American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, St. Elias Range, Various First Descents and Possible First Ascents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Various first descents and possible first ascents. Inspired by our friend Nevada Christianson and her quest to solo Mt. Logan s East Ridge, Trevor Hunt and I found ourselves wandering the giant glaciers of Kluane Reserve like ski safari nomads. On May 6 the three of us flew in with Andy Williams to the Hubbard Glacier. After skiing a steep warm-up run on the lower east ridge of Hubsew Peak, we left Nevada to her bold task and headed south down the Hubbard toward Mt. Vancouver, the most striking ski-objective visible from our plane ride.

Neither Trevor nor I had been to the St. Elias before, so except for the topo map this was an on-sight mission. As we reached the confluence of Mt. Vancouver’s north glacier with the flats of the Hubbard Glacier, we gained a view and the realization that there was a skiable route up the base of Vancouver’s north ridge and into the upper northwest face of the North Summit's formidable pyramid. As the sun began to drop and the temperatures cool, we crossed the low-angled terrain, exposed to the seracasaurus, and started up the ridge into the pseudodarkness of the Yukon night.

We were feeling the dramatic altitude gain, and the summit kept looming far above this never-ending 40° face. Finally, around 4:20 p.m., we reached the North Summit (4,812m; 15,783' ), in awe of our 360-degree view. Just as we began to ski, sharp winds from the south tubed us with the chalky spray of our turns, and it felt as if we were being hustled off the mountain. The windswept upper face was real “mountain skiing” conditions. On the mid-level ice tongue the snow had warmed up nicely, and we dropped in on the steeper, undulating north aspects of the lower ridge and slashed backlit afternoon turns in preserved powder. Back on the flats of the Hubbard Glacier at 1,680m (5,510'), we had completed an uninterrupted 3,132m (10,273') run. Another couple of hours in the sunset touring back to the camp made it a 30-hour round trip. I watched the northern lights, took off stinky boots, and fell asleep.

After four restful days, tent- bound while it snowed, we moved base camp to an unnamed peak (which we called “Nice Peak”) on the ridgeline between the Hubbard and Seward Glaciers, just south of the pass between the two. Its 400m north face had good snow and enticing steepness.

For the remainder of our time, we focused on the north ridge of McArthur Peak. With time running out we broke camp at the first sign of clearing and wound our way up through the McArthur-Lombard col onto the Logan Glacier, inspired by the fresh snow. The full moon was a day away and was accompanied by cooler temperatures and high pressure. For the evening session we hustled up a nice 2,500' northwest-facing couloir on a close-by unnamed peak (located on the next ridge northwest of Lombard Peak’s north summit) to scope out McArthur and ski some sunset steeps.

After a three-mile approach paralleling the daunting northern flank of McArthur, our rapid progress skinning up its lower ridge and boot-packing the steeper sections was finally slowed by a 100' ice and rock gully (WI3 M3). I led the pitch and set an anchor for a rappel, gaining us access to the upper glacial plateau, covered in sweet, boot-deep powder. Above, McArthur’s main summit loomed impressively but was unskiable, while the east summit was rather inviting. The sun was already on the horizon by the time we topped out at 14,130' . We watched as cold blue shadows mixed with the last splashes of pink and orange on the summits of Logan and St. Elias, and then pushed off in the chilly arctic powder making big, long turns into the pale night.

Back at camp on the Logan Glacier, 6,600 vertical feet later, our nap was interrupted by a thundering avalanche from McArthur that crossed our approach track. A raven appeared for the first time as well. It was time to go. That evening Nevada appeared from the misty clouds and hanging ice madness, and we were overjoyed to be reunited safely. She had made it to the top of the East Ridge, at the first ice plateau high on Mt. Logan, where she placed a special peace vase.

After six months of research, I think that all of our descents were premieres. Our ascent route on Vancouver may have been a new variation to the North Ridge (in the upper portion, where we went direct up the northwest face), and the ascents of “Nice Peak” and the peak near Lombard may have been firsts as well.

By lunchtime on the 25th we were flying high above the Kluane Reserve, riding the winds from the approaching storm. Kluane Lake had melted, and the trees were now green. A lone moose waded through the river, as Andy banked the plane around for final approach to the dirt runway in Silver City. We walked around stunned for the first bit, trying to assimilate the transformations we had experienced by exposing ourselves to Kluane for 20 days. While getting water at the adjacent Arctic Institute, I met university geology students who were inquisitive about my vacation, which only reminded me of why I was in these mountains in the first place.

Ptor Spricenieks, Canada

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