In 1992, a special climb of Mount Logan was undertaken. The year marked the 150th anniversary of the Geological Survey of Canada as well as the 125th anniversary of the Dominion of Canada and a number of climbers wanted to do something special to commemorate this. However, there was another reason for undertaking the climb. The actual height of Mount Logan had not been measured accurately, and its height appeared differently depending upon the map. Previous surveyors had used a telescope called a theodolite to measure its height. However, all of these surveys had been done from a lower elevation than the summit and a long ways off, and air currents distorted the surveyors’ lines of sight. Therefore Global Positioning System (GPS) units were to be used to determine the actual height. The results were to be announced to the Canadian public on Canada Day. In addition to this, geologists wished to measure the uplift (the rate that Mount Logan is rising) of the mountain by studying the rocks on Mount Logan. They were going to do this by using radioactivity to determine when the rocks crystallized. The challenge faced by the geologists trying to collect these rock samples was that they were in hazardous locations. Often the exposed rock was located underneath an ice cliff or a crevasse stood between the geologist and the rock face. The main sponsor for this climb was the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
The climbing window for Mount Logan lasts from early May to the end of June. Before this period the temperatures were too cold, and after this period the snow was too wet for the ski planes to safely land on the glaciers.
Many preparations were required before undertaking the climb. By October 31st 1991, the climbers had all of their expedition equipment ready. A training camp was held on the ice fields of the Alberta Rockies in early February. The party practiced crevasse rescue using a system of ropes and pulleys. These pulleys gave a mechanical advantage, allowing the climbers to pull a heavy weight from a crevasse with relative ease. In February and March 1992, the food for the climb was organized. On April 1st, the equipment arrived in Whitehorse.
Finally, on May 1st, the party headed to Kluane Lake to prepare to fly out to the glaciers surrounding Mount Logan. The party consisted of three members of the Geological Survey of Canada, two surveyors experienced in the use of GPS, two mountain guides, and five park wardens (as Parks Canada also wished to take part in the commemoration, as well as have their wardens hone their mountaineering skills). The members of the party were Mike Schmidt (leader), Lisel Currie, Leo Nadeay, Charlie Roots, J-C. Lavergne, Roger Laurilla, Pat Morrow, Karl Nagy, Sue Gould, Alan Björn, Lloyd Freese, Kevin McLaughlin, and Rick Staley. Over a six-day period (May 6th-11th) their pilot, Andy Williams, flew the party members and their supplies past Kaskawulsh Glacier and Mount Logan, landing on the Quintina Sella Glacier. This was where their base camp was located. The reason why it took six days is because the plane could only take two people and their gear at a time. On a good day a plane could make three trips into the glacier, but this was rare. With a party of twelve, six trips were required between Kluane Lake and the Quintina Sella Glacier.
On May 12th, the climb began. The routine throughout much of the climb was to carry supplies up to where the next camp would be located and then retreat to the previous camp for the night. This was easier on the body as it did not have to fight oxygen deprivation. However, sometime part of the party had to sleep at the higher camp if the party had carried too many sleeping bags up the mountain. The party was carrying too much gear for the entire group to sleep at the lower camp on the final day of a camp transfer.
It was important that the climbers not become over-eager and ascend the mountain too quickly; otherwise they would not have time to acclimatize to the altitude. As Charlie Roots says, “if you’re going to go to altitude you should prepare for it by getting fat and lazy.” He used the acclimatization time to get into shape. Not being in peak form for the climb prevented him from ascending the mountain too quickly. It was more important to be in great shape on the summit day than it was at the start of the climb.
The route to the summit of Mount Logan was primarily a ski route. The general rule when proceeding up the mountain was to follow the tracks unless they headed into a dangerous obstacle such as a crevasse. Above King Col, crevasses often open up. Of course, sometimes storms obliterated these tracks. Therefore wands were placed every 25 to 30 meters to mark the route. It was important to follow the established route, as it was known that this route did not pass over any dangerous crevasses. This even included trips to the outhouse. While crevasses less than one meter wide could be skied across, crevasses wider than one meter were dangerous.
Similar to the climbers from MacCarthy’s party, the member of the LOGAN ’92 climb found the 45 degree slopes of King Col to be very challenging. The party could not haul all of their supplies to the third camp above the Col in one day. Therefore, supplies were carried up to the top of the wall and cached there until most of the supplies were accumulated there.
One major challenge during the climb was moving the great amount of supplies required up the mountain. Usually people climbed carrying a large pack and pulling a toboggan with a duffel bag. In total they carried 80 to 120 pounds per load, depending on the strength of the climber. A benefit of the longer, gentler ascent of King Trench is that a climber can haul a relatively large load up the mountain. As Roots noted, once a climber was done his or her task for the day it was important to rest and save energy.
They carried not only climbing equipment but also scientific equipment. Two GPS systems were being hauled up the mountains. Since GPS was not very reliable at the time, a second system could guard against failure. In addition to this was a laptop for checking the data as well as gel cell batteries weighing ten pounds each. In addition to this, film equipment was being carried up the mountain. These were all added burdens that most climbers did not need to contend with.
