Come Climb Through the History of Mountaineering on Canada's Titan
Mt. Logan is aforce to be reckoned within the world of mountaineering. Therehaven't been many who have braved the assent to its peaks. Only those witha wealth of mountaineering experience andrespectfor such a force have been able to prepare forthe arduous task of making the climb. There havebeen many close calls, bitter defeats and triumphant success on the journey toMt. Logan's peaks.Always present, always beckoning to those who will takeon the challenge. Even the First Nations people of the areahave revered the mountain and it's strengthand dared not to wake the sleeping giant.
Since the late 19th century, mountaineering equipment has undergone many remarkable changes. Equipment was once very cumbersome to haul up the slopes of a mountain. As a result, climbers like the Duke of Abruzzi required the use of many packers to haul the heavy loads up the mountains. Today much of the heavy equipment has been retired for light-weight equipment, which is easier to pack between camps at high altitudes allowing for greater self-sufficiency. Also, many natural fibers such as wool and cotton used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have been replaced by synthetic fibers such as nylon.
When the Duke of Abruzzi climbed Mount Saint Elias in 1897, his party made use of two types of tents, each constructed from a waterproof canvas and considered to be light-weight for its time: the Whymper model (15 kg) and the Mummy model (6.4 kg). An oil cloth was laid beneath the floor of the tents as protection from the wet snow and ice underneath. In addition to this, a rug was spread over the floor of the tent to protect it from being torn to shreds by the hobnailed boots of the climbers. The oil cloths and rugs combined amounted to an additional 25 kg.
MacCarthy’s Mount Logan climbing party also used of two types of tents. The more durable Alpine tent could weather the harsh storms that occurred high in the mountains. It consisted of a sewed-in floor and a funnel entrance and was held up by a steel pole at the centre of the tent. The smaller tent, which weighed 4.5 kg, was made from a lighter fabric and was supported by bamboo poles. While these tents were easier to pack up the mountain, they could not withstand storms as well as the Alpine tents.
During the 1950s, there was a transition in the materials used to manufacture the tents. While some companies continued to make tents from canvas, others were beginning to experiment with nylon.
Today, there are a great variety of tents for mountaineers to choose, some weighing slightly over 2kg, significantly less than those of the Duke of Abruzzi. While dome and wedge tents are freestanding and easy to move should the need arise, they do not withstand the wind as well as hoop tents, which are difficult to move in a pinch as they are not freestanding. Tent poles are now made from aluminum, carbon fiber, or fiberglass, each material of varying strengths.
The bedding for the Duke of Abruzzi’s climbing party was significantly different from that of today’s climber, consisting of an iron folding bed stand (6.4 kg) and feather filled sleeping sacks (4.5 kg). This would have been a substantial load to carry up the mountain.
The sleeping arrangements of MacCarthy’s team were not so extravagant. In the place of the iron bed stands were air mattresses (3.6 kg) intended to insulate the climbers from the snow and ice beneath them. Air mattresses are considered to be poor for insulation as they draw heat away from the body, but there appears to have been no complaints by the climbers. Expedition member Henry Hall, Jr. describes the sleeping bags used: “two eiderdown quilts, a camel’s hair blanket, a waterproof cover and a ground cloth. The outer cover was joined at the edge by clasps. Each of these bags could be unclasped, laid out flat and a similar bag clasped into it, making one double bag. One such bag was about six feet wide over all. Four men slept in it for twelve days, above 14,000 feet [4300m]. This arrangement gave added warmth but allowed less than normal relaxation. The single bags weighed twenty-four pounds complete.”
Today sleeping bags and mattresses are significantly lighter than the cumbersome sacks that MacCarthy and his team lugged up Mount Logan. Most sleeping bags, even those advertised to be good to -40°C, 2 kg or less. These sleeping bags are insulated with goose down or synthetic fibers. The pros and cons of each are discussed in the clothing section.
The Duke of Abruzzi’s climbing party cooked on Primus petroleum stoves that were made of aluminum and weighed 6.8 kg. In addition to these were two, 1.4 kg “spirit lamps.” These aluminum pans were portable and could be kept lit while traveling, making it possible to make tea or bullion from melted snow while the climbers continued to travel.
