Pen, Paper and a Mountainside: Expedition Diaries from Mt. Logan

Posted on: June 23, 2010


Mt. Logan has seen many climbers journal over the past 85 years. First ascents, new routes, weather conditions and Logan's overpowering geography have been just some of the subjects of mountaineers' scribbling. [Photo] AGS, courtesy Allen Steck collection

Editor's Note: Alpinist 31 has been sent off to the printer and will be shipped to subscribers and retail stores soon. In this issue, Joe Josephson takes us through the history of "the mightiest hump in Nature," Mt. Logan, and delves into the stories from alpinists who have ventured to climb one of its 37 routes or variations.

This online exclusive provides a different perspective on Logan, this time through the expedition diaries of climbers, who have disclosed to Alpinist not only some of what these journals include, but also the reasons why they write in the first place. Pick up a copy of Issue 31 or subscribe to Alpinist for the full Mountain Profile on Mt. Logan.

Labored steps lead you back to the tent. You robotically open the zipper, squeeze your way in and collapse. A long day and a failed summit attempt have left you exhausted and defeated. Lying there, eyes closed, your thoughts speed from the events of the day to your need for sleep. You wish the stove would light itself and boil water for you.

Something else occurs to you. Something perhaps more important than sating your thirst or drifting off to a restless sleep. Rising slowly to your elbows, you reach for your journal and pen and start scribbling.

The front cover of John Evans' journal from his 1965 expedition to Mt. Logan's Hummingbird Ridge. Mountaineers from every generation of climbing have written about their expeditions and experiences, leaving behind a rich collection of trip reports that in some form have contributed to the documentation of climbing history and the contents of expedition-based books and articles. [Photo] John Evans

Expedition Journaling, A Tradition

To process such intense human experiences, mountaineers from every era and every corner of the world have put their observations onto paper. But as common as expedition journaling may be, there are as many reasons for writing as there are climbers who write; motivation and experience span a broad spectrum.

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Mt. Logan (5959m) is the highest mountain in Canada and, by some measures, the largest peak in the world. In researching Logan for Alpinist 31's Mountain Profile, the author and editors stumbled across an unusual number of expedition journals. Some were very old. A.H. MacCarthy, leader of the 1925 first ascent expedition, inserted a number of direct quotations from his journals into his detailed trip report for the Canadian Alpine Journal (CAJ) that same year. More climbers, of course, followed in MacCarthy's footsteps, and many of their experiences have been recorded on paper.

To investigate the tradition of expedition journaling, Alpinist interviewed four climbers who kept logs on Mt. Logan. They are John Evans, who climbed the first ascent of the famed Hummingbird Ridge in 1965; David Jones, who, in addition to four other ascents of Logan, established Warbler Ridge—the first route up the south face—in 1977; Jock Glidden, who climbed the second ascent of Logan's Catenary Ridge in 1979; and Steve House, who climbed a new route on King Peak in 1998.

Less Than Ideal Conditions

Naturally, every climber will take a different approach to journaling while also sharing the common experience of writing while on a mountain. One shared experience that no climber quickly forgets is writing in very poor conditions; wind, cold and snow are not easily escaped when holed up on the side of a peak.

A.H. MacCarthy, leader of the 1925 expedition that put the first ascent up Mt. Logan, kept a journal while on expedition that later assisted him in writing extensive trip reports. [Photo] 1925 Canadian Alpine Journal, courtesy The Alpine Club of Canada

"I actually wrote a lot of stuff, and a lot of it I wrote at the end of long brutal days with frozen fingers," John Evans described. "I am kind of astonished because I know what a pain it is to take your hands out of your sleeping bag and write."

"I often run out of energy for writing before I run out of stories," Steve House said. "I just fatigue, certain parts of the stories doomed to my cramping hand and a body uncomfortable with sitting on the ground."

And MacCarthy's article "The Climb" in the 1925 CAJ goes a step further to illustrate just what a luxury writing can be. In the days after descending from his summit push, he wrote in his journal that his expedition mate, Foster, was "busy treating and bandaging frozen fingers and toes, all first joints on my fingers and thumbs frostbitten and turning black."

Clinging to a pencil with frostbitten fingers, no doubt, provided less than ideal conditions for penning. So why go through the painstaking routine of journaling at all?

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Comments
JoJo

Bravo Meghan! You ask insightful questions and give us an eloquent insight into a here-to-fore rarely discussed corner of the mountaineering experience. — Joe Josephson

2010-06-23 11:55:16
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