Archive for March, 2009

Candidate: #5

Location: Yukon Territory, Kluane National Park and Reserve – a UNESCO World Herritage Site

Range: Saint Elias Mountains

Elevation: 5,073 metres according to some sources; 5,067 metres according to other sources


Mount Steele was in the spotlight in July 2007 when around 2 PM on the 22nd a 400-metre slab of ice broke loose near the summit and plunged 2,100 metres down the face of the mountain, shaking the ground with the equivalent force of a 2.1 magnitude earthquake. A second failure followed two days later, this one mostly rock, and rattled the seismometers around the world, registering a 3.5 magnitude. The debris crashed to the Steele Glacier below, crossed the 1.5 kilometre-wide glacier and went up over a 300 metre ridge on the other side of the glacier and then dropped an additional 700 metres to the Hodgson Glacier. The failure was witnessed by researchers in the area. It is estimated that the velocity of the debris rushing across the Steele Glacier was about 70 m/s or about 250 km/h. It total the debris travelled 7km from the top of the slide to the furthest point and the slide debris spread out 2 km wide. The cause of the failure was not known for certain at the time of the news reports but weakening of the ice due to climate change was a considered a possibility. Other such slides have been triggered by earthquakes but such was not the case with the Mt. Steele slide. While falling glacial ice and rockslides are common in the mountains, the Steele slide is the largest in living memory in the Yukon. (Compare the photo of the pre-slide north face on Bivouac and the one on this page after the slide.)

Mount Steele is Canada’s fifth highest mountain and the last one to clear 5,000 metres. It is also the 10th highest mountain in North America. A long ridge connects it to Mt. Lucania, which was used by the first team, lead by glaciologist Walter Wood, to reach the summit in 1935, after they had given up trying for Mt. Lucania, and was also used two years later by Bradford Washburn and Robert Bates after their successful first ascent of Mt. Lucania, when they decided to climb Mt. Steele as well. The next party to ascend Steele would be Garry Roach’s team in 1967, which then followed the ridge to Lucania and reached the summit there four days later. Most parties heading for Steele fly in but there are access routes on foot both from the Yukon side and the Alaskan side. As a historical note, Wood’s team was the last major first ascent of a Saint Elias mountain without air support.

The mountain was named after Sam Steele, the North West Mounted Police officer in charge of the force in the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush.









Photographs on Flickr.com:




Next: Mt. Wood


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Candidate: #4

Location: Yukon Territory, Kluane National Park and Reserve – a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Range: Saint Elias Mountains

Elevation: 5,173 metres

When searching for information on the candidates for Canada’s 100 Famous Mountains, I usually conclude that if there is little information available then the mountain’s candidacy is contestable. As I compiled a draft of suitable candidates, I was well aware that I would soon reach the point where I had more than 100 mountains worthy of being on the list, as there are many well-known peaks that are frequented by hikers and climbers and which are located near urban centres or popular resorts. Some mountains would have to be cut from the list in favour of the more familiar ones. Furthermore, I wondered early on if it was really necessary to include all of Canada’s summits over 4,000 metres or only the most famous ones, and as I searched for information on King Peak I found not only few sites but little information on the sites I found. Would King Peak be one of the high mountains that should be nixed from the list? I decided no.

My arguments for why King Peak should be included are as follows: though information on the Net is sparse and King Peak, like many other peaks of the Saint Elias Mountains, is rarely climbed (the ascent in 1999 by Garry Roach’s team was only the seventh) the mountain makes up for its lack of familiarity with its height, beauty, and the technical difficulty involved in climbing it. King Peak is the fourth highest mountain in Canada and the ninth highest in North America. Canada has only five summits clearing 5,000 metres and there is a list of the summits of over 4,000 metres. It would seem a shame to omit a spectacular mountain such as King Peak. A satellite peak of Mt. Logan, its peak is a sharply defined pointed pyramid towering over the ice field, and Allan Carpe, a member of the first ascent team on Logan remarked, “The most impressive views being of glorious King Peak, whose precipitous sides and terrible arêtes would seem to defy hope of conquest.” It was finally ascended, however, in 1952 by K. Hart and E. Thayer.

King Peak is named after William King, a commissioner of the International Boundary Commission and director of the Dominion Obeservatory from 1890 to 1905.







