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Wednesday
Jun292011

Mount Logan King Trench

Logan is huge. By some measures it has the largest base circumference of any non-volcanic mountain in the world. Skiing glaciers around Logan is 120 miles. The summit plateau has 11 peaks over 5,000 meters. My first view of Logan was from a Bagely Icefield nunatak at 2am in 1999. I couldn't comprehend the castle-like summits hanging over the sea of smaller peaks. It looked like a distant range. No one forgets their first sight of Logan.

Logan's other great feature is it's second highest. Although Logan is the highest summit in Canada it is still second in North America. That means thousands attempt 20,320-foot Denali each year, while less than 100 attempt 19,551-foot Mount Logan. On our 21-day trip we saw nobody after day six. Being second highest also means there's little information about the route. Adventure!!

Glenn and I first discussed Logan five years ago. Paul heard about our plans and jumped onboard, the Logan chapter in Steve Barnett's The Best Ski Touring in America was vivid in Paul's memory. Jeremy Allyn at Mountain Madness was keen to wrangle the permits. And Michael Thomas, who'd been on many Madness trips, is always ready for high points.

Mountain Madness guide Tino Villanueva packing in my garage in Anchorage. Sorting gear took a several hours. Planning, buying and packing food took two days. 

 

John and Ellinore Claus drove us five hours to Chitina where we met Paul Claus and his Turbo Otter of Ultima Thule.  Paul is the only show on skis on the US side. Flying from Haines Junction is another option, but the weather is worse. The flight to Logan crosses serious wilderness. Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park is America's largest and the glaciers are the largest outside of Greenland and Antarctica.

 

The crew: beside me are Glenn Wilson from Tulsa, Oklahoma who I first climbed with on Mount Baker in 1998 and have since been to Mount Bona and Ecuador, Paul Muscat and I went on an epic Arctic Refuge trip in 2009, Michael Thomas from California has climbed high peaks all over the world, and Tino Villanueva is from Seattle and works for Mountain Madness and Valdez Heli Camps. The thing about Logan is it attracts interesting people. We had an absolute blast together.

 

Paul dropped us 0.2 km from the Canadian border. We hauled our full kit, single-carry for six hours to the entrance of the King Trench.

 

At Camp I below the King Trench. The highest-looking summit is King Peak. See more information about our schedule here.

 

 

 

 

We rolled in style.

 

 

 

 

Paul chilling at Camp III at 13,400 feet on King Col. The crux of the route--the MacCarthy Gap--climbs through the icefall. 

 

King Peak (16,972 feet), the ninth highest in North America, is a toothy peak that dominates the view from King Col.

 

Glenn prefers his view dominated by a 10-inch flapper balanced on his ThermoServ 521. 

 

Paul freeze-drying his long undies. 

 

 Robert Scott would be proud. Proper style man hauling through the MacCarthy Gap. 

 

Camp IV on the Football Field at 15,860. Prospector's Col is in the notch above and right of the Mid.

 

We carried seven days of food and fuel to Prospector's Col, then spent a day at Camp IV eating, repairing gear and eating before moving to high camp.

 

High camp at on the great plateau. We spent four nights here. The last two nights in raging wind gusts. My high school super-hero and mentor, glaciologist Dr. Mel Marcus told me about spending summer of 1970 living on this ice plateau and climbing all it's summits. I kept envisioning his friendly smile appearing on each mountain top. 

 

After a rest day we set off at 9am for the summit. Wind and near-zero temps kept us layered-up all day.

 

On the summit ridge. 

 

Logan summit at 5pm: Michael, Tino, Paul, Glenn and Joe. This is Michael's fifth Second Seven including Ojos del Salado (22,615 feet) in Argentina, Mount Kenya (17,057 feet) in Kenya, Mount Townsend (7,247 feet) in Australia and Dykh-Tau (17,077 feet) in Russia. He'd like to go to Mount Tyree (15,919 feet) in Antarctica. And then there's K2 (28,251 feet). Nobody has climbed the Second Seven.

 

King Peak isn't looking so big anymore. This tool was locked into ice on the summit. 

 

Downclimbing the summit ridge. Our summit day was 15 hours. 

 

Descending the MacCarthy Gap. 

 

We GPS'd through an ever-present fog layer from 10 to 9,000 feet. Just like the fog that hangs from 9,000 to 10,500 on Denali's West Buttress.

 

Back at Base Camp. We considered rationing the beer in case Paul couldn't pick us up for a few days. We didn't ration. We sat for 48 hours. In the grand spec of things it wasn't too rough. The first ascent team had bones gleaming through blackened toes as they walked and floated back to McCarthy.

 

We were cozy in our sacs at 10:30 pm when Paul flew in with his drill sargent, pack-your-crap-NOW! routine. We packed in ten minutes. Paul said only George Dunn has packed faster. Thanks for a great flight Paul!

 

After a buggy night at the Ultima Thule airstrip Paul flew us back to Chitina and we drove home. 

 

Back in Anchorage. Thanks for an unforgettable trip guys!! (We may look clean, but we haven't showered in 21 days.)