Articles

HOW MOUNT LOGAN WAS CONQUERED

The forbidding fortress that is Canada's highest mountain defied all invaders until in 1925 six stubborn men waged and won a nightmare battle that continued after the pinnacle was reached

BARBARA MOON July 1 1952
Articles

HOW MOUNT LOGAN WAS CONQUERED

The forbidding fortress that is Canada's highest mountain defied all invaders until in 1925 six stubborn men waged and won a nightmare battle that continued after the pinnacle was reached

BARBARA MOON July 1 1952

HOW MOUNT LOGAN WAS CONQUERED

BARBARA MOON

AT EIGHT o’clock in the watery green light of an Arctic evening three Canadians and three Americans looked down thousands of feet at a sea of ice with surf of clouds tossing restlessly up at them. Scores of jagged mountain peaks floated below on the white expanse like walnuts on the frosting of a cake.

The men were standing nineteen thousand eight hundred and fifty feet above sea level on a tiny triangular pinnacle scarcely larger than the floor of a bungalow kitchen. They were on top of Mount Logan, highest peak in Canada, second highest in North America, largest mountain in bulk of the western hemisphere.

The climbers lingered twenty minutes—just long enough to shake hands solemnly and to push into the wind-pitted ice a thumb-sized tube containing their names and the date: June 23, 1925.

The slim brass tube will have weathered away in the twenty-seven years since that moment. But the conquest of Mount Logan in the Yukon’s St.

Elias range is still remembered as ‘‘one of the truly memorable feats of mountaineering history.”

It was a sportsman’s venture. Like the trout angler who permits himself only the flimsiest of leaders and the tiniest of hooks, these men were purists. They used no oxygen. They had no professional guides. No army of porters sweated their equipment to within striking distance of the summit. No pitons—the metal spikes driven into sheer mountain faces to create artificial hand or rope holds—were used.

Yet the men were pitting themselves against a mountain so inaccessible that no one had been closer than forty miles to it, so incredibly huge that its base circumference was more than one hundred miles, so high that it towered fourteen thousand feet above the glaciers coiled against its flanks, and so storm-harried that it has often been compared with Mount Everest.

Under their self-imposed rules they walked 637 miles in 63 days, spent 44 days on ice, backpacked

loads up to 84 pounds for 272 miles and climbed a total of 79,700 feet or four times the actual height of the mountain.

Hagridden by avalanches, temperatures down to thirty-three below zero, capricious fogs and sudden blizzards, battling snowblindness. frostbite, hallucinations and the deadly lassitude of altitude exhaustion, six of the eight climbers who started got to the top.

But mountains abide by no Marquis of Queensberry code. The punctilio was all on one side.

Logan lashed out after the bell: the trip down the mountain was a nightmare race with death. Blinded and delirious, the men lost their way, clung to icy slopes while shrieking winds threatened to pry them loose and hurl them to the glaciers below. They plunged into crevasses, found their caches destroyed, narrowly missed drowning in a glacial stream. The leader came closest to death —he didn’t know how close till two years afterward.

When the Canadian Alpine Club decided in 1922

The forbidding fortress that is Canada's highest mountain defied all invaders until in 1925 six stubborn men waged and won a nightmare battle that continued after the pinnacle was reached

Above the clouds Logan’s ultimate peak at 19.850 feet is guarded by a heart-breaking range of sawtooths, glaciers and crevasses.

to tackle Logan, interest in mountaineering was at fever pitch. That was the year of the first expedition to Mount Everest in the Himalayas under Brig.-Gen. C. G. Bruce. The Canadians were fired to attempt their own highest peak.

Logan, nine thousand feet lower than Everest, is fifteen hundred miles nearer the North Pole, a fact that tends to equalize temperature and weather conditions on the two peaks. Furthermore Logan has thirty-five hundred more feet of glacial snow and ice to be negotiated than Everest.

