Will Canada’s Everest Be Scaled?
J. W. A. HICKSON
The conquest of Mount Logan, Canadas highest peak, is to be attempted. Fifty miles of windswept ice fields and glaciers must be crossed before the climb.
THE history of mountaineering in the Alaskan coast ranges dates from the year 1886, when an attempt was made
to reach Mt. St. Elias, 18,100 feet, which long before had attracted attention, being visible from the sea at a distance of 200 miles. The name is said to have been given to the peak by Vitus Behring, the Russian navigator, who discovered the south coast of Alaska in 1741, in honor of the day of the patron saint on which he saw it. The attempt was unsuccessful and was followed in the next five years by three other abortive attempts, which, however, brought back a harvest of information regarding the characteristics of a region where glacial phenomena are developed on a grander scale than anywhere else on our globe except in the polar zones. The last of these, in 1891, under the direction of the American professor, J. C.
Russell, was the most notable. It reached an altitude of 14,500 ft., and had it been favored with weather would probably have reached the summit. Russell, who was probably the first explorer to see Mt. Logan, named the peak for the founder and first Director of the Geological Survey of Canada.
In 1897, the brilliant mountaineer, the Duke of Abruzzi, organized a large and wellequipped expedition, that included professional mountain guides, and reached Yakutat Bay in the last week of June. H. S. Bryant, the well-known explorer of Philadelphia, had landed there ten days previously with the same aim in view. But his party was not so strong as the Duke’s, and owing to illness of his porters he was obliged to relinquish the contest in favor of the Italians, who reached ,the summit of St. Elias on July 30. The last part of the climb was not difficult; but all the party, except the Duke and two of the guides, displayed symptoms of distress and mountain sickness. It seems that these were chiefly caused by the long and difficult marches over snow and ice and the weeks of fatigue and discomfort gone through before reaching the base of the mountain; for the general conditions were not specially conducive to mountain sickness. Climbing was slow and monotonous. One of the guides who had a decided, although transient, attack of sickness had climbed higher peaks in the Central Andes and had cut steps at 20,000 feet without discomfort.
Shortly after the beginning of the present century, the desires of American and Canadian mountaineers and explorers began to turn to another Alaskan peak, the highest of the North American continent, Mt. McKinley, 20,300 feet, lying 400 miles to the north of the St. Elias range, and 3,000 feet lower than Aconcagua the highest peak in South America. Herschell Parker and Belmore Brown and the notorious Dr. Cooke, who probably did not reach a point higher than 8,000 feet and whose absurd claims in other directions have since been exposed, made various attempts to surmount the roof of the continent, which was successfully reached in 1913 by Mr. Stuck, Archdeacon of the Yukon and party apparently without very great difficulty. All of the party were, however, persons who had lived in Alaskan regions for years and were men of endurance and accustomed to hardships.
Almost Four Miles High
MOUNT LOGAN, situated about twenty-six miles north of St. Elias and eighty miles from the shores of the Yakutat Bay, the highest peak in Canadian territory and the highest unclimbed peak of the continent, is not much lower than Mount McKinley, its estimated height being 19,850 feet; that is 6,000 feet higher than Mt. Robson, the monarch of the Canadian Rockies, 4,000 feet higher than Mt. Blanc and 5,000 feet higher than the beautiful Matterhorn. Although 9,200 feet lower than Mt. Everest, it is 1,500 miles nearer the North Pole, a fact which tends to equalize the temperatures around the two peaks. It belongs to the Mt. St. Elias group, a region of mountains perpetually ice and snow bound, bordering the Pacific ocean for some 250 miles and extending inland varying distances with an average depth of sixty miles.
Although Mt. Logan crowns this group, yet on account of its lofty neighbors and the high glacial fields it is rendered much less conspicuous than St. Elias. Its bulk is enormous, its base having a circumference of almost 100 miles; but owing to its position near the geographical centre of the glac-
iated area, and because it is hidden except for its very top from the Pacific coast by the St. Elias Range, its existence as the highest peak remained unknown until the party in charge of the triangulation of the International Boundary Survey discovered its pre-eminence while carrying out their work along the coast adjacent to Yakutat Bay in 1913. The vastness of the perpetual ice and snowfields combined with the height of the mountains make this region unique.
