“Extraordinary circumstances . . .” was the phrase I seemed to mutter, when we pulled the plug on our first mission. We knew that this area didn’t break world-snowfall records, but this was ridiculous. Back at camp we formulated a plan B and C. Plan B was to call the pilot and get the hell out (not a bad option considering the state of the crevasses). Plan C was to head to higher ground. We chose the stick it out. We were relatively low in elevation, so conditions might improve as we headed up onto the icecap. Furthermore, Mt Logan is just around the corner (35 to 40km away), and as Canada’s highest peak (5,959m – 19,550ft) it might hold some snow somewhere on its flanks. If all else failed we would at least be able to escape via the King Trench landing zone (near the base of Logan), which is at 9,000ft and frequented by our pilot.
As we packed up our gear for the long haul, a couple of realities began to set in. Firstly, we hadn’t planned for an epic traverse. From Chris’s food piled high in a cardboard box, the cases of beer, to the overabundance of fancy camera gear – we weren’t travelling light. Secondly, if we made it to Logan, some of us (including me) didn’t have the proper gear for surviving Canada’s highest and probably coldest mountain. But when you’re on an expedition where everything is going to shit, it helps if rules are bent and attitudes are blindly optimistic.
Being a good Canadian, Tobin refused to dump the beer and tossed it on his sled. Chris saddled his multiple camera setups without complaint, and we were off into the unknown. I’m not being too overly dramatic, since we would soon walk off the end of our GPS map. We only made it a few hours before being stopped by a rolling crevasse field. We dumped our heavy loads and did a light recon. We were at a crossroads: if we couldn’t find a safe way through, we’d have no choice but to call the pilot. After an hour plus of probing every few feet, we found our route and headed back to our sleds. We decided to set-up camp and retrace our steps in the cool temps of the morning.
The next day was spent hauling our sleds ever upwards onto the icecap at almost 12,000ft. We could only fantasize about skiing all the lines we passed, because they were all covered in ice. After a very slow and hilarious ski down off the other side, with our sleds in tow, we set up an incredible camp with great views of both Mt Logan and Mt St.Elias at either end of the Seward icecap. In the morning we skied down the gradual slopes to the glacier that would lead us to Logan. By evening we made it to the King Trench basecamp. The 3 days of slogging with massive loads and intense heat had taken their toll though. Regardless of what we got up to from here on out, at least we were guaranteed a flight home.
To be continued . . .