in the two days out from their highest camp. (AAJ, 1933, 2:1, pp. 69-86.)
In 1950 that first ascent route was repeated by two separate parties which reached the central summit within nine days of each other. Norman Read and André Roch were the first party; Gordon Herried, Mark Christensen, and Alston Paige the second. (AAJ, 1951, 8:1, pp. 191-2; 1952, 8:2, pp. 364-7.)
Then, in 1953, McGowan, Mohling, Miller, Kelley, and Long scouted the eastern aspect of Logan in the hope of finding a new route. They did find a promising ridge leading to the 16,000-foot summit plateau beneath the unclimbed east peak; however, Long had to be evacuated with appendicitis before they could give it a try. The remaining members were able to reconnoiter this ridge to about 10,500 feet; and about 10 days later made the first ascent of Mount Cook. To that expedition we were indebted for a great deal of valuable information and excellent photographs which were most helpful when we went to the same area. (AAJ, 1954, 9:1, pp. 32-38.)
The last week of June 1957 saw five of us gathered in Yakutat, Alaska. Don Monk, from Danville, California, was a graduate student of mathematics at the University of California; Kermith Ross lived at China Lake, California, and was a patent attorney for the Navy; Cecil Ouellette, of Yakima, Washington, recently discharged from the mountain troops, was preparing to study geography; Dave Collins had been doing graduate work in engineering at the University of Washington after a tour with the Navy Civil Engineer Corps; Gil Roberts was a medical student at Stanford Hospital in San Francisco.
This expedition did not take full shape until a few weeks before departure. Collins and Roberts had done much letter writing for many months, but were still short-handed. Fortunately, Monk and Ross, who had been considering a similar venture, offered to join forces. Unfortunately, Frank Tarver, another original member of the party, broke his leg just four days before departure after he had spent many days in Seattle buying and packaging food. Only Don and Kermith had climbed together previously; they had been with a Sierra Club group in the Mount Wood area north of Logan a few years before. Dave also had experience in the North: he had been up Mount McKinley with the successful 1953 expedition. As no leader was chosen, all decisions were the result of group discussion, and vote when necessary, a system which proved thoroughly satisfactory.
At Yakutat, on the Alaskan coast about 80 miles (as an intrepid crow would fly) south and a bit east of Mount Logan, which is in Yukon Territory, we became better acquainted during the usual three-day wait for flying weather. The gear, which had been air freighted from Seattle, was quickly reorganized. Everything was here: five tents of various design (including two Makalu tents loaned us by the California Himalayan Committee) , our vibram-equipped Korean boots (unexcelled for Alaskan mountaineering), snowshoes, pitons (rock and ice), rappel pickets, and so on into the many dozens of items necessary for living and climbing in such a remote glaciated area. Finally June 25 dawned a luscious day and we made the airdrop flights near the base of East Ridge, while the members of the party were landed farther down Hubbard Glacier with the ski plane. Next morning the plane was flown in with one more load of food and equipment ; then we were left in isolation and close communion with this beautiful, heavily glaciated St. Elias Range.
The two days after our landing were spent collecting gear and hauling it up through an easy icefall to the base of the East Ridge, where Camp One (Base Camp) was set up. Our aluminum ski sled, fabricated by Ross, was similar to one used by the 1953 party, but with the addition of a sturdy push-bar, which was a big help in stabilizing it on traverses. This sled was of tremendous value on the glaciers under the mountain and later on the
long walk to the coast.
Just above Base Camp came our first big problem—to get our hundreds of pounds of food and equipment up extremely steep slopes and onto the ridge. Brought along for this special purpose were some aluminum sheaves and a 2000-foot coil of manila rope which was also used for fixed ropes higher up. After Cecil and Don climbed the steep rock at the base of the ridge, we rigged an A-frame and pulley system from the crest down extremely steep ice for 400 feet to easier slopes which we could climb with loads. For two days we repeatedly loaded the sled, threaded through a crevasse pattern, backpacked the loads to the bergshrund which marked the transition to steeper slopes, and hauled for all we were worth to get them to the crest.
During the hauling operation Don and Cecil (before he rapelled down to help with the pulling) used a small tent platform near the A-frame, christened Camp Two, but soon after we had all gained the ridge we moved about 500 feet higher to a larger perch, Camp Three, a little under 9000 feet. This was to serve as our big supply dump and Advance Base.
On July 2 we carried loads about six hours up the ridge to Camp Four, at about 11,000 feet. This portion of the ridge was loose and exposed, but not technically difficult. Still, a couple of fixed ropes were deemed advisable. Our policy was to be "rest days are storm days ; and on July 4, after another day of relaying loads, we got our rest while a dilly of a storm plastered the mountain with plenty of powder snow. Three of us were in Camp Three and two in Camp Four. Kermith and Dave made a reconnaissance above Camp Four during one lull, but it was the evening of the 7th before the three below could move up with the last loads to Camp Four. The storm continued next day, but one trip down to Camp Three was made to replace a stove that had gone over the side. July 9 continued in a stormy vein, but everyone finally set out with loads and the weather cleared in the afternoon.