MacCarthy’s party used two types of gasoline stoves. The Coleman No. 2 was used while they travelled across the glaciers and the Primus, roarer type stove was used higher up the mountain. At the lower camps, the party used 3.8 L of gasoline per day. However, because they did not want to carry too much gasoline onto the higher slopes of the mountain, above King Col they restricted themselves to using only 1.9 L per day. The party found it difficult to cook at high altitudes, as altitude causes water to boil at a lower temperature. Therefore, they cooked food that required little cooking time.
Stoves have now become much lighter, weighing between 0.3 to 0.5 kg. Stoves continue to be made from aluminum as well as other materials such as stainless steel. A piece of plywood underneath the stove is sometimes used prevent it from disappearing into a hole of melted snow.
The first mountaineers to venture onto the Saint Elias Mountains were limited to the use of natural fibers such as cotton and wool. The climbers of MacCarthy’s party wore multiple layers of clothing. Layering continues to be an important element of mountaineering today. Lower down on the mountain the climbers could get away with wearing cotton underwear and gloves. However, as cotton becomes wet, it loses its insulation value. Meanwhile, wool continues to be an effective insulator even while wet. Therefore, as they ascended into cooler temperatures the climbers switched wearing wool. The climbers wore up to three wool shirts at one time, if the weather warranted it. Higher on the mountain, wool toques and balaclavas were worn.
They climbed with wind and water proof canvas pants and wore wool pants around the camp. Finally, when the climbers reached the mid to high altitudes, they donned their hooded parkas made from drill cloth. No furs were worn during the expedition.
As synthetic fibers were invented, mountain climbers were given the option of clothing that absorbed less water than cotton and wool. A climber today might wear clothing made from polyester or polypropylene, which wicks perspiration away from the skin and makes for a good inner layer. Climbers would bring lightweight and expedition weight underwear. However, they do not protect against a harsh wind-chill. Polyester can also be used to make pile or fleece jackets, sweaters, and pants—an effective insulating layer.
The outer shell is now made of nylon. For climbing in the cold weather of Mount Logan, these jackets are often insulated, either with goose down or a synthetic fill. Down can last a long time; however, when wet it loses its insulating abilities. Meanwhile, synthetic fill still maintains its insulating abilities when wet.
On the lower slopes of Mount Logan, MacCarthy’s party wore shoe-packs constructed of rubber soles, leather uppers, and raw hide laces. Usually two pairs of socks were worn inside. Higher up the mountain, the shoe-packs were swapped for moccasins. These needed to be wide enough to accommodate four or five pairs of socks.
Two types of sock were worn during the 1925 climb: wool socks and “the so-called Eskimo socks, consisting of an outer knitted wool and inner fleece-like lining which, by setting up friction, increased the circulation in the feet.” Since they were layering socks, the party members needed to plan ahead. As Hall noted: “The greatest difficulty experienced with the socks was to obtain pairs which would go well over one another so as not to bind and thus restrict the circulation by the time the fourth pair was on. This is a matter which requires careful planning at home.”
Leather boots continued to be used on Mount Logan during the 1950s. One party climbing Mount Logan in the 1950s used “Korean” leather boots. They were further insulated by felt socks worn inside the boots and canvas mukluks over top. They found that these boots worked well in dry snow as they were well insulated. However, wet boots took a long time to dry, and froze at higher altitudes. And the problems did not stop there: “For downhill skiing the boots are much too flexible and for moraine travel they lack support.”
Leather boots are not as common as they once were. A variety of newer materials are used either in conjunction with or in place of leather. While leather boots are versatile and can be used in many conditions, boots that combine leather and fabric are often lighter weight and require a shorter period to be broken in. However, the latter are less durable and may not be sturdy enough for crampon use. Plastic boots are particularly useful for climbing through snow and glaciers. Since they are stiff, they are particularly good to use with crampons. Liners made from materials such as felt or closed cell foam are often used to insulate the feet.
There are many considerations when choosing a climbing boot. In 1992, Charlie Roots climbed Mount Logan via the King Trench route. Since he skied most of the ascent, it was important to have boots which allowed him to control the balls of his feet so he could have better control of his skis.
Since climbers on Mount Logan are often trudging through deep snow, it is important to have something to prevent the snow from spilling into their boots. Roots found supergaiters handy for this task. They are insulated and, unlike ordinary gaiters, cover the entire boot.
