The southeast face of Mt. Logan, Kluane National Park, St. Elias Mountains, Yukon Territory, Canada, a massive wall that–until earlier this month–was one of North America’s greatest unclimbed alpine challenges. Japanese Giri-Giri Boys Yasushi Okada and Katsutaka “Jumbo” Yokoyama climbed the ca. 8,500′ wall followed by another 3,000 vertical feet along the east ridge in alpine style from May 4-7. The day after reaching the east summit, they descended nearly 20 miles along the East Ridge to reach base camp. They named the route I-TO (ED+: WI5 M6, 2500m). [Photo] Jack Tackle
On May 7, Giri-Giri Boys Yasushi Okada and Katsutaka “Jumbo” Yokoyama summited Mt. Logan’s east peak via its virgin 8,500′ southeast face–what some called the continent’s biggest and most significant remaining alpine challenge.
Mt. Logan (19,357′), located in the St. Elias Mountains of the Yukon Territory, is one of the most massive peaks in the world. It marks the high point of Canada and is second only to Denali for the claim of North America’s tallest. Its south face alone spans about 15 miles, yet only two of the mountain’s routes–King Trench and East Ridge–have been climbed more than three times. Of the southeast face, climber and writer Joe Josephson said, “It’s easily the biggest unclimbed wall in North America, and it’s one of the biggest unclimbed walls in the world.”
Yokoyama and Okada’s new route, I-TO (ED+: WI5 M6, 2500m), snakes up this enormous and avalanche-prone face (8,500′) then tacks on another 3,000 vertical feet to the out-of-the-way east summit. Even more impressive is that the Japanese duo climbed all this–then descended about 20 miles along the protracted east ridge, which they had sworn off only days before–in alpine style.
Yokoyama and Okada had initially trudged up the East Ridge route in mid-April to acclimatize with fellow Giri-Giri partner Genki Narumi. After wading through heavy snow for 37 miles up and back over eight days, they concluded that, if successful on a new route, they would avoid a descent down the east ridge if possible; their hope was to retrace their climb and rappel the southeast face instead.
Spooked by the mountain after reconnoitering from East Ridge, Narumi stayed at base camp when Yokoyama and Okada started up the southeast face on May 4. The duo found steep ice and snow then headed up and left to the crux, a 200-meter swath of thin ice and loose rock in a chimney that translated into sketchy M6 drytooling. The technical difficulty eased as they continued up, but hopes vanished for a viable descent. “The higher we climbed, the more confidence [we had] that rappelling on the same route is out of question,” Yokoyama wrote. “There were a lot of traverse, loose rock, chance to get hazards, and it’s simply big.”
Okada enters the heart of the route, just below the obvious chimney that the Japanese climbers worked through on Day 2. [Photo] Katsutaka Yokoyama
Okada climbs through a short, steep section on May 4. [Photo] Katsutaka Yokoyama
Close to 11 p.m. on their third day of climbing, the team reached the East Ridge. At 1:40 the next afternoon, May 7, they topped out on the east summit (ca. 5900m) and began heading east for the long slog back to camp. Unexpectedly, two other climbers had recently ascended the East Ridge, leaving fresh tracks. While this pleasant surprise and fine weather made the descent easier, roughly 30 kilometers still remained between them and base camp, which they descended to in a single day, May 8.
Logan’s enormous southeast face has been of interest to elite alpinists for many years. Numerous grants have been awarded for attempts on the wall, but only a handful of climbers have ever started up its flanks. Perhaps most engrossed by the southeast face has been American Jack Tackle, who made attempts with Jack Roberts in 1999 and with Jay Smith and Fabrizio Zangrilli in 2007. Both expeditions were shut down about 3,000 feet up the wall. Tackle, who considered the face his crowning aspiration, offered photos and advice to the Japanese team before departure. As an acknowledgment that the climbing community is small and generous, Yokoyama and Okada named the route I-TO, or “thread” in Japanese–a gesture of thanks to Tackle.
Despite noteworthy ascents on Teng Kang Poche in Nepal and Meru’s Shark’s Fin in India, Okada had never been on a major expedition with Yokoyama, who is known for his numerous first ascents and endurance climbs in the Alaska Range. The most notable of these is the impressive link-up of the Isis and the Slovak Direct routes on Denali in 2008. When Alpinist asked Yokoyama to compare the Denali link-up with the southeast face of Mt. Logan, he said the biggest difference was a fear of the unknown. Denali involved lots of straightforward climbing on difficult terrain, he said, whereas Logan was a matter of survival.
Yokoyama (left) and Okada celebrate on the east summit of Mt. Logan. [Photo] Katsutaka Yokoyama
Editor’s Note: Yokoyama is now preparing for an expedition to Pakistan to attempt the north ridge of Latok I, perhaps the most sought-after unclimbed objective in the world of alpinism. Learn more about the long history of Japanese climbing in the Latoks in Alpinist 30’s Mountain Profile.
Additionally, Alpinist 31 will feature a Mountain Profile on Mt. Logan written by Joe Josephson. The upcoming issue will be delivered to subscribers and available at retailers in late June 2010. Support Alpinist today with a subscription or renewal to ensure you don’t miss this special issue.
Okada nearing the top of the southeast face on Day 3. [Photo] Katsutaka Yokoyama