The mountain, named for Sir William Logan, founder of the Geological Survey of Canada, lies in the extreme southwestern corner of the Yukon Territory just over the line from the Alaska panhandle. Here the endless sharpening shoulders of the St. Elias range shake off vast glaciers that creep down in frozen torrents to brim the valleys lietween. Humid onshore winds from the Pacific

Ocean bring sudden fog banks and driving snow.

This b'ttle-known chaos of mountain and ice straddles the international boundary and parallels the coast for about eleven hundred miles. It’s the most intensely glaciated area in the world outside Greenland and the two Poles, and the St. Elias range is the mightiest mountain group on the continent. It includes eight of the fifteen highest North American peaks. Most massive of these, and second in height only to Alaska’s Mount McKinley (20,269 feet), is Logan.

Eighteen miles from west to east, the mountain is a frozen lonely humpback crowned by an elevenmile sawtooth ridge rising higher and higher to its final peak at the eastern end. The nearest outpost is a hundred and fifty miles away across terrain so rugged that eighty-five miles of the YukonAlaska boundary which bisects it were left unsurveyed by the 1913 international-boundary survey.

When Capt. Albert H. MacCarthy, chosen by the Canadian Alpine Club to lead its expedition, first arrived at the railhead the local barber told him, “You’ll never get no place out toward Logan, that’s a cinch.”

MacCarthy and his party weren’t discouraged so easily.

They had been picked carefully. MacCarthy, an American whose father had come from Brockville, Ont., was a graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, as well as a lawyer and an engineer. He had a luxury summer home in the Kootenays and a nearby cattle ranch and was a member of both Canadian and American Alpine Clubs. In 1913 he had been on the first ascent of Mount Robson, highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. At fifty he was tough, knowledgeable and disciplined, with the look of an indomitable little Scots laird.

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Deputy leader was H. Fred Lambart, forty-five, of Ottawa, a member of the federal government Topographical Survey. Lambart was a big kindly man. outstanding for his grit and good cheer.

Col. (now Maj.-Gen.) W. W. Foster, also a Canadian, had been with MacCarthy on the Robson climb. He had commanded the 52nd Infantry Battalion and 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade overseas and in 1925 was president of Pacific Engineers Ltd., in Vancouver. A bold high-bridged nose and a military mustache suggested a discipline to match MacCarthy's. and he shared the leader's humor and courage.

The fourth member of the climbing party was the brilliant and volatile American, Allen Carpe. At thirty-one he was lean, dark and moody, with a smile that seldom reached his eyes. In a highly specialized research post with American Telephone and Telegraph Co. in New York, he was also known as an accomplished and daring alpinist.

The fifth was Andrew Morrison Taylor. Taylor came from a well-to-do Ottawa family but had turned to the life of hunter, guide and riverman in Alaska. Quiet and well-read, he looked, with his seamed face, spreading mustache and shy smile, like any of the sourdoughs that hit the Trail of '9S and the pages of Robert Service.

To this nucleus of five were added three Americans who volunteered to pay their transportation expenses to the starting point—the little Alaskan railhead one hundred and fifty miles from Logan called McCarthy (no connection with Capt. MacCarthy). The Americans were Norman Read, from Manchester. Mass., a stocky, athletic, self-contained man: lanky

Henry Hall Jr., from Boston: and enthusiastic young Robert Morgan from Dartmouth College. All had considerable mountaineering experience.

Preparations for the expedition were exhaustive. The Canadian Alpine Club was joined by the American Alpine Club in soliciting the necessary funds —about thirteen thousand dollars— from club members and a few interested groups like the Royal Geographical Society.

Lists of supplies were drawn up. Food was of prime importance. Highaltitude work demands carbohydrates rather than the fats necessary in low temperatures at sea level. The final list ranged from bacon, veal loaf, dehydrated vegetables and macaroni for the base camps to iron rations of lump sugar, sweet chocolate and pitted dates for the dash to the summit.

