Archive for the ‘Saint Elias Mountains’ Category

After searching for information about Canada’s next six highest mountains I have to conclude that there is little other than height in their favour. Information about Mt. Walsh, Mt. Alverstone, McArthur Peak, Mt. Augusta (British expedition here and photos here), Mt. Strickland, and Mt. Cook is sparse. Typing the individual mountain names into Google.com and examining the hits brought very little useful information. Mt. Alverstone was already mentioned in the write-up about Mt. Hubbard as was Kennedy Peak. Furthermore, I found a list on CanaTrek that introduces more mountains not on the Wikipedia list of Canada’s 100 Highest Summits: Mt. McAuley – 4,700m; Mt. Kennedy – 4,235m; Mt. Newton – 4,210; Mt. Quincy Adams – 4,133m; Snowfield Peak – 4,060m; Mt. Craig – 4,039m; and Avalanche Peak – 4,028m. These are all listed as being in the Saint Elias Mountains. Atlantic Peak is not on this list, nor does it turn up on the list at StatsCan.

Regarding the Wikipedia list, the mountains included are those which are considered major peaks only; that is, they have at least 500 metres topographic prominence. Therefore the peaks mentioned above may be sub-peaks of a main peak and may not have sufficient prominence to merit considering them major peaks.

Since already by the first ten highest there was doubt about just exactly what are the ten highest and what are the true elevations of some of them, and since there is so little information, I will conclude that the list of Canada’s 100 Famous Mountains can include the 10 highest as per the list on Wikipedia with an open argument about Mt. McAulay being the 8th highest until I find out more.

Then next we leave the Saint Elias Mountains and go to Mt. Waddington as our 11th Famous Mountain of Canada.


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Candidate: #10

Location: Yukon, Kluane National Park and Reserve/Alaska

Range: Saint Elias Mountains

Elevation: 4,557 metres

At a point where, heading east, the Yukon/Alaska border makes a sudden turn south there is another of the great mountain massifs of the Saint Elias Mountains. This large massif sports three main peaks, Mount Hubbard being the highest, with Mount Alverstone (located at the bend in the border) and Mount Kennedy as the second and third highest respectively. According to the satellite images on PeakBagger, the actual summit of Mt. Hubbard lies within the Yukon border, though part of the massif extends into Alaska. Wikipedia lists Mt. Hubbard as Canada’s 10th highest peak on its list of 100 Highest Major Summits of Canada, but the article about Mt. Hubbard (see link below) states that it is the 12th highest in Canada. The discrepency is likely due to the fact that some sub-peaks of major summits, such as Atlantic Peak near Mt. Lucania, are actually higher than Mt. Hubbard but are not officially recognized as separate mountains (though I have read otherwise in the case of Atlantic Peak). At least all sources I checked give the same elevation for Hubbard, unlike Mt. Wood and Mt. Vancouver, but it should also be noted that of all the sources I checked most of them had identical wording to the articles on Wikipedia and Bivouac.


As with other high peaks of the Saint Elias, Mt. Hubbard has impressive vertical relief, rising 2,286 metres in 3.2 kilometres above the Alverstone Glacier, and 3,353 metres above the Hubbard Glacier in 11.2 kilometres. The Hubbard Glacier, an amazingly huge river of ice that is known to calf underwater in Disenchantment Bay, separates Mt. Hubbard from Mt. Vancouver. Though there are many steep faces, there is also a non-technical but long route to the summit on the east side that is a basic snow/ice/glacier climb.

The first ascent of Mt. Hubbard was by Walter Wood, Nicolas Clifford, Robert Bates and Peter Wood on July 5th, 1951, an expedition during which they also made the first ascent of Mt. Alverstone. The success of the climbs was marred with tragic news when Walter Wood learned that his wife and daughter had died in a plane crash nearby. Mt. Foresta near Mt. Alverstone is named in honour of his wife.