For a number of years members of Canadian and American Alpine Clubs have cast longing eyes towards Mt. Logan. It was Prof. A. D. Coleman of Toronto, the well-known geologist,
an ex-president of the Canadian Alpine Club and explorer of the Canadian Rockies, who first brought the matter definitely before the Club in 1922, and urged the organization of a party to conquer the peak. Eventually, at a meeting of Canadian Alpinists held in Vancouver in the Autumn of 1923, it was resolved to make plans for the enterprise under the auspices of the Alpine Club of Canada; but preparations for the undertaking dragged
and it was not until after the annual meeting of the Club at Robson Pass last July that sufficient interest was shown and enough money forthcoming to warrant the committee in charge going ahead with the expedition. Not to mention individual subscriptions, generous support has been extended by the Canadian Government, the Canadian Pacific Railway, the American Alpine Club, the Alpine Club of England and the Royal Geographical Society.
The personnel consists of a climbing party of six, aided by several volunteer supporters and a couple of paid porters. No professional mountaineering guides are being taken.
The leader of the party is A. H. MacCarthy, of Wilmer. B.C.; the next in command is H. F. Lambart, of Ottawa, and others in the climbing party are Col. W. W. Foster, of Vancouver, Allen Carpe, of New York, and Lennox Lindsay, of British Columbia. Among the volunteer supporters are H. S. Hall, Jr., of Boston, Norman Read, of Manchester, and R. M. Morgan, president of the Dartmouth Outing Club. All these, except the two last-mentioned, are members of the Alpine Club of Canada, all, except three, members of the American Alpine
Club, and four are members of the Alpine Club of England, the oldest and most distinguished mountaineering club in the world. In addition to the above, two experienced Alaskan porters have been engaged to assist in the work of transportation.
Mr. MacCarthy made the first-ascent of Mt. Robson in 1913 in company with Col. Foster, and led by Conrad Kain, the brilliant Austrian guide who settled in Western Canada before the war. Since then he has made notable ascents in the Canadian Rockies both with and without guides, and his reputation as a man of endurance and sound judgment stands high. On his own initiative he made a reconnaissance tour of the Logan district last Summer and brought back information which has been of fundamental importance in determining the route of the present expedition.
\/f R. LAMBART, a graduate of McGill Univer-
sity, and a vice-president of the Canadian Alpine Club, whose expenses are being paid by the Dominion Government, has spent many seasons in the service of Geodetic Survey of Canada by means of which he has acquainted himself with virtually all the prominent Canadian mountain ranges. He was in the Logan country in 1913, when he ascended Mt. Matzahat 13,479 feet, 400 feet higher than Mt. Robson. Since that time he has been engaged in the most southerly portions of the North-West having recently completed the triangulation of the boundary line between northern British Columbia and Alberta.
Col. Foster is a former president of the Canadian Alpine Club and one of the country’s distinguished soldiers. Mr. Carpe has a high reputation as an explorer and climber in the Canadian Rockies and added greatly to his standing by further ascents last Summer without guides in the Caribou and gold ranges of British Columbia. Mr. Read and Mr. Hall are both vigorous and experienced mountaineers. The party on the whole seems to be a strong one and well suited to the peculiar character of the problem which confronts it.
Already food for about three months and equipment consisting of tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, windproof clothing, ropes, ice axes, crampons, and other foot gear, cooking outfits and artificial fuel have been shipped from Seattle to Cordova in Alaska to be taken in by dog teams over the snow during the winter. Mr. MacCarthy sailed from Seattle on February 7 in order to superintend and push this work. The aim is to cache food and equipment at convenient places along the proposed route, so as to render the work of the climbing
party and porters less onerous. If winter snow conditions permit, the dog teams will attempt to establish an advance base camp near the ice-fall of the King Glacier, where provisions and equipment for ten men for two months will be stored, at an elevation of some 8,000 ft. about eighteen miles from the summit of Mt. Logan.
It is now planned that the personnel will assemble at Seattle, U.S.A., and will sail thence on May 2. Arriving at Cordova on the afternoon of May 7 the party will board the train via the Copper River and North-western Railway to McCarthy, the name of which has no connection with the leader of the expedition. Mr. MacCarthy himself left this point on February 17 in order to supervise the packing in of supplies and had reached the Chitina Glacier immediately below the Logan on March 6.