Tents snowshoes. ropes and crampons i sets of spikes that fit over footgear to give purchase on ice were tested beforehand.

Each was to supply his personal gear. MacCarthy made two recommendations: that socks be bought in graduated sets of five to fit over one another, and that "breathing" footgear like drvtanned Indian moccasins be taken for use on the upper levels. Morgan and Lambart ignored this, to their sorrow.

Most vital part of the preliminaries was undertaken by MacCarthy. After a forty-five-day trip in the summer of 1924 to find the best route into the mountain base he reported that all heavy supplies would have to be taken in during the winter while the rivers were frozen over. He himself would supervise the operation.

In Feb. 1925 MacCarthy. Taylor and four Alaskans with bobsleds and dog teams freighted in twenty thousand pounds of food and equipment, in temperatures down to fifty-two below

zero, along the route the party would take later. At the western end of Logan, about ten miles from the base of the mountain and six thousand feet above sea level. MacCarthy cached four tons of supplies.

The gruelling trip took sixty-nine days. MacCarthy returned from it a scant sixteen days before he was to head back toward Logan for the great assault.

On May 7 at Cordova, Alaska, MacCarthy met the boat from Seattle bringing the other seven, plus Hamilton Laing. of Canada’s Department of Mines, who was to spend the summer studying the Chitina Valley flora and fauna. The train trip to McCarthy and final preparations took five days. The party headed up the Chitina Valley on foot on May 12.

They didn’t see civilization again for sixtv-three days.

Seven days took them to the beginning of the glaciers and seven more over the glaciers to MacCarthy’s advance cache. The men began to toughen up as they plodded over the moraine with their sixty-five-to-eightyfive-pound packs. Their faces blistered in the sun while their feet turned icy in the melted glacier puddles. Tin hardening process stood them in gooc stead when they began relaying the four-ton cache along the glacier ten miles to the foot of the mountain.

At Night the Ice Roared

Here, in the shadow of Logan, they established their advance base camp. They were now at seven thousand eight hundred feet and about to set foot for the first time on the mountain proper. They had already walked one hundred and thirty-eight miles; the summit towered twelve thousand feet above.

Camp routine had by now been established. Carpe set out the barometers and thermometers at night: Foster took readings from them in the morning. Taylor was cook. His bread was particularly good, though Foster had to overcome some qualms the first time he saw the Alaskan take out the live dough saved from each batch to start the next: Taylor had it tucked away against his chest on a string, like an amulet.

On June 1 the eight men started up the mountain. It crouched above them like a great beast, its hackles splitting the clouds. Their route lay up its hip by way of a long trench and the trench in turn led to a broad saddle—the small of the back. Just below the saddle sor col) they established King Col camp at fourteen and a half thousand feet and. by June 13. had all their gear packed up that far.

Then they turned to follow the spine of the mountain. But the spine—a skyline series of peaks stretching to the east toward the summit—thrust up abruptly from the saddle in a onethousand-foot precipice of i?e.

They inched up this frozen cascade, bedeviled by storms and fog and zigzagging continually to avoid avalanches. A particularly murderous snowslide would send pulverized ice mushrooming from the glaciers below for a full ten minutes. At night the roar of snow and ice crashing down from the peaks was constant.

Finally they emerged at sixteen thousand eight hundred feet and established camp on Logan's backbone which swept on up to a great double peak three miles away and beyond it to a second double peak.

They had been climbing more than two weeks and already the mountain had taken its toll. The evening of June 16 MacCarthy wrote in his diary: "Party all in fair state, I hope, but

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not strong for the work to be done.’'

MacCarthy himself had been suffering from snowblindness in spite of his snow glasses and the mosquito netting each swathed about his head. One night one of his eyes was so badly inflamed he couldn’t sleep. The sun, of course, never set and the men snatched rest when they could, tailoring their schedule to snow and weather conditions. With temperatures down to thirty-three below zero they tried clasping their sleeping bags together and huddling four in each double bag. On several days blizzards or fog drove them back to camp: the men learned to mark their trail with willow wands that showed up against the snow for a quarter of a mile.

