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Alpinists Head to Logan to Explore East Face

Four climbers from the Canadian Rockies are on their way to find a possible new line up the huge alpine wall on Canada's highest peak

Two teams will received the John Lauchlan Memorial Award this year for attempts on big unclimbed lines in Canada this summer. The award has been given annually since 1997 to Canadian climbers for objectives around the world. Due to Covid-19, only expeditions in Canada were awarded the grant.

The bigger of the two objectives will be an exploratory mission on Mount Logan’s east side will take place this spring with team members Alik Berg, Maarten van Haeren, Ethan Berman and Peter Hoang. The four strong alpinists left for Logan this week. They will have to quarantine when they arrive in the Yukon before heading to the backcountry. The highly experienced alpinists will have a number of big lines to choose from on the rarely-visited wall.

The other John Lauchlan Award was given out for an attempt to climb a big arete in the Gitnadoiks River Provincial Park by Max Fisher, Ryan Van Horne, Michael Loch and Drew Leiterman.

The head of the Award committee is Jim Elzinga, who made the first ascent of the South-Southwest Ridge of Logan over 15 days in 1979 with John Lauchlan, Ray Jotterand and Al Burgess. Jotterand wrote about the climb for the American Alpine Journal, which you can read below.

Mount Logan in 1979

After four unsuccessful attempts, the south-southwest ridge of Mount Logan was climbed in June by Alan Burgess, Jim Elzinga, John Laughlan and me. After fifteen miserable, wet days at Kluane Lake, we were finally flown by fixed-wing plane and chopper to the large south cirque of Logan, between our buttress on the left and the Hummingbird Ridge. Base Camp was set up at 9000 feet where we acclimatized for two days and placed bets on the timing of the next avalanche. We climbed the initial 2500-foot couloir during the short arctic night to dodge the rockfall. A camp was established on a 55° ice slope at the head of the gully just short of the first major difficulties. A rock band gave some interesting problems up to F8 and led on to a Peruvian-type ridge with mushrooms, bottomless snow, poor belays and a lot of swearing and cussing.

The climbing was never extreme, but the going was slow and tedious. Finally, at 14,000 feet we stumbled across the previous stopper on the route. First Al Burgess and I shovelled a way up a nearly vertical trough of powdery fluff, then John led, fell, and led again through a rotten band of rock (F8+), the site of last year’s accident which had left Jim Elzinga with a slight dent in his head. We waited for two hours while Al traversed 30 feet of vertical, bottomless snow with 2000 feet of gravity pulling down on him. The weather turned awful while we struggled up the easy but horrendously dangerous snow-and-ice slope below the crux rock band. Camp VI was perched at the head of the big snow slope, two platforms having been hacked out of the ice on a small rib running down from the rocks. Two nights later, still waiting for decent weather, all hell broke loose; a small slide came down from the rocks, ripped through one tent, burying Al and throwing me down the face for a small, unwanted ride.

Two hours later, with the tent mended, scared silly and braced against the wall, we couldn’t decide whether there was more snow inside or outside the tent. The weather allowed us to pack up. Jim broke trail again with his usual burst of energy. John led into the thick of the rock band while Al and I retrieved the ropes and ferried the packs. Although the temperature had sunk to unbearable levels, we hacked out a ledge to sit down, but it was too cold to stay. Al led off through mixed ground. His crampons broke and the rock leaned back. Toes got numb; the body weakened. A crevasse at 17,000 feet became home. One day more, but a long one. We all left the summit ridge to walk up a wind-protected snow slope. At 18,000 feet Al and I struck straight up the col. John and Jim went right along the summit plateau. Nobody really knew where the summit was. At eleven P.M. on June 30 after 15 days, Al and I reached the summit during a spectacular and fitting sunset. John and Jim went on to the top the next day. We all descended the normal route on skis and were even able to make an epic of that. Mount Logan never gives up.