The Steele Story
First off thanks to my fantastic wife for blogging a little but for me. I am hoping that I can convince her to run my blog for me, I found her writing to be enjoyable to read.
Since we had so many still cameras along on this trip I ended up not taking many pictures at all and simply filming; so the bulk of this will be shared via video. Or maybe I can convince one of them to send me some photos.
We, Aaron,Dave,Darek,Joey and myself left Revelstoke at 2 pm to the waving hands of 5 children and 4 wives/girlfriends, from there we bee-lined it up to Haines Junction/Kluane Lake. We drove in shifts of 200km and rotated throughout the nights getting there in 33 hours. Along the way we saw many many animals, mouse,deer,black bear, grizzly, beavers, foxes, and so many beautiful vistas. 2 flat tires (I had two spares in case) and 2600kms later we arrived at Kluane Lake.
We probable did not need to rush since we ended up waiting a day for clear weather, but its better to be there waiting than miss an available window. Icefields discovery eventually flew us in on May 25th and we landed at 9900 feet. Three flights and lots of gear had us setting up our camp and getting used to the elevation. For base camp we had an 8 person North Face Dome tent that was unbelievable, 5 of us coud sleep and live in comfort in this baby.
Its a funny thing, I quite often climb to above 10 000 feet and do not feel the elevation but somehow we were all feeling it at our basecamp. So we settled in and got our camp all set up.
There is such an intense amount of glaciation up here, so many lines that are just not skiable since they are riddled with crevasses and hanging seracs. Gorgeous though.
On May 26th we headed out with day bags and climbed up a ridge to gain some views and get used to traveling in this rugged country. We skied off a little bump that offered a steep 1000 foot corn descent. From there we headed up to an unknown summit that was 12 400 feet, higher than anything we had climbed all year, but tiny in this range.
Super fun day and completely calm. No wind, perfect views of Mt-Logan and all around. We all felt the altitude and returned to our tent ready to relax.
May 27th we headed up with big bags to ferry some loads to our higher camp and get an idea of what was ahead. Distances look weird up there, something that appears close and small happens to be 14 kms away and 4000 feet up. No matter how you look at it, it seems small, but no matter how you skin it, it takes forever. We ferried 5 days of food and a tent up to 12000 feet and climbed to 13000.
May 28th, we relaxed at base camp till 5 pm and headed up to our advance camp. And slept at 12000 feet.
May 29th we awoke at 4.20 am and climbed the bump to 14 300 feet, realizing that we were still not acclimatized enough we dropped our heaviest gear and skied back to camp and to our sleeping bags. Back at camp by 8am we had a day of relaxation, I headed out for a bit of extra vertical and skied off a few of the smaller bumps and glaciated peaks. Appearing huge they were only 300-900 feet tall.
May 30th we left camp at 9 am and headed back up the bump, grabbing our gear we skied down to a high col and started up Steele. For the first time there were clouds and snow; so again we dropped our heavy gear and headed back to camp.
May 31st we made it out of camp by 7:30 and most of us were finally feeling decent. Up over the bump and down to the col. We grabbed our gear and actually started up Steele. The first 800 feet we skinned and soon enough we were looking straight up to the top. The line had hints of blue and we wondered whether we could ski it.
We approached an 800 foot glacial triangle that was quite blue and put on our crampons and got out our ice axes. The elevation zapping my motivation I decided to leave my skis, summit today without them and then ski Steele when we returned on a later date. This way I would know the conditions and be making the appropriate decisions. (crucial decision!)
So we roped up and simul climbed up. Great climbing made this pitch easy and Darek led us up. By the top of this pitch I knew I could have skied it and I began to wonder if I should have brought my skis.
By then we were somewhere around 14000 feet and we had a ways to go, so we continued upwards. The higher we climbed the slower we got. Rest stepping our way up, we progressed ever so slowly. Aaron seemed to be the best acclimatized and led us up. Eventually he put in an anchor, a few pins hammered into the rocks, and belayed us. Getting near the summit I lead to the ridge, loving the 45-50* climbing, we finally crested the ridge, I belayed the rest up and we climbed the final 20 feet. At 16644 feet Steele is Canada’s 5th highest mountain and the highest Canadian mountain any of us had stood on. We were psyched.
Far from over we had to get down, since we had not brought our skis the descent would take a long time. We downclimbed and rappelled our way down the face. For anchors we used a wide variety of styles, pittons, snow pickets, bollards and abalakovs. 8 rappels and some downclimbing and we were off the face. Some skiing down to the col and then a painfull 1400 foot skin back up to the top of the bump and home by 11:30 pm. It never gets dark up here so we enjoyed an amazing sunset on Mt-Logan while skiing back to camp.
June 1st we decided to rest and head back to basecamp to really benefit from the elevation. By now Joey had serious trench foot and Darek was not feeling good. We grabbed all our gear and skied down to the Dome. A beautiful day, we rested with some fantastic views and knowledge that we had just stood on top of Steele. Joey really wanted to fly out and wait for us down in Kluane Lake, so we called the pilots and told them to be on standby. Then the weather came in and we were tent bound for two/half days, days of reading, cards and napping. By June 4th we were all realizing how easy it is to be grounded and that given how good the weather has to be to be picked up, it would be easy to be stuck there for days waiting for a flight.
Darek was still not feeling good so he wanted out, Joey was out and I began to see that if I was flying out of Revy on the 15th I could not stay much longer either. So in the afternoon of the 4th we finally started flying out and by 6 pm we were all on terra firma.
As we drove away I was feelind down, I should have been excited but somehow I was bummed out. It took me awhile to filter through my emotions and realize why.
I often have high expectations for myself and recognize that sometimes it is hard to fulfill. So in this case I had so many dreams of what I would do and when we drove away I felt like we had not accomplished anything. Sure we had summitted Canada’s 5th highest mountain but we had just gotten acclimatized and had never actually felt the benefits of this increased oxygen intake. We had done all the suffering, had the headaches, the queasiness, the lack of hunger and had overcome this to finally start feeling good at elevation and then we had bailed.
But I realized that I am a ski mountaineer and that skiing off summits is the ultimate glory for me. The hours of rappelling and downclimbing did not seem like a just reward for all the hard work we had done. But to have labored so hard and then been able to side slip and ski my way down the face, doing in minutes what took us hours, that is the reward. The freedom and excitement of skiing off Steele, would have been amazing.
I was also bummed because the advantage I had on my 2 million goal slipped away from me and I was sitting in the truck getting behind on my goal, and that is hard to accept. I know that I can always push really hard and get it back but this is the first time I have gotten behind on my goal since the end of Jan and now that I am sitting here a week behind I am worried. I don’t know how easy it will be to get vertical in Chile, will it be the same as here, if so I do not need to be worried. I guess it is the unknown that worries me.
All in all, I thought the trip was amazing, I loved finally seeing Canada’s highest mountains, and climbing one of them. I undoubtedly will return. Simply driving up there and seeing the Yukon was worth it.