The altitude began to tell. Lungs felt shrunken and every step was an effort. The less seasoned younger men were obviously feeling the strain of uncertainty about what lay ahead.

There was dissension about how much farther they had to go. Some were sure the second double peak was the high point of the mountain. MacCarthy thought the real summit, lay behind and beyond. He proved right.

They toiled on up toward the first double peak. Lambart in oiled leather boots and Morgan in shoepacks suffered badly frostbitten feet. The others had changed to their dry-tanned moccasins. Floundering through snow to their waists the men could manage only fifteen paces without resting.

Finally Morgan decided he should tum back. Hall volunteered to accompany him and on June 21 he and Morgan roped up and disappeared down the trail into the storm.

The rest consolidated camp at eighteen thousand five hundred feet on the first double peak. At that altitude it took every ounce of strength to bend and crawl in through a tent flap.

On June 22 the party worked its way painfully round the shoulder of the first double peak and camped beyond it as a storm hit. They were on a plateau in sight of the second double peak about three miles away. They decided to take the first weather break for what some still believed to be the summit. They had food for eight days there at Plateau camp but strength for a much shorter period.

A Mirror In the Fog

Tuesday, June 23, dawned on a dense fog. MacCarthy rose at five, at six, and then again at seven-thirty. Finally at ten it cleared. He cried his familiar “All hands rise and shine, lash and

Going a few paces at i time they struggled for six hours toward the summit ahead. At 4.20 they reached its top. They looked beyond.

There, two miles to the southeast, with a one-thousand-foot drop between the peaks, lay the true summit of Mount Logan. A sight with an Abney level showed this farther peak to be fifty feet higher.

They shouldered their packs doggedly. Part way across to the final summit they planted the last of their willow markers. At the far side a razorback ridge swept up to the pinnacle. MacCarthy, in the lead, chopped two hundred steps up to it. As he breasted the ridge he saw an incredible thing: in a fogbank ahead of him was a figure surrounded by an aura of light. He thought it was an hallucination: the altitude had been playing strange tricks.

It was a perfect, slightly magnified reflection of himself. The others, coming alongside, saw it too. Foster and Carpe recognized it as the Brocken

spectre, an alpine phenomenon seen only once before on this continent. First recorded on the Brocken, a mountain in Germany, it occurs only when the observer is between the sun and a mass of cloud. His image is projected in the droplets of water as if the mist were a mirror.

The men turned from the spectre to the sharp ice cornice leading to the summit. Crampons bit easily into the knife edge. At 8 p.m. a last heave carried them over an ice ridge and onto the top. There, six dazed and exhausted figures wavered in the buffeting wind and stared—the first men to look down upon the towering St. Elias range from atop its highest peak.

Carpe and Read took photographs. The men were scarcely recognizable. Gaunt, sunken-cheeked, hollow-eyed, they peered from their ice-caked wrappings like bandaged mummies.

At 8.20 they began the descent. From that moment until they reached the railhead of McCarthy they fought a rearguard action against attacks more vicious than any encountered on tha ascent.

Almost immediately dense fog rolled in from the Pacific, the temperature dropped sixteen degrees, snow blew up in blinding gusts. After crawling down only eight hundred and fifty feet in five hours they used their snowshoes to scoop hollows in the ice where they huddled all night and next morning.

By midday MacCarthy knew they would die there in the snow if they remained longer. It took him two hours to shake the men into action and get the ropes untangled. Taylor led the first rope with Lambart and Read, MacCarthy and Foster came behind supporting Carpe who was halfcrazed with altitude and exhaustion.

Visibility was less than fifty feet. There was no way to judge direction. Their only hope lay in stumbling on the line of willow markers leading part way out from Plateau camp. But the world of white was as featureless as the darkness of the blind. Taylor or MacCarthy would take a step and fetch up flat against a sudden slope or plunge into a crevasse. Taylor tumbled thirty feet once, and MacCarthy fifteen. Only the ropes saved them.

