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US Veterans Summit Logan 2018

Original Post
Steven Roberts · · San Jose, CA · Joined Jan 2019 · Points: 0
Me on the summit, photo by Chris Kassar.

On 14 June 2018 our team of six stood on the roof of Canada via King Trench at about 9:00pm, becoming the first ever US veteran team to be there.

Three weeks prior we landed on the glacier.  We flew from a tiny dirt airstrip about an hour outside of Haine's Junction, which is a tiny town itself, with the nearest grocery store about two hours away in Whitehorse.  Every single aspect of climbing Logan is remote.  We had a ski team of two and a snowshoe team of four.  There were only three other people on the mountain with us, one of them was Monique Richard, a woman attempting to be the first woman to solo Logan, and a father/son team.  Both teams were well above us, and immediately the realization that we were all alone hit us.  From basecamp you can see the start of the trench, which begins at the top of a hill as it bends right.  From camp I estimated it would take us about an hour to get to the hill.  After sitting at camp for a couple days due to heavy snow, we finally began our first move, a carry to camp 1.  That hour estimation ended up taking over four times that length.  The vastness is completely immeasurable.  There is absolutely zero sense of scale.  Breaking trail was rough, but it was simply due to the lack of scale that warped my time estimate.  

Towards the top of that hill there is a massive crevasse field.  As we entered it, we quickly became engulfed in whiteout conditions.  We chose to cache where we were and return to basecamp, following our wands.  After again sitting at basecamp waiting out weather, we were finally able to move.  Bypassing our short cache, we made it through the crevasse field and continued on.  Yet again, we were quickly caught in a whiteout, but made it to camp 1 by GPS.  A trend was quickly set and we woke up the next morning to poor weather.  We were able to run down to pick up our cache and bring it back to camp 1 during a short break in the weather.

The following day we were hit by very poor weather, having to wait it out for two or three days.

Personal photo of our tents (bomber Hilleberg Keron 3s, one GT) at camp 1 during one of the days of the storm.

From camp 1 we could see a hill in the distance that we had to gain on the way to camp 2.  Once more, my time estimation would be completely off.  We did a carry up to camp 2 the first morning the weather cleared, and woke up to -20 F, the coldest temps thus far.  Breaking trail was brutal, and it took us about 9 hours to reach camp 2.  We did a cache there and saw a damaged single person tent. We assumed it was Monique's and wondered why she had a tent there.  On our way back down to camp 1, we mostly heard, but caught glimpses of a high altitude helicopter high above circling.  Given the deteriorating weather conditions, we knew this had to be a rescue operation.

 The next morning we woke up to... more snow.  This time we received more snow than the first storm we encountered at camp 1.  All of our hard work breaking trail up to camp 2 was negated.  We'd have to do it all over again.  Finally the weather broke days later and we immediately packed up and began our move to camp 2.  While halfway up the hill, we saw two skiers coming down, and knew this was the father/son team.  We spoke to them for a bit, they are true heroes who saved her life.  After our climb, our team was very disappointed to hear that not only is she still trying to claim to be the first woman to solo Logan, but she is downplaying what happened and not giving credit to the men that saved her life.  They continued down and we were finally completely alone on the mountain.

Personal photo of the ski team moving up to camp 2.

Personal photo of a midnight sunset from camp 2.

We hunkered in at camp 2, bracing for a big storm that we knew was coming.  Here at camp 2 (about 13k feet) we would be ditching sleds.  There was a large headwall right next to camp 2 which would be one of the steepest portions of the climb.  After a couple days of bad weather, we began our first move to camp 3. Near the top of the headwall we had to set up a running belay, squeezing through seracs to top out.  We continued along and finally made it to camp 3, which is above 15k feet (my previous best was Rainier, so I was stoked to be higher than I had before, and I felt great).

After caching at camp 3, the weather began to deteriorate so we hurried back down to camp 2.  Along the way, we caught an amazing glimpse of Mount Saint Elias, shown below.

Personal photo of Saint Elias (left) and King Peak (right).

