I have never climbed or even seen Mt. Lucania but when I look at the Canadian peaks submitted so far on SP there is Mt. Logan and nothing else from the St. Elias range. So in the spirit of SP as an informational website for mountaineering, climbing and trekking I have put this page together.
Mt. Lucania is a truly massive mountain, a sprawling mass of overlapping ridges that rise meter by meter to an apex of 5226m… making it the third highest in Canada and the eighth highest in North America. Lucania is located 65km north of Mt. Logan and cannot be seen from any road or town as it is buried deep within the Icefield Range. Like Logan and Mt. St. Elias, Lucania isn’t far from the Pacific coast, and it is subject to horrendous storms and copious amounts of snowfall on an annual basis.
Lucania is located in the 22015 km² Kluane National Park and Reserve which was established in 1976. The St. Elias Mountains dominate the park, they are sub divided into two smaller ranges, separated by a narrow trough called the Duke Depression. The Boundary Range lies to the east and is much smaller, the average height of peaks here is between 2000-2500m. To the west lie the major peaks of the mighty Icefield Range which occupies 2/3 of the park. All of Canada’s largest peaks are located in or around Kluane.
The St. Elias Mountains are the second highest coastal mountain range in the world (after the Andes) and are home to many of the continents most massive and imposing peaks. The area is also home to the most notorious weather on the continent as well, with legendary storms regularly blasting the region. Couple this with the mountains remoteness and they see very little traffic.
The St. Elias Mountains are a 350km long chain that stretches from NE Alaska, through the Yukon and into NW British Columbia. The St. Elias range surpasses the Himalayas in vertical relief, making these some of the very largest mountains from base to summit on earth. The range is also located closer to a pole than any other major mountain range.
The first ascent of Lucania was an epic event. Bradford Washburn and Robert Bates were the first to scale Lucania and were fortunate to not only summit the peak but escape with their lives. They both went on to become two of America’s greatest climbers, dominating the climbing scene in the States from the 1930’s to 1950’s. Washburn was responsible for many first ascents in the Yukon and Alaska and is a renowned photographer. Bates led two expeditions to K2 and co-authored the book K2- the Savage Mountain with Charles Houston. The book, ‘Escape from Lucania’ chronicles the hardships they endured on Lucania and is the only real piece of literature out there about Lucania. At the time it was first attempt ever made to reach a mountain via an airplane, the event was tarnished by the fact that the plane got bogged down and didn’t take off again for five days.
Mt. Lucania is connected via a long ridge to Mt. Steele which at 5073m is Canada’s fifth largest peak. Both peaks are rarely climbed, Lucania wasn’t climbed again until 1967, (thirty years since it was first climbed) by a team lead by Gerry Roach-who incidentally was the first person to climb the ten highest peaks in North America. Steele was first climbed in 1935 by a team led by Walter Wood. These days the mountains are often climbed in conjunction with one another, yet even with that they see very little traffic. When Gerry Roach speaks of climbing the ten highest peaks most have never even heard of Lucania or Steele.
Canada’s sixth largest peak is also found nearby. Atlantic Peak is 4879m and rises approximately 400 meters from the Lucania col. Atlantic Peak wasn’t climbed until 1994 after it had been ascertained that it was indeed our sixth highest peak and the highest unclimbed peak in the country.
Lucania is named after an ancient territorial division in southern Italy, today known as the provinces of Basilicata and Salerno. This is a fairly mountainous section of Italy with a number of peaks rising over 2000m, so perhaps someone was reminded of this region when exploring the area and gave Lucania its name.
***Photos used with permission from Gerry Roach and the Alpine Club of Canada, Toronto Chapter.
Most trips to Mt. Lucania are expeditionary in length and start with a flight from Vancouver to Whitehorse and then a 165km trip westwards via the Alaskan Highway to Haines Junction where the park headquarters are located. Trips also operate out of Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing. Like any trip to the inner peaks of the Icefield Range, this is the most difficult and costly part of the trip. To go with a trip operator costs can easily skyrocket up into the $10-15000 range. Even without a trip operator, expect to spend at least $5-6000, it’s a costly undertaking that’s for sure.
One company that operates trips to the foot of the major peaks of the Icefield Range is Icefield Discovery out of Whitehorse. They will transport two climbers and their gear (the cost is more per extra climber) via heliocourier on wheelskis. As far as I could see it costs about $750-1000 per person one way. To enquire about prices you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call 1 867 653 2018. These are of course only one of many operators on both sides of the border that offer access to the inner peaks of the Icefields.
From the park reception center at Sheep Mountain it is either a 1-1.5 hour flight to the foot of the Chitna Glacier or it is 2-3 week slog over Glaciers and crevasses. Expect to spend anywhere from four to six weeks in the park if this is the way one chooses to approach Lucania, and eventually climb Lucania. You will have to carry 30-40kg packs and drag very heavy sledges. It may save a lot of money, but the temporal investment is considerable. The other option one can utilise to try and access Lucania is via the Alaskan Highway. At the Donjek River Bridge, follow the Donjek River and Steele Creek to the eastern ridge of Lucania.
Come prepared for the worst that the St. Elias Mountains can throw at you. Lucania is very remote and is very rarely summitted and this is an expeditionary climb, so one must be entirely self sufficient. Rescues do occur, but they are very expensive and the nearest medical evac is hours away.
