Home > Ice

Mount Logan Success, Storms and Helicopters

In May and June, three highly experienced climbers were attempting to traverse Mount Logan.

After reaching the summit they were forced to spend a week above 5,000 metres in snow caves until a helicopter picked them up.

The East Ridge of Mount Logan.  Photo Bryce Brown
The East Ridge of Mount Logan. Photo Bryce Brown

Bryce Brown and his two partners flew on May 16 from the Silver City airstrip (Icefield Discovery flight service) to the east ridge basecamp. “We had stellar weather for the majority of the East Ridge ascent,” said Brown.

“It was actually quite warm so we ended up doing carries most days very early between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m. before snow conditions got too soft.”

The first knife-edge ridge on the East Ridge.  Photo Bryce Brown
The first knife-edge ridge on the East Ridge. Photo Bryce Brown

Most climbers who climb the East Ridge, reverse the route after reaching the summit. But, Brown and his partners planned on traversing the mountain.

The first east to west traverse was by Americans Alexander Bittenbinder, J. Vincent Hoeman, David Shaw, Edward Ward and Canadian William D. Harrison in 1968 by the Hubsew (east-southeast) Ridge.

On the East Ridge at dawn.  Photo Bryce Brown
On the East Ridge at dawn. Photo Bryce Brown

Due to Brown and his partner’s plan to traverse the peak, they had fairly big loads to go up and over (including skis and a sled), so they were doing triple carries.

“Between the limited length of our work day and our multiple carries it took a fair amount of time to ascend the ridge,” said Brown.

The upper knife-edge ridge of the East Ridge.  Photo Bryce Brown
The upper knife-edge ridge of the East Ridge. Photo Bryce Brown

Once on the plateau, around 4,800 metres, the weather began deteriorating. On June 2, they managed to summit in a brief weather window.

Bryce Brown at the end of the summit day and back at camp at 5,300 metres.  Photo Bryce Brown
Bryce Brown at the end of the summit day and back at camp at 5,300 metres. Photo Bryce Brown

On June 3, the weather intensified and they were caught in the col between the East Peak and main summit.

Pushing up the plateau with the East Summit in front at 4,800 metres.  Photo Bryce Brown
Pushing up the plateau with the East Summit in front at 4,800 metres. Photo Bryce Brown

Winds were extreme, around 160 km/h and the made for dangerous whiteout conditions.

Their plan was to drop down off the col to the north to provide some wind protection.

On the logan plateau, heading down for another carry.  Photo Bryce Brown
On the logan plateau, heading down for another carry. Photo Bryce Brown

At the far side of the col, they found one of their members had frost bite to both hands.

Luckily, they found a crevasse that would work as a snow cave and dug in for the next three days.

DSC02058
First day of storms while traversing the East/Main summit col at 5,750 metres.

“We were buried under two metres of fresh snowfall with continued extreme wind,” said Brown.

“We finally got a break in the weather on June 6 and 7 and continued across the plateau.”

Ttraversing the plateau towards King Trench on the one good weather day they had. Photo Bryce Brown
Ttraversing the plateau towards King Trench on the one good weather day they had. Photo Bryce Brown

Unfortunately, they were pinned down by another four days of poor weather and had limited ability to travel as they wanted to ensure they did not refreeze the frostbite.

Pinned down in a snow cave during the storms.  Photo Bryce Brown
Pinned down in a snow cave during the storms. Photo Bryce Brown

“Overall, we spent a total of 12 days above 5,000 metres and were getting more fatigued daily,” said Brown. One member was also experiencing intermittent mild HAPE.

Food and fuel supplies were down to just a few days. In the end, in discussion with Parks, they team decided that the best option was to be lifted off once the weather broke, rather than two of them continuing exhausted, onsight down the King Trench with thin spring snowbridge conditions.

Long days waiting out the stormy weather.  Photo Bryce Brown
Long days waiting out the stormy weather. Photo Bryce Brown

They constructed a landing area near their camp and Kluane National Parks visitor safety conducted a powered landing with an AStar B3 on June 11.

“National Parks staff from Banff/Jasper were also very involved in logistics and backup,” said Brown. “Denali Park also sent a backup high altitude equipped B3 and additional rangers (which thankfully were not required).”

The heli pick-up at 5,300 metres.  Photo Bryce Brown
The heli pick-up at 5,300 metres. Photo Bryce Brown

The powered landing was carried out successfully with some very impressive flying by the pilot. A total of three landings were done at around 5,300 metres.

“I believe this would be one of the highest evacs done in the country, or at least in a national park, a similar long-line basket pickup at around the same elevation was done in 2005,” said Brown.

“Overall, National Parks conducted a professional and competent evacuation. We are all extremely impressed with the service they provided.

The climbers were worried their gear would end up as trash on the mountain, but the helicopter made a fourth flight to retrieve all of the equipment.

The three climbers on the summit of Mount Logan at 5,959 metres.  Photo Bryce Brown
The three climbers on the summit of Mount Logan at 5,959 metres. Photo Bryce Brown

– Bryce Brown is a doctor based in Thunder Bay and Canmore. He has been on several successful expeditions to the world’s great ranges. His highly experienced partners wished for their names to not be mentioned.