During the first ascent of Mount Logan, snowshoes were the chosen mode of transportation over the glaciers towards the Logan massif. However, skis have become increasingly common. MacCarthy’s party made use of three types of snowshoes: the Canadian snowshoe, Alaskan snowshoe, and the bearpaw snowshoe. According to Hall: “I do not think a bearpaw shoe can be equaled for climbing.” While snowshoes were still used for the approach of the Logan massif during the 1950s, some climbers during this period were finding that skis offered swifter travel across the glaciers.
For good grip on the uphill journey, skins are strapped to the bottoms of the skis. During the 1940s and 1950s, sealskin was used for grip. Since the hair goes in one direction, the ski can glide forward while being prevented from sliding backward. Today, skins are made from materials such as nylon polypropylene, or polyurethane. A number of methods are used to attach the skins to the skis. One method involves hooking the tips of the skins over the tips of the skis and gluing them down to the bases. Another method involves clipping the skins to the tails of the skis and then strapping them over the tops of the skis. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.
When the slopes become too steep for snowshoes or skis, the mountaineers switch to crampons. These are metal spikes that can be attached to a boot to allow for better traction on hard snow and ice. They have evolved from having four points in the late 19th century, to ten- points (1908), to twelve-points (1932). During MacCarthy’s climb, the main type of crampon used was the Swiss crampon. The climbers experienced problems with the straps freezing in the cold temperatures. Their feet were insulated against the cold metal of the crampons by felt soles. Another crampon-like climbing instrument used (though not actually a crampon) consisted of a leather foot piece with four steel spikes clamped to the ball of the foot, and four to the heel. While easier to attach and remove from the boot than the Swiss crampon in cold weather, it was significantly heavier.
In order to avoid the frozen straps experienced by MacCarthy’s party, some straps today made from neoprene-coated nylon which does no absorb water. There are also step-in bindings which can be quickly attached to the boot. While crampons made from aluminum are lighter, steel ones are more durable. Mountaineering crampons are typically semi-rigid, allowing for some flex of the foot, but still offering a stable enough platform for climbing steep slopes.
Another piece of climbing technology that has been widely used during mountaineering expeditions in the Saint Elias Mountains is the ice axe. They were used during the first successful ascent of Mount Saint Elias and continue to be used, filling a variety of functions. For example, ice axes need to be the right height to be used as walking sticks up steep slopes. The steeper the slope, the shorter the shaft needs to be. It can also be used to prevent or stop tumbles.
Sun and Snow Glare Protection
Climbers also need to protect their skin from the glare of the sun and snow. Oddly enough during the 1925 climb, mosquito head-nets offered protection to the neck from the sun and wind. Grease was also used; however, this may have done more harm than good. As Hall noted: “The use of grease during the day on portions exposed to sunburn was at best of questionable value and, in some cases, positively harmful.”
Today’s mountaineer seeks protection from the sun by using sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip salve. Eye care is very important when traveling across snow and ice, as the unprotected eye is prone to snow-blindness. Skin protection has come a long ways from the ineffective oil used by the MacCarthy party. The sunscreen used today is designed specifically to block UV rays from causing both sunburn and skin cancer.
Even technology as simple as rope has changed over the years. At one time, ropes were made from natural fibers such as manila. During World War II, nylon ropes were developed. These nylon ropes are significantly stronger than their natural fiber counterparts and are more elastic, bringing a falling climber to a gentler halt. In spite of the clear advantages of nylon ropes, some parties continued to use ropes made from natural fibers to climb Mount Logan as late as the 1950s.
Nylon ropes were not without their flaws. As the rope stretched during an operation, such as a crevasse rescue, the twisted nylon would begin to untwist. During the 1970s, these ropes were replaced by kermantle ropes. Designed specifically for climbing, the new ropes are braided and therefore should not untwist. Depending upon the route, some climbing parties will use fixed ropes.
Perhaps one of the most revolutionary technological changes to climbing is the use of aircraft in expeditions. In 1925, MacCarthy needed to undertake a journey along the proposed route to Mount Logan in order to ensure that there would be enough supplies en route to the Logan massif. Then his party undertook an expedition over the many glaciers leading to the mountain. This began to change during the 1950s as some expeditions had their supplies air dropped along the route to the mountain. However, even more revolutionary than the air drop was the fact that planes could fly climbers near the base of Mount Logan. This eliminated the long arduous journey undertaken by MacCarthy and his crew. In addition to this, aerial photography made route finding a much simpler task.
This is just a brief overview of a few items required for tackling mountains such as Logan. There is a great amount of equipment necessary for such an undertaking.