There are several routes to the top… with the northeast ridge and aurora ridge being two of the more popular routes to the top. The northeast ridge is only a moderate snow and glacier climb. At this time however there is next to no information available for more in depth descriptions. I will try and add this at a later date when I get a hold of the info.
The costs of course are the most prohibitive aspect of trying to climb Lucania. With costs running $5-6000 per person without a trip operator, and with one costs can easily run $10-15000 per person.
One must also purchase an annual adult pass which costs $56.00. If you are flying into the foot of the Chitna Glacier there is a $30.00 aircraft landing permit (each way) that must also be paid. The park headquarters are located at Haines Junction. The phone number is 1 867 635 7250 or you can email the office at email@example.com for additional information. There is also an information center located at Kluane Lake called the Sheep Mountain Visitor’s Center.
One must also obtain a mountaineering permit from the mountaineering warden Mountaineering Permit
1. Each member must fill out an application to participate in an Icefield mountaineering expedition and sign the attached waiver.
2. You must include an itinerary which includes: a description of your air carrier, radio communication equipment, arrival and departure dates and a list of the mountaineering equipment you will be bring with you.
3. Each member must demonstrate in the application that each member has the necessary knowledge and equipment for self rescue and to communicate in case of emergency.
You then submit the application as a package to:
Kluane National Park and Reserve
Box 5495, Haines Junction, Yukon Canada,
Be sure to apply months in advance so that there is plenty of time for the application to be processed. Each member must also view a video on mountaineering in Kluane and register with the park warden at the beginning and end of the expedition.
It is also mandatory that each member must carry either a satellite phone or have a HF radio (single side band communication is recommended) with them at all times for safety purposes. It is also asked that low impact mountaineering practices are observed throughout your stay as the environment is still pretty much pristine.
When To Climb
The weather (even more so than the peaks remoteness) is the reason why Lucania is rarely climbed. Winter ascents are simply not even attempted. The only real time to even attempt Lucania is from May to September, with the peak period from June 15 to September 15.
The mean temperature in July for the park is 14°C, with temperatures in the park ranging from 0°C to 28°C. With that being said it is not at all uncommon for temps to drop down into -20’s or 30’s even at the height of summer.
During the winter the mean temperature in Kluane is -21°C, inhospitable to put it mildly.
There is only one campground at the park. The Kathleen lake campground has 47 primitive sites. There are also sites just outside the park such as at Kluane Lake. For backcountry users (which all mountaineers are) you make camp at the end of each day, pick stable areas away from the base of mountains and remember that it is critical that each member practices low impact mountaineering.
The park is only accessible from May to September, with its peak period lasting in mid June to mid September.
Again it is important to come prepared for violent winter weather with bone chilling cold, that can drop down into the -30’s at any time of year.
One must also understand that the park is home to the largest population of protected grizzly bears on earth. Until you are on the glacier you are in bear country so come prepared.
There are two relatively simple ways to check the weather forecast for the park. The first way is to key in www.theweathernetwork.com on your computer and then checking the parks forecast for Kluane or the forecast for Haines Junction on the Yukon page
One can also check with Environment Canada by keying in www.weatheroffice.pc.gc.ca or by calling 1-867-668-6061 where you can get reliable up to the hour conditions and long term (5 day) forecasts from park officials.
Flora and Fauna
Kluane is a veritable oasis of natural wonder. There are over 150species of birds found in the peak, including peregrine falcon, ptarmigan and golden and bald eagles. The park is also home to the largest protected population of grizzly bears in the world, so one must never forget that they are in bear country at all times.
Kluane also harbours some of the largest moose in the world up to 800kg for a fully grown male. These moose are also much darker than their southern cousins, being more black then brown.
The park is also home to a population of over 5000 Dall’s sheep which is the reason why the land was set aside in the first place. Other animals that can be found in the park include: otter, wolverines, woodland caribou, lynx, wolves, mountain goats and beaver. Kluane also boasts the greatest diversity of Pacific and Arctic plant species north of the 60th parallel, over 200 species can be found within park boundaries.
Kluane National Park
The 22000 km² of Kluane National Park and Reserve was originally set aside in 1976 to protect the large herds of Dall’s sheep which could be found in the area. It was also soon realized the area was home to some of Canada’s most unique and beautiful ecological and geographical features recognized today as a UNESCO world heritage site.
The world’s largest non polar icefields are found in Kluane including 65km long Lowell Glacier. In places the ice is up to 1.6km (about 1 mile) thick. The icefields dominate the park covering over two thirds of the park’s territory. With that said though there is still a lot to see in the more popular section of the park.
Kluane Lake is the largest lake in the Yukon, its clear frigid waters are popular amongst fisherman and amongst those seeking a respite from an increasingly frenetic world. Within the Boundary Range most of the parks plants and animals are found. The treeline here is only at about 1100m so many animals stick to the lower slopes and the valleys for cover.
The Alsek River was designated as a Canadians Heritage River just recently and during spring it flows with a force comparable to that of the Amazon River as it roars through icy gorges up to 350m deep.
For over 4500 years Kluane has been the traditional homeland of the Southern Tutchone First nations. . The name Kluane means ‘lake of many fish’. The natives are involved as co-managers of the reserve and are free to hunt and trap within park boundaries.