Mt. Hubbard was named after the first president of the National Geographic Society, Gardiner Greene Hubbard by USGS geologist Israel Russel whose expedition had been cosponsored by Hubbard.









Next: Mount Waddington

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Candidate: #9

Location: Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park and British Columbia, Tatshenshini/Alsek Provincial Park – part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Elevation: 4,671 metres

Range: Fairweather Range, Saint Elias Mountains

Just 23 kilometres from Glacier Bay in Alaska rises one of the world’s highest coastal mountains and the dominant peak of the Fairweather Range in Alaska and British Columbia. Named by Captain James Cook for the fine weather he encountered, Fairweather Mountain is a mountain that actually enjoys very little fair weather. It receives over 250cm of precipitation each year, most of which falls as snow, and the summit, though visible from Glacier Bay when conditions are clear, is usually enshrouded in clouds when storms aren’t blowing in off the Pacific. Furthermore, the temperature can drop to -50 degrees. The mountain is often more commonly referred to as Mount Fairweather, however the mountain is officially gazetted on Canadian maps from March of 1924 as “Fairweather Mountain” and American maps that labeled it as Mt. Fairweather at the time have since been updated.

Fairweather Mountain is a beautiful snow-covered peak with the Fairweather Glacier flowing slowly out to sea, 35 kilometres away. Though its slopes are on average about 50 degrees, there is a non-technical route along the west ridge. Only a few parties attempt to climb Fairweather each year because the actually climbing season is short – from May to July – since the summer produces more unstable conditions and storms. The first ascent was by Allen Carpé and Terris Moore on 8 June 1931. It was ascended for the second time in 1958 by a team who climbed it in celebration of British Columbia’s centennial year as a crown colony. Although 2/3s of the mountain lies in Alaska, because of a SW turn of the border that nearly cuts off the Alaska Panhandle, the summit is actually in British Columbia making it the highest point in the province.

The mountain is known as Tsalxhaan in the Tlingit language and is said to once have been next to Waas’eitaa Shaa (Mt. Saint Elias) but they had an argument and separated.














Next: Mount Hubbard

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Candidate: #8

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

Range: Saint Elias Mountains

Elevation: 4,742 metres

It is no surprise that Canada’s highest mountains get most of the attention from climbers, even if that attention is limited to only a few expeditions over several decades (for obvious reasons, Mt. Logan receives a fair bit more traffic than the others). The remoteness of the Saint Elias Mountains, the notoriously ferocious storms that batter the mountains any time of year, and the shear cost of getting in, plus the fact that the average day hiker would be right out of his league in attempting to climb any of these ice giants, make almost any Saint Elias mountain a rarely visited place. Once we come down the list from the most massive and highest we find less information. Aside from differences in elevation and the number of sub peaks, most of the Saint Elias summits over 4,000 metres can be described the same way: high, ice-covered, and remote.

Mt. Slaggard lies buried deeper in the Ice Field Ranges, farther north and west than more popular mountains like Logan and Lucania. It was one of the last Saint Elias summits to be ascended, in 1959. A more recent expedition by the Toronto Section of the Alpine Club of Canada (1997) made the first ascent of Canada’s last unclimbed peak over 4,000 metres, the south summit of Slaggard – 4,370 metres. An account of their trip, with humour to spare, can be read here. Mt. Slaggard has two other sub peaks: West Slaggard I (4,290m) and West Slaggard II (4,210m). Mt. Slaggard may be the least climbed but as such it can also be found in pristine conditions, which is actually an attraction to climbers. By being one of the least popular Slaggard is popular. Such is the paradox of the Saint Elias Mountains.




And the above mentioned account by the Toronto Section of the Alpine Club of Canada

Next: Fairweather Mountain

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Candidate: #7

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

Range: Saint Elias Mountains

Elevation: 4,812 metres???

