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The crew heading over the hump for the last time...Steele on the left.

 No one being a fan of the alpine start, combined with almost 24 hour light had the team rolling out of Camp 1 at 7:30 am on May 31st, and the weather was looking fine.  We retraced our steps of the days before to the cache at the col between the SE peak and Steele proper, all excited to push further on. Dodging thinly bridged crevasses sometimes indicated by Darek plunging in up to his waist, we climbed out of the col, skinned along the ridge and dropped down to the low point at the base of the next crux.  Yet another dump of gear was decided on, this time leaving behind our skis, skins and poles, plus some spare fuel canisters.  A tough call since above all we consider ourselves ski mountaineers, but in all honesty it wasn’t looking that friendly above.  Darek continued the lead, picking his way up the steep snow through ice bulges and slots with crampons on his feet and axes in hand. 

A few screws to protect the steeper bulges with a running belay (we had the 5 of us stretched out on two ropes, reclipping protection behind as it was passed, and collected by the guy on the tail end)and Darek led us onto an amazing knife-edge ridge with a 7000’+ drop straight down to the valley on the right and views right down the Walsh glacier to the huge massif of Mt Logan. 

After post holing to a less precarious position on the ridge,  Darek passed on the lead to me, and I set my sights on a couple of rocks poking out of the snow-covered ridge ahead,and started plodding along through the knee deep soft snow to firmer ground.  A good amount of effort and the rocks didn’t seem to be getting much closer,  so we stopped for a rest and re-group at a small bench, and Dave took over the sharp end of the rope. 

Approaching steeper terrain on Mt Steele.

View of Mt Logan from the ridge of Steele.

By this time and altitude our pace had slowed considerably, but we steadily worked our way up the ever steeper terrain, and the frequent stops for breath-catching allowed time to ogle the incredible 360 degree vista of outstanding terrain around us.  Truly wild. 

A couple of pitches below the summit.

It came my turn to lead again, and I got into the rhythm of cramponing up the 45-50 degree melt freeze surface that covered the face.  I can only describe it as pebbly ice mixed with a small amount of snow thinly covering both alpine ice and sun and wind blasted firm neve.  Utilizing both ice screws and pickets to protect our fatigued rope team from any possible slips or trips, I pushed up to around 16,000′, a couple of pitches below the summit.  Hammering  two pins into an exposed section of firm rock for an anchor and descent rappel station,  I  belayed the crew up.  We are getting there!   The clouds on the horizon to the South East where slowly moving our way, and the final push was on with the hopes that we could summit and start the descent before the visibility crapped out.  Greg and Dave were the first to reach the stance, and they headed out through the final pitches of snow with a few rock outcroppings to gain the ridge just below the summit.

Heading for the top!

 Our rope team crept up the face at a 5 steps-take-a-break pace, but soon enough we were all standing on the top of the world, 5,073m (16,667′) above sea level, the summit of Mt Steele, our main objective!   And only seven days after being dropped off by the plane!  The winds were blasting  gradually thickening clouds across the peaks, so after a brief summit celebration and watching a huge icefall rip off the north aspect of the 14,000 foot hump, we turned our ski-less boots downhill. 

Icefall onto the Steele glacier!

Beginning the long descent.

 A variety of anchor building techniques came into play to negotiate(by rappel) the steeper, more icy terrain that we had booted up.  After using the 2 piton anchor mentioned earlier, we also rapped off  snow pickets, bollards (a large, inverted tear-drop shaped chunk of firm snow/ice excavated from the slope), and an Abalokov/V thread anchor (two angled ice-screw holes that create a very strong V shaped pillar in the ice).  A total of six full  60m raps mixed with down climbing put us back at our skis exhausted, hungry or queasy, and very thirsty.  A quick brew up gave us a couple of  big swallows of liquid each, hopefully enough to get us to the 14,000′ hump,where we had some soup stashed. 

Darek sitting on a bollard.

Joey raps down the ridge with 8,000' of steepness between him and the Steele glacier below.

A  few sips of hot Miso at the bottom of the final climb over the “hump” was just what was needed, and an hour of auto-pilot skinning got us to the final descent down to camp.  As I arched turns down the mellow terrain under the amazing late evening alpenglow in this incredibly remote and dramatic alpine wilderness, I felt satisfaction in accomplishing this goal with 4 of my closest friends.  Just being here, seeing all of this splendour, and being a part of this whole experience sent a flood of happiness through the deep-set fatigue of the day’s exertions. 

Yukon sickness.

Once all safely back at camp, we ate and drank as much as possible, and gladly laid our weary heads on our puffy jacket pillows.  Sixteen hours of almost constant movement over 2500 vertical metres of alpine terrain, most of it over 4000m asl. A  landmark day for all involved.  Yeah!



Chimera-Handcrafted Splitties from the Wasatch


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