Like many great ideas, this one was hatched by a group of friends who had stared a little too deeply into a bottle of red wine during a New Year’s Eve party.
Someone suggested scaling Mt. Logan — Canada’s largest mountain and the second highest in North America — and everyone happily agreed.
“The problem was, we all remembered the next day,” said Tamara Goeppel, a Whitehorse resident and member of the five-person team that completed the 22-day climb.
It was no small camping trip. The group spent 18 months working out logistics, securing reliable equipment and honing valuable skills, such as avalanche and crevasse rescue.
Although she had done a great deal of adventure racing and rock climbing, it would be Goeppel’s first winter-camping experience and her first journey into the ice fields.
The other members had a more mountain experience.
Beat Glanzmann of Haines Junction had grown up in the shadow of Switzerland’s famous Eiger, and Ewald Grobert, from Switzerland, has Himalayan experience.
Also part of the closeknit team were Beat’s wife Eva Glanzmann and well-known Yukon musher Thomas Tetz.
Before beginning, the group established a few very important rules.
The first: safety.
With this in mind they packed three stoves, three GPS navigating devices and two satellite phones.
Good thing too, because at one point on the famously cold and fickle mountain, two of the GPS units failed to work.
Within 30 minutes, blue skies turned into whiteout conditions and all reference points vanished.
Staring back, a climber would see the line connecting them to their team member disappear into space.
“It was like staring at a white sheet of paper,” said Goeppel.
The ascent wasn’t easy.
The team experienced violent, whipping winds, avalanche dangers, brutally cold temperatures, altitude sickness and general fatigue.
When climbing, you’re constantly aware that you don’t belong there, a bit like trespassing, said Goeppel.
“The flight from Silver City to the base is almost beautiful enough to make you weep,” she said. “But on the mountain you’re right in the middle of it. It really touches your soul.”
All expedition members called the experience “life changing.”
Starting May 19th, the group did not reach the base again until June 10th.
It took 20 days to reach the west summit. At one point, they had to wait out a five-day storm.
Although the climb was about adventure and not just reaching a summit, all members had romantic ideas of what reaching the top would be like.
The reality was harder.
Throughout the challenge, Goeppel wanted to phone her mother.
And, with high winds and snow blocking the path to the main peak, the group decided to tackle the west summit, which is 20 metres lower.
Because the climbers were tired and cold, they found it hard to enjoy their success while on the mountaintop.
“We still had to concentrate on getting down,” Tetz recalls.
When the team got to camp that evening, they discovered Tetz had severely frostbitten fingers.
That was a weird blessing, said Goeppel.
With the peak conquered, the team had a new goal: to get down quickly and find medical attention for the well-known musher.
Like a band of drunken soldiers returning home from battle, the climbers quickly descended the windswept mountain.
In two sleep-deprived days, they left a slope that had taken them 20 days to climb.
They arrived exhausted.
It was a “delicious empty feeling,” said Goeppel of the experience of pushing herself to the edge.
Now, nearly three weeks after the climb, the group is still adjusting to normal life.
The air is so thick down here, it’s like you could almost eat it, they said.
With the Yukon now in bloom, the team can feast on colours, scents and smells.
It’s as if each climber has a newfound respect and love for life.
Tetz’s fingers are doing well, but are far from healed. His blackened middle finger is wrapped in white gauze.
The climbers developed a great deal of mutual respect during the trek.
Their second rule — after safety — was to be completely honest and tolerant with one another so they could perform smoothly as a team.
It’s amazing how close the group became, said Goeppel.
“It’s like we’re still tied together with that rope.”