They found the line of willow markers by sheer luck. Taylor's rope followed the willows safely around the second double peak and back toward the first; they reached Plateau Camp at S.30 that night. MacCarthy's rope had more to suffer. They stopped once to urge Carpe to his feet. When they started again it was in the wrong direction. They floundered through the storm, lost, tortured by looming hallucinations of barns and shelters, gulping thin air into their shrieking

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lungs. At five the next morning they stumbled into Plateau Camp. It had been a thirty-four-hour ordeal and it took another thirty-one hours before the whole party could pull itself together to start again.

That day, June 26, was the most terrible of all. They circled the first double peak by way of a snow dome that bulged over the glaciers from its shoulder. Inching onto it they found a hard ice crust impossible to negotiate on snowshoes. At the moment they stopped to change to crampons a hurricane struck. While bare hands fumbled with the senseless tape lashings the temperature dropped, a howling wind was on their backs and the snow' and sleet caught them.

Like beetles clawing over a glass bowl they crawled across the ice, digging in with crampons and ice picks and doubling under the blasts of the wind. Read alone escaped horrible frostbite that afternoon. Foster became completely snowblind. None could later explain how he saved himself from being swept off by the gale and dashed to the glaciers below. The four hours on the snow dome were the most perilous of the entire expedition.

Safely off the dome at last they fled headlong past the ruins of three of their camps, abandoning everything they had cached earlier except shoepacks to use on the glaciers. As they stopped for these at the sixteen thousand eight hundred level MacCarthy suddenly doubled up with an agonizing stab in the abdomen.

Nauseated with pain he took his place on the rope to continue the stumbling flight down the great ice cliff to the saddle and King Col camp at fourteen and a half thousand. On the last stretches the men even abandoned crampons and snowshoes and ploughed down on foot.

At King Col camp they had to stop for rest and medical care. Lambart’s toes were turning black with frostbite: the others had frozen feet or fingers. MacCarthy was suffering terribly from his stomach and could eat nothing. Foster fed him a little Klim with brandy and MacCarthy insisted on shouldering his full pack and going on.

At midnight June 28 the party made base camp at the foot of Logan. In his diary MacCarthy wrote: “Tents in bad shape. I in worse condition.” There was food at base camp but all he could stomach were dill pickles which he chewed, allowing the juice to trickle down his throat.

They rested for two days before starting down the glaciers to the headwaters of the Chitina. But bears had destroyed both glacier caches. They had to keep going thirty hours to reach a food cache left by government biologist Laing. who was summering in the Chitina valley. Next day they limped into Laing's own camp on the

They still had to get out to the McCarthy railhead.

To walk eighty-eight more miles seemed impossible. They decided to build rafts and float downstream on the swollen Chitina. On July 11 Taylor. Read and Lambart launched one raft which they named the Logan: MacCarthy, Carpe and Foster launched the Loganette. The Logan was beached opposite McCarthy by evening. The three passengers hiked into town and sent out the news that Mount Logan had been climbed.

The Loganette, however, had gone only eighteen miles when it was swept out into a crosscurrent and overturned. Foster's head was struck and he went under. MacCarthy got Carpe and Foster to shore and they managed to work the raft over to a sandbar.

MacCarthy spent three hours in the icy river cutting loose the equipment lashed to the overturned raft. He succeeded in saving some dehydrated potatoes, a tin of tomatoes and some sardines which they ate while their gear dried. Then they shouldered thirty-pound packs and began a dogged seventy-mile march along the Chitina’s gravel flats and sandbars and through the charred slash that lay on the upper banks like jumbled jackstraws. It took four days to reach McCarthy.