Picasa Web Albums

Next: Mt. Steele

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Candidate: #3

Location: Yukon Territory, Kluane National Park and Reserve – a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Range: Saint Elias Mountains

Elevation: 5,226 metres


As with many of North America’s greatest peaks, the remoteness and harsh weather make Mt. Lucania and its neighbours extremely challenging to climb. The Saint Elias Mountains are the world’s highest coastal range*, and also the world’s most northern high mountain range. Storms roaring in off the ocean collide with these soaring peaks and create the worst weather conditions. Furthermore, these mountains have some of the greatest vertical relief in the world, higher than the Himalayas it is said. Of these massive mountains, Mt. Lucania is the third highest in Canada and the eighth highest in North America.

The first ascent of Mt. Lucania was in 1937 by the famous American mountaineer and photographer, Bradford Washburn, and Robert Bates. A glaciologist, Walter Wood, and a team had attempted the peak two years earlier but turned away and instead climbed Mt. Steele, making the first ascent of that mountain while declaring Mt. Lucania un-climbable. The expedition by Washburn and Bates was done with air support and was the remotest landing on a glacier ever attempted in North America at the time. The climbers had supplies dropped off in March and in June they were flown in for a landing on the Walsh Glacier on the Alaskan side of the mountain. Things got off to a bad start when the plane got stuck in slush that had formed due to unusually high seasonal temperatures, and it took five days to get the plane airborne while melting snow opened up deep crevasses in the glacier around them.

Thus began the adventure that may have been the most harrowing of all of Washburn’s mountaineering days. An account of their journey is documented in the National Geographic book On High – The Adventures of Legendary Mountaineer, Photographer and Scientist Bradford Washburn, and tells of how the two men were stuck with three left boots and one right one because not all of their supplies had made it in by plane, and how they had to make do with two pairs of off-the-shelf L.L. Bean “Maine hunting shoes”. They abandoned much of their gear along the way, including food and Washburn’s treasured 8×10” Fairchild camera, as they made it to the summit of Mt. Lucania and then went on to reach the summit of nearby Mt. Steele. Here they followed in Wood’s footsteps and were fortunate enough to have perfectly clear skies. On the way down they tossed more gear including their air mattresses and they even cut out half of the bottom of their tent to save weight. They found a cache of food Wood had left behind but discovered all the tins punctured by grizzly bear teeth and the contents sucked out. As they descended for Burwash Landing and Kluane Lake they encountered another surprise: the river they had to cross was in full torrent thanks to the early melting that year and they had to go several kilometres back upstream in order to find a place to cross. When at last they met up with a team bringing pack horses through the forest, the men with the horses were astonished to hear that Washburn and Bates had come from Valdez, Alaska over the ice fields and peaks of the mountain range. Mt. Lucania was not climbed again until 1967, this time by Garry Roach, the first man to climb all ten highest summits of North America.

Mt. Lucania is named after an ancient territorial division in southern Italy, today known as the provinces of Basilicata and Salerno, also a mountainous region though with summits reaching only above 2,000 metres.

Note: A sub-peak of Mt. Lucania is Atlantic Peak, 4,879 metres high. On the Summit Post link below I found information saying that Atlantic Peak was ascertained to be an individual peak, separated enough from Mt. Lucania. If this is true it makes Atlantic Peak Canada’s sixth highest mountain. However, after searching through Google for further information I have only found sites that include Atlantic Peak as a sub-peak of Lucania and not as an individual peak. Other large mountains of the Saint Elias have multiple peaks too but only the main peak of those mountains is considered. King Peak though is far enough from Mt. Logan to be considered a satellite peak, and therefore an individual peak, and not a sub-peak.

*Some argue that the Andes are the highest but the highest peaks of the Andes are located in ranges some distance inland from the ocean.










Next: King Peak

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Candidate: #2

Location: Alaska/Yukon Territory, Wrangle – St. Elias National Park/Kluane National Park and Reserve

Range: Saint Elias Mountains

Elevation: 5,489 metres

Mt. Saint Elias holds the distinction of being the second highest mountain in two countries. Its summit bisected by the Alaska/Yukon border, the mountain is second highest to Mt. McKinley/Denali Peak in the United States, and second to Mt. Logan in Canada. Perhaps it is all very fitting that two nations which have maintained a relationship that goes deeper than neighbours for the better part of the last 200 years should share the summit of this behemoth of a mountain, the second highest in the range that bears its namesake. A beautiful pyramid-shaped peak, Mt. Saint Elias rises to its majestic heights only 16 kilometres from the sea water of Ice Bay in Alaska, giving it an extraordinary vertical relief, and it is actually the highest mountain in the world that is so close to tidewater. This also makes the Saint Elias Mountain Range the highest coastal range in the world (while the Andes in Peru are actually over 1,000 metres higher in the Cordillera Blanca, they are separated from the ocean by the lower Cordillera Negra). The mountain is about 40 kilometres from Mt. Logan and offers a spectacular view across the summits of the Saint Elias Range. On the Alaskan side is the Malaspina Ice Field, produced by the glaciers of Mt. Saint Elias and the largest ice field in Alaska.