If the elevation of Mt. Wood was in dispute there was no argument written on any of the few sites that offered information about the mountain. But Mt. Vancouver’s main story seems to be exactly the dispute over the elevation. All four main sites I checked mentioned the uncertainty of the elevation. The mountain has three summit peaks: the north summit, the middle summit and the south summit, commonly but unofficially known as Good Neighbor Peak, and it is the south summit that lies on the Alaska/Yukon border. Here’s how things appear to stand so far:

The U.S. government 1:63,000 map show the south summit as having 4,870 metres elevation, and the 1:250,000 map shows the mountain at 4,785 metres. The maps put the north summit at a lower contour line. The Canadian government 1:50,000 map shows the north summit with a surveyed height of 4,812 metres, and the middle and south summits are placed on contour lines of about 4,780 metres. Another source says the south summit is listed between 4,740 metres and 4,760 metres on Canadian maps. It is also written that newer U.S. maps based on GPS show the south summit as being higher than the middle summit but don’t show the north summit. Climbers who have been to the mountain generally claim that the north peak is the highest of the three.

In an attempt to resolve the dispute by determining the true height of the north peak, and in effect possibly showing that Mt. Vancouver is higher than Mt. Wood, a team sponsored by the Royal Canadian Geographic Society went to Mt. Vancouver in the spring of 2006 to climb and survey the mountain using GPS. The team attempted the climb in 2005 but had to turn back due to confrontations between team members. The 2006 expedition was unsuccessful in reaching the summit due to severe and uncooperative weather conditions. No more recent information turned up in my searches.

The mountain was named in 1874 after Captain George Vancouver. Walter Wood and Bob McCarter were the first to ascend the mountain during the second year of “Project Snow Cornice” in 1949. More information about Walter Wood and his experiences in the Saint Elias Mountains can be read here.







Next: Mt. Slaggard

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Candidate: #6

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

Range: Saint Elias Mountains

Elevation: 4,850 metres ???

When it comes to Canadian mountains it seems there are often no definite answers to basic questions. Particularly the Saint Elias Mountains seem to be rife with discrepancies and contradictory information. Furthermore, unless we are looking for information on the highest or most climbed, information on the Internet is either scarce or hard to find. In researching Mt. Wood I was dismayed to find few sites offering information beyond elevation and location. And the three or four sources I found either repeated each other or contradicted each other.

Mt. Wood is a heavily glaciated mountain at the head of the Hodgson and Hazard Glaciers in Kluane National Park. Though it is located in the same ice field as Mt. Logan, Mt. Lucania and the others, it can be seen from the Alaska Highway at the Donjek River Bridge, northwest of Kluane Lake. The mountain is listed as the sixth highest mountain in Canada on Wikipedia and also on some other lists of mountains in Canada on other sites, but an article on SummitPost declares Atlantic Peak, a sub-peak of Mt. Lucania, to be the sixth highest and Bivouac seems to concur by stating that Mt. Wood is the seventh highest summit in Canada. In addition to the confusion, CanaTrek’s Summits of Canada says Mt. Wood is 4,838 metres; Peakware lists the mountain at 4,842 metres; Bivouac has it at 4,850 metres; and Wikipedia says 4,860 metres. Peakware also declares Mt. Wood to be the 14th highest mountain in all of North America, but who can be sure with all the different elevations given and the dispute whether it is the 6th or 7th highest summit of Canada? As for the naming of the mountain, Bivouac says it was named after a Canadian surveyor or geographer or cartographer named James Wood; Peakware says only that the mountain was named after a Canadian geographer; and the Yukon’s Hougen Group of Companies has an article that says Mt. Wood was named after Zachary Wood, who at one time headed the police detachment in Dawson.

Where the sites agree is regarding the first ascent, which was by a team led by the famous scientist and alpinist Walter Wood. Coincidently the man and the mountain share the same name; however, the mountain was named before the man ever climbed it. Still, people often mistakenly thought the mountain was named after Walter Wood, something he claimed was rather embarrassing. Wood’s team ascended the mountain in 1941 making use of airdropping supplies into camps in advance, a fairly common practice these days but still an unexploited technique at the time.







Next: Mt. Vancouver

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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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