Climbing above Camp Four was much more difficult. Dave and Kermith had used ice pitons in the initial trip up, but located relatively easier routes coming back. The south side of the ridge presented steep rotten rock with patchy snow and down-sloping slabs. The north side was primarily high- angle ice. left several fixed ropes and stayed close to the crest except for one traverse out onto a series of ledges on the south face of the ridge. At 12,000 feet Kermith and Dave had placed a cache in two trips to this point. Above that the ridge was a knife edge of ice for about 350 feet with 4000- foot drops to the upper Hubbard on either side. As we were in shadow this late in the day, a cold wind really numbed us as Kermith and Cecil went ahead to cut steps suitable for men with 40- to 50-pound loads. Finally we reached a broad portion of ridge in the lee of a large ice cliff and established Camp Five at about 12,300 feet. After some hasty platform digging we all hurried down to warm up.
By July 11 everyone was established with supplies in Camp Five, and the route above had been scouted for about 1200 feet. The next day we got about two hours farther up the ridge, but were forced to cache our loads and retreat when what had looked like a minor flurry of snow and mist took a turn for the worse. Snow and high winds held us in Camp Five for three days. By now we were out of reading matter, and efforts were directed at new culinary delights. One, the "Logan TV Breakfast,” had 20 or more ingredients and was without doubt the worst thing any of us had ever eaten in the mountains.
On the 15th the weather cleared again. We decided to make our moves from camp to camp in one day with double carries to avoid being stranded above or below our main supplies with deep snow between, and to avoid the drifting-in of steps between trips. In carrying out this plan we made two carries to Camp Six, situated in a rather exposed position on the lower lip of a crevasse at about 13,500 feet. The route from Five to Six involved some steep ice-covered slabs where more fixed ropes were placed, then a narrow ridge covered with snow which the advance party removed in about an hour of shovel-work. Above 13,500 feet the ridge began to widen and ultimately merged into the face of the 15,500-foot dome, which was the highest point we had been able to see on the mountain. Steep snow slopes, with crevasses and avalanche worries, now supplanted sharp rock and ice ridges.
One false start of 200 feet above Camp Six ended on the wrong side of a large crevasse. Removing our tubular aluminum rappel pickets and fixed line, we tried again; and after a traverse to the south, below the crest, and a few more problems in a small ice fall, we established Camp Seven on the face of the dome a bit above 14,000 feet. Now we were almost even with unclimbed McArthur Peak across the way. On the way down for more loads we had our only real avalanche scare. Where we traversed below the crest the slope avalanched to a depth of three feet. One man was swept off his feet, but scrambled to safety even before the rope went taut to his rope- partners above the fracture line. Still, the avalanche was impressive as it swept down the face and out onto the glacier 6000 feet below. We had observed dozens of avalanches on the faces around us during our three weeks in the area, but this one took on a special significance.
We made two carries over the dome to establish Camp Eight on the 17th. The route lay mostly on high-angle snow, both hard and soft, with some traversing to avoid crevasses and avalanche slopes. It was a great day! We got our first look since we landed on Hubbard Glacier at the unclimbed East Peak. Set back several miles from the edge of the plateau, it had been hidden from us until now by the dome on which we stood. Below, only the higher peaks could be seen piercing a layer of cloud; Lucania and Steele were prominent to the north. Camp Eight was the first site where we did not have to level out a platform. Next morning the weather was discouraging, but with heavy packs we slogged on in mist and snow. Soon we were in the lee of a small peak and the drifts were thigh deep. At 3 o’clock we decided we had gone far enough, and Camp Nine was placed in a huge basin at 16,000 feet, about two miles from the base of the East Peak. The weather looked bad, but we were prepared to wait for five days if necessary. Our plans for a midnight start were called off, but by 9 o’clock in the morning the weather had improved enough to justify a summit try.
So on July 19 we headed with great enthusiasm for the southeast ridge of the East Peak, still slogging in deep snow, but making better time without packs. Below the ridge an ice slope required us to use crampons. Once on the ridge the climbing was on hard snow with occasional islands of rock through which we easily threaded. Moving upward, we came into view of the mighty peaks of the St. Elias range—St. Elias itself, off to the southwest, now below us. The wind became stronger and colder and we put on down jackets with parkas over them.
At four in the afternoon all five reached Logan’s East Summit. Stepping gingerly at first and belaying until the cornice seen from below had been investigated, we were soon milling about in a mess of "rope salad.” We shot pictures with complete abandon and tried to decide which of Logan’s peaks was the higher. The Central Peak about two miles away had been climbed on the three previous ascents. Sighting with an ice axe did not solve the question. In the end we were pretty much in agreement with others that the two peaks are very, very close in elevation, with the Central Peak perhaps slightly higher. The long ridge dropping to 18,000 feet or so and then rising to that peak was tempting, but we were already out on a long limb. The weather had been good for too long and clouds were rising. We did not ever seriously consider carrying one or two more camps over the East Peak; we were happy to be where we were. One camera shutter froze as we were admiring and photographing the grand panorama. All too soon we were forced to begin the long descent.
