Stairway Glacier, Probable First Ascents
North America, Canada, St. Elias Range
Jenny Foister, Pete McCombie, Glenn Wilks, and I spent three weeks on the Stairway Glacier in Kluane National Park, climbing nine probably unvisited peaks that varied from straightforward snow plods to technical ridges. [The area is shown in the upper right quadrant of the map on p. 220, AAJ 2004.]
May 20 dawned staggeringly bright, as we set off for a beautiful day’s snow plodding that took us over three summits (N 60.31.14, W 139.04.58, 3,250m; N 60.32.24, W 139.04.48, 3,345m; and N 60.32.14, W 139.03.53, 3,330m). We crossed lynx tracks on the descent. Two days later we climbed two more peaks (N 60.31.14, W 139.05.29, 3,280m, and N 60.30.47, W 139.05.01, 3,385m), one with a fine slender summit ridge with spindrift pouring over its knife-edge crest.
We set off in clouds for our sixth peak, on our sixth day. It turned out well; the cloud lifted, and we had our first steep and sustained ice face and ridge. We popped out onto a satisfyingly small summit (N 60.30.03N, W 139.04.40,3,482m), with a great-looking ridge stretching away across further peaks.
We then moved on to an impressive peak to the east, but twice retreated from the upper portions in terrible snow and absent protection.
We climbed three more excellent peaks, one (N 60.32.52, W 138.58.58, 3,250m) via great Scottish grade 2 mixed through tottering pinnacles and up gullies of melting snow. The hour's magnificent climb along the ridge to the top was worth the whole trip. Another (N 60.34.18, W 139.02.30, 3,410m) took us from the bottom up a sustained snow slope directly to the summit ridge. A thousand meters of steep snow and ice; airy and exposed, requiring a steady head on the way down. Our last climb took us to a great summit (N 60.34.08, W 138.57.06, 3,248m), but only after we dealt with bottomless snow on the glacier and during the ascent.
The weather was mostly good, with some days of snow and wind but no major storms. The avalanche danger became extreme toward the end. All of the routes we climbed and most visible faces slid during the heat of the last day, and we climbed at night.