Yukon Reality: 50 Classics Teams Stall on Logan, St. Elias

High point of the 2014 attempt on the Hummingbird Ridge of Mt. Logan. Photo by Mark Smiley / SmileysProject.com

High point of the 2014 attempt on the Hummingbird Ridge of Mt. Logan. Photo by Mark Smiley / SmileysProject.com

8/4/14 - The two teams chasing the "Fifty Classic Climbs of North America," the collector's list of big rock and alpine routes from the 1979 book by Steve Roper and Allen Steck, bumped into some Yukon reality this year.

Canadian Nancy Hansen, who has climbed 46 of the 50 Classics, hoped to do two of the remaining routes on her hit list: the Abruzzi Ridge on 18,009-foot Mt. St. Elias and the Hummingbird Ridge on 19,551-foot Mt. Logan, Canada's highest peak. Mark and Janelle Smiley, who live in Jackson, Wyoming, have completed 44 of the classics completed and also aimed to tick the Hummingbird.

Despite serious efforts, both teams came up short—not surprising since the Abruzzi and Hummingbird ridges have very rarely been climbed. As Hansen wrote, "The route we were using to access the Abruzzi Ridge on St. Elias has only been done twice in history—once in 1965 and once in 1969. The Hummingbird Ridge on Logan has only been climbed once in 1965. Neither was going to be a gimme."

Hansen teamed up with Monte Johnston and Wade Suvan for her attempts, but a broken ski binding and a poor forecast shut them down on St. Elias during the only real weather window in five weeks, and they never got close to Mt. Logan. Hansen's blog post about "Mt. St. Deny Us" has great photos and details about what she nonetheless describes as a wonderful trip.

The Smileys teamed up with Jed Porter and Reiner Thoni for Logan. However, Janelle Smiley, the reigning national champion in ski mountaineering, was experiencing severe pain from chronic injuries in her hips. After flying in to the Seward Glacier below Logan and making the approach to advanced base camp, she pulled the plug and opted to fly out.

The remaining three men started up the Humminbird with huge packs, equipped with food and fuel for an alpine-style attempt that might stretch over 10 days or more. But the route soon lived up to its nasty reputation—three people have died attempting the unrepeated full ridge—and the men experienced serious rockfall and collapsing cornices. After four days and too many close calls, they decided to bail.

Mark Smiley has written a great blog post summarizing the attempt, with many photos and a very honest look at the kind of decision-making that goes into a serious mountaineering route like this.

Dates of attempts: June-July 2014

Sources: Mark Smiley, Alpineclubofcanada.ca, Smileysproject.blogspot.com