The final flurry of organization complete, we hit the road running early afternoon on May 22nd, and didn’t stop for longer than an hour until we  hit the Kluane Lake airstrip 34 hours later.  Five guys rotating  through the driving in 2 hour shifts was a good system, but I was a wreck when we arrived.  The folks at Icefields Discovery had offered up their gazebo for sleeping quarters, and it felt real nice to stretch out horizontally.  We woke  to the wild splendour of the Yukon, and a few too many clouds in the sky for flying  gave us time to enjoy some baked goods in downtown Haines Junction and meet with the Parks Canada warden for landing and backcountry permits.

The right tool for the job.

  Andy Williams at Icefields Discovery  has been flying climbers into the St Elias Range for 30 years, and the tool of his trade is  a Helio Courier, an aircraft favoured by bushpilots for it’s short takeoff  and landing capabilities.   Apparently designed and built for transporting high-end military personnel, an integrated roll cage and very low minimum airspeed  make surviving a crash a bit more likely. Perfect.

"Built on Honor".....reassuring.

  Another night in the gazebo brought us to Tuesday, and with less cloud in the sky and our gear all sorted and ready to go, we were amped to get in the air.  I have heard stories of weather delaying parties at the airstrip for long stretches, so the green light made the day.  Our pilot today: Donjek, named after one of the area’s landmark glaciers.  Joey and I  packed the first load and jumped in, and minutes later we were cruising up the Kaskawalsh glacier, ogling the vista of  Mt Logan and Mt Vancouver looming to the west.  Forty five minutes of rubber-necking to capture the myriad of couloirs, steep faces, aretes, icefalls and crevasses that passed by the windows of the Courier, and we touched down on the wide expanse of glacier below the South aspect of Mt Walsh.

Donjek in his office. What a cool job.


Unloading the taxi at 3000m, below Mt Walsh.

 The weather held, and we had all three loads in by early afternoon.  A bit of gear shuffling and we commenced to set up Advanced Base Camp, so-called because I have heard the airstrip called Kluane Base Camp.  Joey had procured an 8 man dome tent from The North Face  for our basecamp digs, and we had that up in no time.  The remainder of the evening was spent fine tuning the kitchen area and battling the effects of  the altitude,  ABC being just under 3000m.  We visit this elevation for short periods at a time around Revy, but the quick transition from the valley bottom and actually staying up here had us all feeling worked. 

Dee-luxe accomodations.

 The fine weather continued the next day, which we spent acclimatizing by skiing on the heavily glaciated ridges defining the edges of the Upper Walsh glacier. A steep 1000′ shot on a South face to start, and the photo’s below show run #2, 2000′ of NW facing boot top powder.    

Big country. Steele on the right, Lucania in the clouds on the left.


Dave laying out late evening turns with Lucania as the backdrop.

 It’s hard to get  a handle on the sheer size of things up here,  big things that are FAR away look close, and little features look big because they are covered in ice and very heavily crevassed.  Our high point of the day: 3700m, and we rolled into camp in the bright light of the late evening sun, ready to tie into some fine home-dehydrated cuisine. Our first day of acclimatization went well, taking it easy with the light packs, and having our minds blown by the insanely rugged terrain that is the St Elias.  Tomorrow we shoulder a big load to carry some gear to Camp 1, below the 4000m + bump that marks the start of the long ridge to Mt Steele, objective numero uno…