Even though we had a trend of no consecutive days of movement, we were feeling optimistic about having a long enough window to wake up early and move camp to camp 3.  Of course, that wouldn't happen.  Logan pounded us with a multi-day storm, including several feet of snow.  Again, all of our broken trail, particularly up the headwall, would have to be done all over again.  Finally the weather broke and we began our full move to camp 3.  The headwall was brutal.  The new snow was icy and it took us an exhausting five hours to get the the top.  The steepest section at the top had to be chopped out by ice axe.  

Temperatures here were great, in my opinion, and I was cruising along in just an OR Echo Hoody.  As we got closer to camp 3, which requires cresting a ridge, the temperature started to fall and the wind began to pick up.  We quickly donned some of our warmest clothing and gear, as the temperature dropped below -20 F.  Reaching camp 3 in 50+ mph winds, we struggled to set up our tents.  Once they were completed, we all crashed hard, with no plans to move the next day, good weather or not.

 Me below seracs on the headwall.  Photo by Chris Kassar.

The next day we caught glimpses of Prospector Col. at 18.3k feet, which would need to be ascended before descending to the summit plateau camp at 16k feet , and then again ascending to 19.5k feet to the summit.  Summit Plateau is technically camp 5.  There is a camp 4 just below Prospector Col. (on the camp 3 side), but it is a brutal place and we had decided prior to the expedition that we would bypass it.  When we moved to camp 3, we had 10 days of food, with three days of that allocated to our summit bid.  Five days later, we began wondering if we'd even have an attempt.  Fortunately, on the sixth day sitting at camp 3, we got our window.

Moving to SP camp was long and hard, but we made it.  Quickly setting up camp, we hoped for good weather in the morning, and got it.  Our team set off on 14 June with amazing weather for most of the climb.  Temperatures began to fall as the wind picked up, and it soon turned into brutal conditions. The summit ridge was virtually all ice and corniced, with some sketchy sections along the ridge.  We finally topped out at 9pm, and the views were unreal.  With the vicious conditions, we spent just a few minutes up top before beginning the descent.  It was an exhausting descent to SP camp, and we finally arrived at about 2am.

Logan is fucking cold (summit day).

After sleeping for a few hours we got up and began to move, knowing a monster storm was headed our way.  We didn't get over Prospector Col. in time and had to bivouac at 18k feet in an absolutely terrible storm. We almost got buried in our tents and had to dig them out regularly.  Winds were estimated at 80mph or higher.  Snow filled both vestibules of the Keron 3s, including the entire extended vestibule on the GT.  This is the same location the author of Surviving Logan got caught in, resulting in losing all fingers.  This is where Monique collapsed.  This was no joke.  

Over the next 36 hours, I had a Snickers bar and half a liter of water.  When we were finally able to move, we decided to push all the way down to base camp. With short stops at our previous camps to refuel and dig up caches, we got back down to basecamp 30 hours later. We had to sit at basecamp for a few days waiting out bad weather along the flight path to get a flight out.

Five of us at basecamp after a successful summit (I'm in grey in the middle).  Photo by Chris Kassar.

Our total time on the mountain was 25 days. With the exception of summit day, we never moved in two consecutive days, the weather simply didn't allow it. Conditions varied dramatically and weather reports were never accurate. We had a total of five crevasse falls, though the deepest anyone fell was up to their chest. I myself fell into a crevasse up to my waist at about 19k feet.  The coldest temp we recorded was -44 F.  I got frostnip on four of my toes and during our 30 hour descent I ended up killing three toenails, one of which was my big toe and half of it is still dead while the new healthy nail grows in. Everyone had frostnip, some on their fingers as well and one member had slight frostbite on the tip of his nose. Overall no permanent damage though.

A big thanks to the Colorado based veteran nonprofit outdoor organization, Veterans Expeditions, who organized the trip.  We were led by their founder, Nick Watson, who hand picked this team to attempt Logan. They're a great organization that has taught me a lot, and recently asked me to become a team leader for their new West Coast chapter, which I immediately accepted.

I have no problem answering any questions, going over gear, etc.  Thanks for reading.

Shameless plug, but I have several more pictures and videos of the climb on my Instagram, @robertobrah
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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