The first Europeans to lay eyes on Mt. Saint Elias were Vitus Bering and his crew from Russia on July 16th, 1741. It is disputed whether Bering named the mountain or whether it was named by 18th century map-makers after Cape Saint Elias. Between 1886 and 1897 there were several attempts to climb the peak, however, due to the frequent storms coming in off the ocean the first seven parties failed to reach the summit. Prince Luigi Amadeo di Savoia, the Duke of Abruzzi and his party finally succeeded in reaching the summit on July 31, 1897. The mountain was not climbed again until 1946. Because of the difficult weather, the mountain is not climbed often and most climbing parties take two to three weeks to reach to the summit.

Mt. Saint Elias is known as Yaas’éit’aa Shaa to the Tlingit, the name meaning “mountain behind Ice Bay”, and the Yakutat Tlingit call it Shaa Tléin, “Big Mountain”. It was used by the Kwaashk’khwáan clan as a guide when they sailed down the Copper River.









Next: Mt. Lucania

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Candidate: #1

Location: Yukon Territory, Kluane National Park and Reserve – a UNESCO World Herritage Site.

Range: St. Elias Range

Elevation: 5,959 metres

As Canada’s highest mountain there is no doubt that Mt. Logan should be on our list of 100 Famous Mountains of Canada. But there is more than just height to make this mountain famous. The Logan Massif is said to have the largest circumference* of any mountain in the world and has 11 peaks over 5,000 metres. Its prominence, measured from Mentasta Pass, is around 5,250 metres (according to Bivouac.com, or 5,247 metres according to Wikipedia). A glaciated plateau of 20 kilometres by 5 kilometres sits atop the massif and the mountain rises some 3,000 metres above the glaciers of the ice sheet below. The mountain is absolutely massive and mountaineers who thought they saw gigantic mountains in the Himalayas are awed by the size of Logan. Even from a distance it completely fills the skyline. The ice sheet around the mountain is also the largest in the world, not connected to an ice cap. Furthermore, Mt. Logan records some terribly cold temperatures with a record -77.5 °C recorded on May 26th, 1991, the coldest temperature recorded outside of Antarctica.

Mt. Logan was named in 1890 after Sir William Edmond Logan, founder of the Canadian Geological Survey. The summit was first reached on June 23, 1925 by six climbers: Albert H. McCarthy, H.F. Lambart, A. Carpe, W.W. Foster, N. Reed, and Andy Taylor. Until 1992, the exact height of the mountain was not known with certainty and was given from 5,959 metres to 6,020 metres. In 1992 an expedition to the summit used GPS and fixed the elevation at 5,959 metres; however a recent measurement taken twice from a plane showed the mountain reaching 5,966 metres. This new measurement has not been officially confirmed or recognized. Though the mountain is still growing due to tectonic uplifting, one reason postulated for the additional seven metres was an increase in snow and ice build-up.

Mt. Logan is listed on the Second Seven Summits as it is the second highest peak in North America next to Alaska’s Mt. McKinley/Denali Peak, and it is also on a list of ultras in Canada.

*Mt. Logan is the mountain with the largest sub aerial mass. Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii is said to have the largest mass when its submarine volume is included. The base of Mauna Loa is on the ocean floor and including this it has a volume of 100 times that of Mt. Fuji.










Peter von Gaza Photography


Next: Mt. Saint Elias

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The Concept

In 1964, Kyuya Fukuda, a veteran alpinist of Japanese mountains, published a book called Nihon Hyaku Meizan – 100 Famous Mountains of Japan. He made his selection from among the hundreds of mountains he had climbed over more than 40 years and based his selection on beauty, elevation and history. Thus, the list includes some of Japan’s highest mountains, some of Japan’s most beautiful mountains, and some which are neither high nor as beautiful as some that didn’t make the cut but rich in history. The list still survives today as the definitive one for Japan’s 100 famous or best and there are many people, Japanese and foreigners alike, who attempt to climb all of them. I myself have climbed 26 of them as of this writing.

Having spent most of my years since 1999 in Japan I am well acquainted with the list and know of the 200 Famous Mountains and 300 Famous Mountains lists (Nihyaku Meizan and Sanbyaku Meizan respectively) as well. There are also lists for the 100 best waterfalls, the 100 best cherry blossom viewing places, the 100 best autumn maple viewing places and the 100 best views in Japan.

