Racing warmth in the home stretch around Mount Logan

The ski down the slope to the Seward gave us more stunning views of Logan and a different angle of St.

The ski down the slope to the Seward gave us more stunning views of Logan and a different angle of St. Elias and its chain of seven sister mountains lined up to the East.

This plan worked well and we were camped by 2 p.m. in the centre of the glacier — no wind, no clouds, just brilliant blue and white. So brilliant, in fact, that even our glacier glasses were taxed to the limit.

Of course, this is a bad time for quality photographs, but a good time for other camp chores, such as melting snow, airing sleeping bags, writing and resting.

Our schedule developed around stable weather conditions: Get up very early, make breakfast, take a few photographs, pack up, lurch and shuffle till 2 p.m., set up camp, nap and read till 6 p.m., have supper and then photograph from 8 p.m. to midnight.

It wasn’t a strict routine and several evenings we were having supper at 11 p.m. in both the warm glow of sunset and the chill of slush transforming to ice.

We even took a day off in honour of ski partner Peter von Gazas’ birthday.

He celebrated by sleeping till 9 a.m. and having a hearty breakfast of pepperoni, a Mars bar and two mugs of Earl Grey tea.

One of the best locations for photography was the camp at Peter’s Nunatak.

We wanted to hike to one of the high ledges of green plant growth that seemed to be tantalizingly close, but the rock was fractured and piled just at the angle of collapse.

So we made do with a location just a few metres from our tent at the point of the nunatak where the ice flowed around this rocky obstruction and gradually dropped 20 metres to the main part of the glacier.

It was a good angle to see the outlet of the Seward with the St. Elias peaks tapering off on one side and the Mount Cook ridges rising on the other.

It also had views of the incredibly difficult Hummingbird and Warbler ridges climbing routes on Mount Logan.

There were some things to consider at this point in the trip — duration, pickup location and food supply.

We were undecided about the end date of the trip. Should it be: a) when there is good, clear weather at about the 11- or 12-day point?; b) exactly at two weeks (when we said we would be back)?; c) when we run out of food?; or d) when we run out of film?

As the weather and the pilot’s schedule would have it, it was none of these, but closest to the latter.

We moved camp to the base of Water Pass.

Our expedition was developing into a spring-summer ski trip, and this was creating major slush problems and not just for skiing.

May was warmer than usual up here at 1,800 metres.

One afternoon, I was brewing tea and it was snowing lightly, with the snow just drying on contact with my light-hiking shirt.

It was freezing at night, but not hard enough to make the surface safe for landing. The test for this is a leap in the air with both feet coming down and not breaking the crust.

Although we were ready for pickup on day 13 at 9 a.m., by 11 the snow crust was not sufficient.

This meant waiting, or perhaps moving to a different location with cooler conditions.

There was no hurry to leave; we still had food and film and the views over the Hubbard Glacier from Water Pass made it worth skiing up to the pass two evenings in a row.

On day 14 the snow was firm at 9 a.m., but Andy Williams flew an emergency evacuation early in the day and our window for pickup was gone.

He did suggest that we move higher. That was not good news because the only place we knew that was feasible was the Queen Mary camp, a 20-kilometre and 600-metre vertical ski up the Hubbard Glacier.

That would be a tough two-day trip. But we did decide to move camp over the pass at least for a change of scenery and readiness if we had to ski further up the Hubbard.

The pass overlooks the north side of Vancouver and the west side of King George.

Further down the Hubbard Glacier, the Alverston-Hubbard Kennedy group stood out clearly and up the glacier we could see the southern ridges of Queen Mary and a distant view of Badham and Donjek.

Looking back to the west was the expanse of the Seward between Logan and the chain of seven mountains leading to Elias.

My focus shifted from the sublime to the banal.

There was some very old trash beside a rock outcrop at the pass. I wondered if the perpetrators had dumped it down a crevasse next to the rock and, over the years, the receding ice and snow exposed it.

I suspected surveyors and prospectors in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s before Kluane was given Park Reserve status, but other people ate sardines and used kerosene fuel.

I was just surprised at the volume.

Either it was a large camp or they were here for quite a while.

The day we skied over the pass we stopped for lunch at the top. It was warm and we were sweating hard.

Van Gaza was already sitting on the rocks with his boots and socks off to cool his steaming feet.

As I approached I could see a badly rusted tin can that had been pulled from the pile of rubbish and placed on the pristine snow a few metres from the rock.

I really couldn’t think of why van Gaza wanted to move the debris to make it even more visible, but I was puffing too hard to form words and wanted to rest.

During lunch I looked more carefully in the snow and I could make out very recent tracks of a large bird leading to the final resting location of the can.

I shouldn’t have been surprised about this subtle soliciting behaviour — “Be kind to Ravens, drop scraps here please.”

Even in this apparently empty land of ice there are small food chains with the raven as the chief scavenger-predator and, of course, trickster.

Monty Alford apparently co-wrote his book The Raven and the Mountaineer with a literate member of the species.

We knew this crafty bird was likely watching us from some crag, seeing if we got the message. Perhaps a few crumbs from our meager cracker and cheese lunch fell on the snow.

No, we did not drop a sardine can.

The descent to the Hubbard Glacier was much steeper than the ski up and we finally had the experience of our sleds sliding, albeit out of control, behind, beside and sometimes in front of us.

We managed to ‘Zorro’ our way down.

After the cool rush, it was unbearably hot and slow slogging for a couple of hours to a good view of the East Ridge and completion of half the distance around Logan.

I was exhausted, and I begged van Gaza to consider that the view two kilometers away would practically be the same as where we were. He bought it.

That night it froze hard and the landing surface was as good as it gets. Williams arrived in the still morning air and before the low clouds started to push over from the Seward.

The plane climbed comfortably to 3,800 metres, but as we got out of the lee of the North side of Logan we got a hearty slap on the back which sent the plane falling, slewing and rising in rapid succession

Williams smiled to reassure us.

“I guess I won’t be flying this afternoon,” he said.

I suppose it was just a little tropospheric downdraft reminder of the wind-driven environment where water vapour, snow and ice are in flux — melting, freezing, collapsing and building in a globally significant and magnificent scale.

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