McCarthy is the end of all communication with civilization. Some days will probably be spent here in making preparations, so that the departure by means of a pack train with horses to the end of the Chitina Valley, some eighty miles away will be delayed for about a week. Hay and grain have to be carried for horses since it will be too early for horse feed in the valley; rice, tallow and fish have to be taken for the dogs. The best time to start over the snow fields appears to be in the early part of June. The spring melt of the winter snow is then usually ended and the heavy summer melt of the glaciers will not have begun. Moreover, during June and July there is almost continuous daylight, which can be very helpful to a mountaineering party that may be benighted.
From the end of the Chitina Valley where the Logan Glacier commences up to the base of Mt. King there is an ice and snow field of about fifty miles, over which food and other necessaries sufficient to last the party for two months will have to be taken in by back pack, unless the advance base camp has already been established. It is fifteen miles up the Logan Glacier before the expedition will cross the international boundary line into Canadian territory. At the point where the Logan and Ogilvie Glaciers meet, designated Turn by the Boundary Survey Commission, the party will leave the former and proceed up the latter glacier which leads to the base of Mt. King, (17,130 feet).
The real climb will commence from the advance base camp below the ice-fall of King Glacier, above which Mt. Logan towers 11,000 feet. The way from here to the top of the mountain is a wind swept waste of steep ice and snow slopes with unknown difficulties. It is proposed to make the King Col and thence attempt to reach Mt. Logan by a route leading around the summit of Mt. King.
The route decided upon has been chosen only after careful consideration of two other possible routes of approach; one by way of the Malaspina and Seward Glaciers from the Yakutat Bay, followed by the Abruzzi Expedition of 1897; the other by way of the Kashawulsh Glacier to the east and from Lake Kluane to the north. Of this latter route nothing is known beyond Lake Kluane, and it would require another year’s reconnaissance to grasp its possibilities. The former has been discarded because of the unfavorable fog conditions of the coast, and the apparently unscalable cliffs of the south base of the mountain, as disclosed by the photographs taken by the Abruzzi Expedition.
Peculiar Local Conditions
/CONDITIONS of mountaineering in ^ Alaska and the Yukon are so different from what obtains elsewhere on the globe, in equally high or even higher mountain ranges, that a thorough knowledge is required in order to grasp the real nature and difficulties of such an expedition. If the winning of Mt. Logan meant only the ascent of a terminal cone from a comfortable camp from five or six thousand feet lower, it might be compared with the ascent of Mt. Blanc from the Grand Mulets. When one of the guides with the Duke of Abruzzi returned from the successful ascent he replied to a question “It was like the Breithorn only much higher”; that is, not difficult as a climb. Nor did its altitude render its ascent an exceptional undertaking, seeing that summits over 22,000 feet had already been attained.
It is only when one takes into account the entire route traversed by such an expedition that the unusual difficulty of the undertaking becomes clear. This consists in having to cross a zone of snow and ice of a far greater extent than any found in other mountain groups. The Abruzzi party had to sleep forty nights on glaciers and snowfields. Mr. MacCarthy, who reached an observation point above the ice fall of the King Glacier last Summer
about 10,200 feet, spent forty-four nights on the way from the end of the Chitina Valley and return. The Alaskan coast ranges are much in the same condition as were the Alps in the Ice Age, their glaciers descend to the sea, and the snow line is as low as 2,700 feet above sea level.
A further difficulty results from the fact that the limit of vegetation descends as we approach the pole. Mt. Logan and Chimborazo in the equatorial Andes are almost the same height. On the latter an ordinary fire can be lighted at about 14,000 feet. In Mexico where great volcanoes rise to an altitude of 17,000 feet, the limit of forest vegetation is 13,000 feet. In the Sierra Nevada, trees are found almost as high as 11,000 feet; in the Canadian Rockies up to 7,600 feet. The snow zone is in these instances from 4,500 to 5,000 feet. Thus there is no need to carry up artificial or other fuel, cooking stoves and specially prepared provisions and the requisite supply of blankets and clothing is reduced, for an expedition can replenish its store. In Alaska the snow line near Mt. Logan and St. Elias is less than 3,000 feet above sea level. This leaves an enormous amount to climb in order to reach the summit, which in the instance of Mt. Logan is some fifty miles from forest vegetation. The peak itself rises nearly 14,000 feet above the surrounding glaciers.
