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North America, Canada, St. Elias Range, Kluane National Park Reserve, Mountaineering Summary and Statistics

Kluane National Park Reserve, mountaineering summary and statistics. During the 2002 climbing season in Kluane National Park Reserve, a total of 130 persons participated in 35 mountaineering expeditions. This accounted for 2,258 person-days in the Icefields of Kluane. This is somewhat lower use than in previous years.

The weather this year was relatively normal—unpredictable, depending on where and when you were in the Icefields. Snow conditions were a bit unusual. It appears that low winter snowfall and warm conditions made for a shallow, unconsolidated snowpack. Many expeditions reported crevasses being poorly bridged, and in many areas a breakable crust and deep sugar snow prevailed, while on the King Trench route in the early season hard wind pack and huge sastrugi created problems for expeditions.

Most expeditions aimed for Mt. Logan, with 27 teams attempting it—16 on the King Trench, 7 on the East Ridge, and 4 on other routes. Fifteen teams were successful at reaching one of the main summits (Main Peak, East Peak, West Peak). Successful expeditions took from 17 to 26 days to complete their climbs.

Other mountains that saw climbing activity were Kennedy (two expeditions), Hubbard (one), Alverstone (one), King Peak (one), McArthur (one), Gibson (one), Wates (one), Walsh (one), and Augusta (one).

Of note this year was a new route on Mt. Logan, just east of Independence Ridge, climbed by two British Columbia boys. A crew of four from B.C. did a 675km traverse of the St. Elias and Chugach mountains starting in Haines, Alaska, and ending in Cordova, Alaska. En route they climbed the East Ridge route of Mt. Logan, traversed the summit plateau, and descended the King Trench route. An Alaskan used an 18-foot aluminum ladder/harness combination to make a solo climb of Mt. Logan via the King Trench route. A Parks Canada team celebrated the International Year of the Mountain by revisiting the Alpine Club of Canada’s camp of 1967 (Canada’s Centennial) on the Steele Glacier. Some of the early explorers of this area and First Nation elders who were involved with early expeditions related stories of that era during a visit to the site. Park Warden staff spent a week in the area doing mountaineering and rescue training.

Only one major search-and-rescue operation occurred during 2002. A climber attempting a new route on Mt. Augusta suffered serious injuries from rockfall. His partner descended to their base camp and was able to call out on a satellite phone. However, weather prevented rescue teams from getting to the area immediately. Attempts to get to the climber were made from both the Canadian and Alaskan sides, with a military helicopter and crew from Anchorage, Alaska, and Denali National Park finally reaching the site and performing a very technical heli-hoist. Other public-safety incidents were more minor, with a few crevasse-fall injuries, frostbite, and other medical problems that were dealt with by the climbers’ teams and other expeditions.

Researchers were once again active in the Icefields. Three groups—Geological Surveys of Canada (GSC), National Institute of Polar Research of Japan (NIPR), and the Climate Change Research Center of New Hampshire—were involved in a coordinated ice core drilling program both on Mt. Logan and on the Eclipse Icefield. Scientists removed ice cores from both locations and will analyze the cores to better understand the world’s climate.

A few incidents occurred this season which concern Park officials. Climbing groups on the East Ridge of Mt. Logan reported that some climbers are leaving garbage, food, gear, and fixed line. Some clean up was done by the reporting groups, and this is appreciated. Climbers must be prepared to pack out what they pack in. Another concern was a team of climbers who entered the Icefields from Alaska without clearing Customs or registering with Kluane National Park. Unfortunately, one member of this team suffered serious frostbite while on the summit plateau of Mt. Logan and had to be assisted off the mountain by other climbers. The team was met at base camp by RCMP and Park Wardens and dealt with accordingly. Climbers coming to Kluane must remember the pack-in, pack-out policy, that registration is mandatory, and that failing to follow the rules is illegal and, more importantly, affects the experience of other mountaineers.

Anyone interested in mountaineering in Kluane National Park Reserve should write Mountaineering Warden, Kluane National Park, Box 5495, Haines Jct., Yukon, YOB 1LO; call 867-634-7279; fax 867-634-7277; or E-mail kluane_info@pch.gc.ca. Ask for a “Mountaineering package.” Also, visit the park’s web site at www.parkscanada.gc.ca/kluane.

Rick Staley, Park Warden, Kluane National Park Reserve