Being away from my home country of Canada for so long has recently left me pining for the mountains of home. Actually, all the years I photographed in Canada I concentrated on the Canadian landscape, where mountains were just as important to photograph as were the coastal areas, the forests, the prairies and other places. I went to the mountains and hiked and camped in the backcountry but not as a mountaineer. I was a landscape photographer. However, since 2003 I have fallen more deeply in love with the mountains and I find myself these days scouring Flickr.com for Canadian mountain scenery. I always knew we had some gorgeous locations at home but now thanks to the cornucopia of images on Flickr I can see I have missed out on so much.

Wondering if there wasn’t a list of famous mountains in Canada I searched on the Net. There was no list other than the 100 highest mountains in Canada on Wikipedia*. So I decided to compose my own list and as I haven’t visited most of the mountains I think make appropriate candidates I am searching Flickr and asking people to add their photos to the group “100 Famous Mountains of Canada”.

*I have noticed that Mt. Garibaldi, which should hold the 84th position on the list, is absent, which calls into question the veracity of the list. I have also noted a few other errors or disputable points regarding Canadian mountains on Wikipedia.

What is a Mountain?

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary says a mountain is “a very high hill, often with rocks at the top”. Wikipedia says there is no accepted definition of a mountain. It also says that a mountain is usually steeper than a hill. For a more scientific definition, Wikipedia supplies this one: “One more objective definition is that mountains are land areas that are >2,500m in height, or 1500-2499m if their slope is >2 degrees, or 1000-1499m if their slope is >5 degrees and local (radius 7km) elevation is >300m, or 300-999m if their local (radius 7km) elevation is >300m.

Looking at the mountains of Canada, there is no doubt that the high, rocky, often jagged and serrated summits of the west (Alberta and British Columbia) and northwest (Yukon and Northwest Territories) are mountains. But in order to make this truly a national list we must also look to the east (Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces) and the northeast (Nunavut). Particularly in Ontario and the Maritimes we find mountains that could be debated as not being suitable for our list. For example, by the more scientific definition above, Nova Scotia’s North Mountain and South Mountain are not mountains because their highest point is only 235 metres (Mount Rose, North Mountain) and 275 metres (un-named point). I would also put forth that the Cypress Hills of Alberta and Saskatchewan be not considered mountains even though they reach a maximum height above sea level at 1,468 metres and they stand 600 metres higher than Medicine Hat. The Hills themselves do not look like a “mountain” and instead rise gradually from the surrounding Prairie. On the other hand, the Ishpatina Ridge in Ontario stands at only 693 metres but rises approximately 300 metres above the surrounding area and is considered “a low mountain”. It is also the highest point in Ontario.

There are certainly a few gray areas that could be disputed and one could ask why it is worthwhile to argue about mountains of under 1,000 metres elevation when there are so many higher and more stunning peaks in the west. But that leads us on to the criteria for the list of Canada’s 100 Famous Mountains.

The Criteria

Kyuya Fukuda based his Japanese list on height, beauty and historical relevance. In a country that is 27 times bigger than Japan we have many more mountains to consider. A list of the 100 most beautiful would be difficult enough to edit down. For this list, I propose the following criteria:

1) The highest mountains. Not the 100 highest but from among the highest in the country as well as the highest in each province and territory where the mountain is well enough known.

2) The most beautiful. We are looking for mountains of beautiful shape and again the west has no shortage here. But beautiful mountains are not limited to towering spires and massive walls alone. There is a more gentle beauty to be found in the eastern mountains as well.

3) Fame. Which mountains are the most visited, climbed, painted, photographed, etc.? Here I would like to exclude popular ski mountains, as well as mountains with cable cars. They might be popular and draw thousands upon thousands of people each year but if the purpose is for skiing or snowboarding, or enjoying a view of other mountains or a city then I think it is not for the mountain itself that people come.

4) Historical significance. The list should include mountains that are of historical significance to both the First Nations people, European settlers, and Canadians. One example is Mt. Garibaldi, which is an important mountain in the oral history of the Swx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Nation.

5) Geology. I would like to include a variety of geological history and I’m looking for peaks and summits in as many ranges as possible. Particularly mountains of unusual geology, such as the volcano complex of Mt. Edziza, should not be overlooked.

More than 100 Mountains

This site will introduce mountains that are candidates for a list of 100. As I do my research I may find more than 100 mountains or people may suggest additional candidates. For the time being, 100 is the goal but in the end we may well end up with over 100.

Next time: Mt. Logan

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