There they found Taylor about to start out with a pack train in search of them. Read, who was in excellent shape, had already left for Cordova, the Alaskan port. Morgan and Hall had also gone out. Lambart was in the local hospital. He had plodded most of the way down the mountain and out to McCarthy on feet so badly frozen that the skin had peeled off leaving only raw flesh. All his toes were later amputated.

MacCarthy was. strangely enough, feeling better.

King McKinley Got Carpe

While the news of Logan's conquest broke in the newspapers the climbers went quietly back to their homes. Two years passed before MacCarthy discovered how close he had come to death and why he had lived.

In 1927 at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., his doctor found the scar of a ruptured duodenal ulcer. Such a rupture is normally so painful that the patient cannot bear even to shift his position in bed. MacCarthy had carried his full pack i hundred and fifty miles after the ulcer had ruptured. The doctor told him only one man in a million could have survived it. Three things probably saved him: his splendid physical condition, particularly his strong abdominal muscles which served to pull together the edges of the breach: the juice of the dill pickles which acted as an astringent: and the three-hour ordeal in the Chitina's icy waters which completed the astringent work. The rupture had healed as cleanly as if surgery had been performed.

Vigorous and active at seventy-six, MacCarthy is living now in Annapolis. Md His suite in lovely old Carvel Hall is lined with pictures of Mount Logan and other reminders of his great climb.

Three of the climbing party are dead. Carpé was killed on Alaska’s Mount McKinley in 1932. His body has never been recovered. Taylor died quietly in 1945 and Lambart in 1946.

Morgan and Hall are living in the U. S. Hall has climbed all over this continent and in Europe and is currentlv president of the American Alpine Club'

Foster is living in Victoria, B.C., where he serves as commissioner of the

B. C. Power Commission. HLs broadloomed office, like MacCarthy’s suite, sports photographs of Logan. A large contour map of the Logan area decorates one paneled wall.

Perhaps the most amazing survivor is the stalwart sixty-one-year-old Read. On June 17, 1950, at 2.40 in the afternoon—exactly twenty-five years less six days after—he stood for a second time on the summit of Logan. With him were a Swiss guide and an Alaskan trapper. Though they and their supplies were flown to the base of the mountain the climb was a tough one. Storms hounded them and supplies ran out. They ate soup and raisins for one five-day stretch.

Afterward Read told a reporter he’d made the anniversary ascent to see if his legs could still take it.

There has been one other attempt to climb Logan. In 1948 the founder and president of the Explorers’ Club of Pittsburgh, Ivan Jirak. wrote Foster and MacCarthy that he planned a solo ascent of Logan. Both, horrified, tried to dissuade him. MacCarthy called it a “gamble with suicide,” but Jirak went ahead.

He started in from Kluane Lake on the Alaska Highway toward the eastern end of the mountain, a hundred and forty miles away. He got fifteen miles up Slims River, decided to avoid the glaciers by crossing to the other side, fell into quicksand and lost almost all his equipment. Without further ado he inflated his pneumatic mattress and floated back down the river to the highway. Neither Foster nor MacCarthy was surprised at Logan's cavalier dismissal of Jirak.

Both men know better than to underestimate a mountain. Their sense of Logan's personality is strong. MacCarthy explained recently that the mountain had to be studied like a woman for its whims and weaknesses. Foster said: “It’s like riding a new horse. He's trying to ride you: you're trying to ride him. You want him fresh and in fighting trim. You want to give him a good ride, too. for horses like to be ridden properly.” Neither would come closer than a simile to expressing how he felt about Logan or what drew him to climb it.

But all true mountaineers are nearmystics. and " mystic finds his cult impossible to explain to the uninitiated: he doesn’t climb mountains for money or science or glory or the other motives laymen understand.

You could have asked the climbers of Logan in 1925 why they were going out to court hardship and death. They might well have taken refuge in George Mallory’s answer. Before he lost his life with A. C. Irvine on Mount Everest in 1924 Mallory was asked why he was attempting the peak.

He replied simply: "Because it’s there.” ★