Mountaineers target unconquered Yukon peak

Four members of the Alpine Club of Canada's Saskatchewan chapter will attempt to be the first to the top of Mount Saskatchewan in Yukon's Kluane National Park later this month.

Four members of the Alpine Club of Canada’s Saskatchewan chapter will attempt to be the first to the top of Mount Saskatchewan in Yukon’s Kluane National Park later this month.

“All living in Saskatchewan and being members of the alpine club of Saskatchewan, and it being an unclimbed peak – there’s the challenge of climbing something that has not been summitted. That’s part of it,” said team leader Steve Whittington. “More importantly, it’s unfinished business for Saskatchewan.

“I don’t know if it’s true or not, but we tend to believe that maybe the other climbers in the world have left this mountain unclimbed because it should be Saskatchewanians that go and climb it. So we’re trying to go do our job for Saskatchewan.”

The mountain, located in the southwest corner of the Yukon approximately eight kilometres from the Alaska border, is the only one in the Centennial Range that has never been climbed.

The range features mountains named after every province and territory in Canada, with the exception of Nunavut, which had not yet been formed in 1967 when the mountains were named in celebration of the nation’s centennial. (There is also a Mount Saskatchewan in Banff National Park in Alberta.)

The mountain is 3,500 metres tall. That’s 2,459 metres shorter than Canada’s highest mountain, Mount Logan, which is also located in the Kluane park.

The Saskatchwanians’ attempt will be the fourth ever. There were three unsuccessful attempts, in 1967, 2005 and 2007.

“I’ve climbed with people who were in the 2005 attempt and Jeff (Dmytrowich) has climbed with people who were on the 2007 attempt,” said Whittington. “So we tried to gather what we could from them.

“From what I understand, both teams ended up with weather conditions that made climbing impossible. In 2005 it was unseasonably warm and they got there … and they thought, without snow, there were too many rocks falling and it was too dangerous.

“In the 2007 attempt they got hit by a blizzard … They got up to about 9,500 feet (2,895 metres) and were stuck there for four days, in which four feet of snow dumped on them, causing avalanche danger.”

The Saskatoon-based team, called the Prairie Vertical Team, plans to begin their ascent on May 19. They hope to complete the climb in four days, taking three days to go up and one to go down.

However, the team has set aside 12 days to complete the climb, leaving room for such variables as bad weather.

They will be using the same base camp as the 1967 attempt. Their first challenge will be crossing a glacier on which they will climb about 2,000 metres in altitude.

In the 2007 attempt climbers were flown directly to where Whittington’s team will have their “advanced base camp,” just 1,000 feet down from the highest point they reached.

“We could go to that spot but we want to be pure about it and go back to how it was attempted in 1967,” said Whittington.

The team has been climbing and training together for three months, with training climbs in the Rockies once a month, but each member’s experience goes far beyond that.

Whittington has reached the summit of over 40 mountains, including four in the “Seven Summits of the World.” In other worlds, he has climbed the highest mountain on four continents including North America’s Mount McKinley (6,194 metres) in Alaska and Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895 metres). He also plans to attempt Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, next spring.

Jeffrey Dmytrowich, the team’s lead navigator and medic, climbed four peaks last year in the Himalayas, including the 6,145-metre Lobuche East and the 6,188-metre Imja Tse. He is also a member of a mountain running team and has competed at the national level in orienteering.

Sam Unger, the team’s lead technical climber, has more of a background in rock-climbing than mountaineering. He has done climbs in Southeast Asia and last summer completed a roughly 270-metre vertical climb in Takakkaw Falls, B.C. Mount Saskatchewan will be his first attempt at a climb over 3,300 metres.

Wren Rabut is a versatile climber who spends a lot of time in the Canadian Rockies. His recent achievements include conquering a 100-metre rock tower at 2,500 metres on Alberta’s Grand Sentinel and the 400-metre vertical north face of Mount Athabasca at 3,400 metres.

Of course, getting to the top is just half the battle.

“People always forget about getting down,” said Whittington. “For me, the most dangerous part of any mountain climbing is getting down. Getting up is easy compared to getting down.

“I always face the biggest challenge when I’m bringing a team down – setting safe anchors to allow for your tired, exhausted team to get back down safe. One misstep and there are thousands of feet you’re going to tumble down.

“It’s easy when you’re focused and intense on the way up.”

The team has set up a Facebook page that will feature live tracking, through the use of a Spot GPS system that updates every 20 minutes. Follow their climb at Facebook.com/MountSaskatchewanClimb.

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com