The food requirement was also quite substantial. According to Roots the party needed 44.8 kilograms of food to feed the team of twelve for a week, and 504 kilograms for the entire climb. All of the meals were designed to be one-pot meals. There was an additional challenge to the food situation: unless one is well acclimatized, their appetite drops off.
Since cooking times are longer at high altitude, it was necessary for the team to carry food that could be cooked quickly. A pressure cooker was used for the preparation of meals. While it was somewhat heavy, according to Roots, it was more than compensated by the reduced amount of fuel that they needed to lug up the mountain. The stoves that they carried used white gas, of which 50 liters were carried up the mountain side. In order to prevent the stove from melting the snow around it, a piece of plywood was bungeed to the fuel bottle as a base for the stove.
Water was also an important requirement. Each climber needed two liters of water per day. Therefore, snow was melted in a stainless steel pot used exclusively for this purpose. The reason why the pot was used exclusively for melting snow was so it would not need to be washed. Since dish detergent can give climbers the runs, it was important that this should not enter their water supply.
An additional challenge was the cold. However, as Roots notes, if one is used to a typical Yukon winter, it really is not that bad. Lower on the mountain, they hit lows of -15 to -20 Celsius. Higher up the mountain they experienced lows in the -25 to -30 Celsius range. Often they were doing work and climbing in temperatures of -10 to -15 Celsius. While it did warm up during the day these periods of warmth were brief, lasting only two to four hours. As Roots observed, “it’s colder for much longer periods of the night than it is warm during the day.” These warmer temperatures usually occurred late in the afternoon.
A final challenge to the climb was the fact that there were four different groups who were part of the same party but had different objectives on the mountain. “The park wardens were there for training, the surveyors were there to get the height of the mountain, the geologists were there to collect some rocks, and the guides were there to make sure that we do it safely.” Roots found this challenge “invigorating” as they had to explain the importance of the work that they were doing, hoping that the other members of the climb found it interesting. They also needed to reconcile the different mountain climbing techniques used among the different groups in the party. Finally, the climb was not for recreation but for work. Therefore, the climbers wanted to avoid any actions that would result in them having to face the media following the climb.
During the climb the party was confined to their camp twice for two, two-day long storms during May. Fortunately, these occurred at the lower level camps and gave the climbers an opportunity to rest and acclimatize.
In the camp lower down the mountains, the party built snow walls around their camp. This was meant to shelter the camps from the wind. However, these were disposed of higher up. What the climbers realized is that when the wind was blowing snow, the snow would accumulate where the wind died down. With the snow walls, the wind died down in the camp, and therefore the snow also accumulated in the camp.
When they reached the pass between Prospectors and AINA peaks they had arrived at what Roots refers to the door to the Logan Plateau. The goal was to get their supplies through this pass called Prospectors Col. From this point they were within striking distance of Mount Logan. Many climbers launch their summit assaults from this peak. However, a summit assault from this point requires a long day and often climbers do not budget enough time. The LOGAN ’92 party had the additional burden of lugging their scientific equipment across the great distance and taking reading at the summit. Therefore, they decided to establish one more camp on a spur closer to the summit. While this was actually lower than the other camp, it was located closer to the peak and the climbers could see the weather on the summit and wait for good weather before launching their summit assault.
Since the party was trying to measure the height of the mountain using two GPS systems, four separate summit parties were required. Two parties were to go up the summit on separate days to set up each of the GPS systems, and then two parties were to follow each of the former parties four hours later to take the readings. The GPS systems needed to run for four hours continuously in order to give an accurate reading. On June 6th, the first party set out for the summit. Just short of the summit the climbers switched to crampons. This was a rarity during the climb as, for the most part, they were able to ski almost to the summit. The plan had the first summit party taking fifteen minutes to set up the GPS and then descend the mountain. However, they were fortunate enough to have excellent weather that day. Therefore they spent four hours at the summit, where they were eventually joined by the second party who had come up to take the GPS readings. On June 7th, the climbers who had reached the summit on the previous day skied back to Prospectors Col while the other half repeated the procedure.
As the party skied down the mountain they began to feel better and better as they descended into atmosphere with thicker oxygen. As Roots notes, “you feel better with every hundred vertical feet, all of a sudden you feel like Superman.” While the ascent had taken them an entire month, the descent took only two days. They arrived back at base camp on June 11th.
The height of the mountain was determined to be 5,959 meters, plus or minus three meters. None of the radioactive crystals collected on Mount Logan could be used to determine the uplift of the mountain; therefore a second method was used. GPS stations were set up at various places to remeasure elevation at a later date. This will determine how much the mountain has moved since 1992. In the end, the expedition was a success as everyone came off of the mountain in good shape. Two park wardens had to turn back prior to the summit as they suffered the effects of the altitude. Another had to turn back due to problems with his hands, as the blood had ceased to flow to his fingertips. Nevertheless, a large proportion of the party had reached the summit.