On the way down we made good time, glissading now and then. We reached Camp Nine at 7 o’clock. None of us had felt the altitude particularly, but all were very tired and thirsty. The temperature was —11°F as we began melting water for soup.
Next morning everyone moved in slow motion, for the last five days of heavy going were beginning to tell. Eventually we broke camp and started down, leaving our Logan tent where it stood full of items we could now do without. Soon, heavy mist enshrouded us and we were most thankful for the flagged wands we had placed on the way up. We descended, pausing just long enough to reclaim personal gear and eat any particularly tempting food. We were all extremely hungry for protein despite an adequate supply of food on the ascent. Poor visibility and drifted powder snow caused crevasse problems. Between camps Six and Five the lead man suddenly disappeared from view, but was soon extricated. The fixed ropes still in place made the descent faster and safer in several places. The tent we had left at Camp Five had not fared very well in our absence, but it was soon dug out and added to a load. It was a great relief when the sharp ice ridge below Camp Five was passed. On that we made it all the way down to Camp Four and ended the day with an enormous meal.
Next morning, July 21, we continued down the rock ridge. There was less snow here now and more trouble with loose rock. In some places we had to move one at a time until all were out of range. Camp Three with all the canned goods almost stopped us—ham, sardines, peanut butter, honey, roast beef, canned fruit, etc., were the principal reasons. Late in the afternoon we pushed on and, heavily laden internally and externally, made the final 400-foot rappel off the ridge and over the bergschrund into a thick mist; thence on down to Base Camp.
A heavy snowstorm held us here for a day and a half, but the rest was welcome. When the wind eased a bit, we meandered down the icefall, making many detours around crevasses in the one-rope-length visibility. At the foot of the icefall we played "cache, cache, where’s the cache.” Two groups set off on different bearings and one hunch luckily paid off, so that the full day of effort got us two miles into Airdrop Camp after all. In the morning things cleared somewhat so we could see that behind us the East Ridge was covered with white—luck had been with us in getting down before this last storm.
Roughly 90 miles lay between us and the coast as we started down Hubbard Glacier July 24. Traveling on snowshoes and pulling our loaded sled, we made about 15 miles to the base of Water Pass, which would take us over the Logan-Vancouver ridge and onto Seward Glacier. From Water
Pass next day we viewed St. Elias again across the broad expanse of Seward Glacier, and our own East Peak of Logan emerged from the clouds above us. Then we traveled on into the night and the fog closed in. We had to find our way by compass across the seemingly interminable Seward neve toward Seward Trough, a fanstastically broken channel of ice where Seward Glacier funnels down to Malaspina Glacier. Late in the afternoon of the 26th we heard rock falling; our voices echoed off something close to our left —Cook Nunatak. We were right on course. Next morning the fog began to lift and we started threading our way through the crevasses at the entrance to the Trough. These crevasses were the biggest any of us had seen, and we were most careful to use only very well-supported snow bridges. For a time an unbroken surface presented itself—we almost took to flight. Farther along, below Point Owen, we found the Trough too broken to permit travel. From there on we went along the left-hand margin through little bays of dead ice and up and down over intervening ridges, each of which meant unloading the sled and carrying again. Still, these ridges had flowers, heather for beds, and running water—all very welcome indeed after the barrenness of the country we had been in for over a month. At Point Glorious we had our first contact with civilization since the landings on Hubbard Glacier. At this point a Yakutat pilot, who had been wondering where we were, spotted our signal mirror. He buzzed our lunch spot and we signaled with a victory symbol that all was well.
Where the Seward broadens out to feed the 50-mile-wide Malaspina Glacier, we passed between Seward Rock and the Hitchcock Hills to reach the level of the Malaspina on the evening of July 29. Traveling on a bearing of 150 degrees magnetic, we made for the coast 35 miles away. Halfway out across this vast wasteland of dirty ice, moraines, and pressure ridges, we abandoned our sled, as we had been doing all along with bulky or heavy unneeded equipment. We continued the up-and-down course, only getting high enough to see the ocean a couple of times during the day, and by evening of the 31st we could hear the surf. Now, with the bottom of the food bag showing, we faced the biggest problem of the entire walk-out. A system of lakes and channels paralleled the beach for many miles in both directions, presenting an intimidating barrier. On the flight in we had seen a corridor through the lakes; now it seemed to have disappeared. The thought of miles of moraines and ice hills covered with sliding detritus leading around the obstacle was oppressive. A diligent search in the second day finally produced a roundabout route. It involved much iceberg-jumping, a swim on air mattresses, a high line for equipment, and, in one stretch, running along a chain of small bergs fast enough so that none had a chance to sink. On the morning of August 2 we reached our pick-up point at a beach near the Satsuma Maru, a 60-year-old Japanese wreck, whose three masts still protrude from the sand. It was only a few hours before two Cessnas landed on the beach to bring to an end our thoroughly successful mountain adventure, except for a last view of Logan rising magnificently across Yakutat Bay.
Summary of Statistics
Area: St. Elias Range, Yukon Territory.
Ascent: Logan, first ascent of East Summit, July 19, 1957.
Personnel : Kermith Ross, Don Monk, Cecil Ouellette, Gilbert J. Roberts, David A. Collins.