Mt. Logan – Canada’s High Point

The clouds parting toward the northeast revealed several giant peaks not before seen…One stranger, rising in three white domes far above the clouds, was especially magnificent.

–Israel C. Russell

Most students of the mountains know Alaska’s Denali is the highest point in the United States and North America.

What about the second-highest crag on the continent?

Despite the majesty of the Alaska Range, the answer sits about 400 miles to the southeast, across the border with Canada. Looming in Yukon Territory is Mount Logan, a massive rock that rises 19,551 feet (5,959 meters) above sea level.

Mt. Logan - photo by Gerald Holdsworth

Logan is the crown of the Saint Elias Mountain Range, which is a subgroup of the Pacific Coast Ranges. The St. Elias Range is the highest coastal spine on the planet, spanning both nations and jumping upwards from topographical maps with abandon right from the seashore. The range also comprises multiple national parks, in both countries. In Alaska it traverses Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Glacier Bay National Park; in Canada, Mt. Logan rests within the boundaries of Kluane National Park.

These mountains are the result of plate tectonics, as the Yakutat microplate subducts under the North American Plate. The crumpling of these masses uplifts rocks into the forms we know as mountains. The subduction is ongoing; as a result, Mt. Logan continues to grow at a clip of about 0.35 millimeters (0.013 inches) per year.

In addition to being a towering giant, Logan is a goliath structure. Geologists believe Logan has the largest base circumference of any non-volcanic mountain (many shield volcanoes can grow to exorbitantly large sizes as the lava spreads out) in the world. Its massif – the term for a related clump of mountains – is so large that it contains 11 peaks over 5,000 meters high (16,400 feet). According to Exploers Web, the perimeter of Logan would fit Kilimanjaro, the Eiger, and Mont Blanc inside with plenty of room to spare. Canada’s High Point is also the genesis for two gargantuan ice rivers, the Hubbard and Logan glaciers.

The St. Elias Mountain Range, with Logan and its massif in the center and the namesake crag in the distant upper right - photo taken from 36,000 feet by Jack French

The size of Logan and the St. Elias Range produce a seeming paradox. Mt. St. Elias, far closer to the coast, was first spotted by European explorers when Vitus Bering – he of Strait fame – spied it in 1741. Even though Logan is 1,500 feet higher than Mt. St. Elias, the first sighting of the former did not transpire until 1890! The range packs so many lofty peaks into a small area that Logan couldn’t be seen from the coast proper. However, it’s so tall that one can see it if one backs up the boat. From as far as 125 miles offshore, Logan can be spotted peeking over the other peaks!

Israel C. Russell managed to lay eyes on Logan during an expedition to St. Elias. He decided to dub the “magnificent” peak after geologist Sir William Edmond Logan, founder of the Geological Survey of Canada.

Just four years after Russell christened Logan, geologists pegged its height at 19,500 feet, which made it the highest known mountain in North America. By 1898, however, Denali’s elevation emerged as the top of the continent.

A climber on the east ridge of Logan - photo by Christian Stangl

Into the 1920s, Logan remained unclimbed.

In some ways, Yukon is even more remote than Alaska. With just a bit of coastline in the uninhabitable north, the territory is pure internal wilderness. Just 44,000 humans inhabit Yukon.

In 1922, the Alpine Club of Canada suggested it was high time to ascend the zenith of the country. A trip did not materialize until 1925. They disembarked from the nearest town, which just happened to be in Alaska, walking 120 miles across the St. Elias Range. By the time they tackled the glaciers, summited the peak, and returned to civilization, the trip had taken 65 days!

Still, six intrepid mountaineers had finally stood atop Canada.

Today, Logan’s remote nature is so fierce that Parks Canada instituted a few extreme regulations because rescues are time-consuming, dangerous, and expensive. Solo excursions are banned. Winter excursions are a no-go. Climbers need insurance to cover the price tag of a rescue.

If you ever want to climb Logan, make sure you pack your warm gear. You won’t have to worry about the −45 °C (−49 °F) winter temperatures because going in that season is now verboten. The median summer temperature reaches a balmy −27 °C (−17 °F). Because of this perpetual below-freezing temperature, the hoar on Logan is some of the oldest non-polar ice in the world.

Frosty, beautiful, and tall. Just how we like our mountains.

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