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Expeditions

Mt. Vancouver Survey Expedition 2006

Mountain mystery

Camp Site After Storm (Photo: Tom Furst)

Carefully measuring our food
(Photo: Pete Hudson)

Skiing blind and listening to avalanches and seracs falling off mountains on either side of them, Peter Hudson and fellow expedition members Tom Furst, Pierre Hungr and Matt Mueller strove to ascend Mount Vancouver, in the Yukon’s St. Elias Mountains, over 19 days last spring. For all but three of those days, they huddled in tents or trudged along in whiteouts, relying on GPS waypoints set along the route, eyes glued to their compasses.

“Our life was like the inside of a ping-pong ball,” recalls Hudson. Heavy snowfall forced the mountaineers to shovel out their camp regularly or risk being buried within hours. When the skies briefly cleared, they had to break trail in knee-to-thigh-deep snow. In the end, the relentless snowstorms of the St. Elias Mountains and dwindling food supplies forced them to retreat to the Alaskan coast, where they were picked up by boat.

The trek, funded in part by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, was Hudson's second attempt to scale the mountain — and solve the mystery of its exact elevation. His first attempt, in 2005, fell apart due to personality conflicts among team members.

Clear evening on the Tweedsmuir Galcier
(Photo: Pierre Hungr)

Despite these misfortunes, the 26-year-old environmental engineer from Vancouver has not given up on his goal. Mount Vancouver, which has three summits, is listed as the seventh highest mountain in Canada, with reports of heights ranging from 4,785 to 4,812 metres. American and Canadian geological surveys of its southern peak, which rises on the Yukon-Alaska border, differ by about 100 metres. Hudson would like to collect GPS data from each peak to determine its precise elevation — information that could move the mountain into sixth position. “I can't believe that we wouldn't know in this day and age,” he says. “You'd think that we'd know the exact height of at least the top 10 peaks.”

While Hudson and his friends ponder the possibility of returning to the St. Elias Mountains next year, they are relating their adventures at public presentations at outdoor and alpine clubs in Vancouver. “A failed expedition is still a story,” says Hudson, “and people like to hear it.”

It’s also a lesson in logistics, survival and personal strength. Reflecting on the challenges of the 2006 expedition, Hudson says he was amazed at how well the team worked together. “Bad weather will tear a team apart, but I think we held up really well.”

— Monique Roy-Sole

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