Hence an expedition to Mt. Logan will have to spend weeks on, and traverse, vast ice and snow fields and may have to transport either on sledges or men’s backs much baggage, and this in a region where bad weather is almost continual. On the lower glaciers a chilling rain is very frequent while higher up repeated heavy snow falls pre-
vent the snow from hardening and render walking extremely laborious. It is hoped that difficulties of transportation will in the present case have been greatly reduced by what Mr. MacCarthy and the dog teams will be able to accomplish during March and April. Even on
the most favorable supposition, however, that the advance base camp will be established at the trench of King Peak, there will still remain enough to test the endurance of the party that will have to thread its way, never yet seen, over an indescribable melancholy and waste of icejwhich may be shrouded in cold grey mist or swept bv piercing winds, broken by enormous crevasse's and blocked by huge séracs (ice pinnacles or cones on a glacier) over or around which it will have to crawl.
From the top of St. Elias, the Duke of Abruzzi's party had a view of the vast chain of Mt. Logan 26 miles to the north, and the chronicler writes: “The whole northwest region to the left of Logan is an unexplored waste of glaciers and mountain, a vast zone bristling with sharp peaks and crags, rugged and precipitous to the south, snow covered to the north and surrounded by vast snow fields. No words can express the desolation of this immeasurable waste of ice, which has been compared with the ice sheet that covers Greenland. No smallest trace of vegetation can be discovered, no running water, no lake. It might be a track of primitive chaos untouched by the harmonizing forces of Nature.”
Is Expedition Worth While?
ALTHOUGH the country around Mt. Logan has been partially explored in the last fifteen years, it is still largely unknown. Mr. MacCarthy, who had poor weather on his trip, obtained intermittent views of some of the higher stretches of the proposed route and up to 12,000 ft. no unusual difficulties appeared to present themselves. Between 12,000 and 14,000 feet the stretches were not visible, while beyond that the views were so distant that they can hardly be relied on. Those who have had experience of Yukon and Alaskan ice fields are inclined to say that if the advance can be made safely to the base of the Massif, the ascent of the peak has a good prospect of success. But this will surely depend largely on weather conditions. The party is sufficiently large to preclude the probability of all the climbers being out of condition when the final test presents itself.
Are this expedition and the exertions which it involves worth while? Does not this attempt on Mt. Logan represent a sheer waste of energy and money and an unnecessary risking of human life? What is gained by taking the chances involved?
It is not difficult for a mountaineer to answer such questions of the utilitarian Philistine who prefers humdrum routine and soft living. The appeal made by mountaineering is partly physical, partly intellectual and moral and partly aesthetic. The glories of the mountain sunrise, the wonderful blue and green shades of the walls of the crevasses, the beautiful and intricate curves of the wind-driven snow must be seen in order to be enjoyed. A peak like Logan is like Everest, a challenge to the powers of man, to his capacity to endure, and to his intelligence to plan and circumvent. Such a challenge cannot be left unanswered any more than the ice poles of our continent could be left unexplored. The spirit which animates attempts on Everest and Logan is the same as that which has prompted Arctic and other expeditions, and in earlier times led to the formation of the British Empire, the spirit of adventure, enterprise and daring. Its manifestations are numerous, its results farreaching, and expeditions like those to Everest and Logan serve to keep it alive.
Such expeditions serve also to gain a knowledge regarding the human organism and its capacity, namely its capacity to adapt itself and become acclimated to high altitudes. The physiological results of the Everest expeditions are very interesting. The Himalayan porters were able to carry small loads up to 25,000 feet, a feat which twenty-five years ago would have been deemed to have been impossible.
The human mind can also at the same time develop itself. The climbers who have returned from Everest are now certain that the peak can be climbed; although at the outset in 1922 they were by no means sanguine. When Mt. Logan has been climbed man will once again have shown his mastery over his environment through his intelligence. By testing his capacity, by reaching out and achieving something more than has been previously accomplished he heightens his courage and sharpens his spirit. Three British lives have been lost in the battle with Everest. These men have left behind them a tradition of high endeavor and chivalrous conduct. So if the mountains are merciless they draw out the best qualities of those who contend with them.