I have the perfect idea if you’re looking for a Christmas gift voucher or an idea for a less office-related job: Andy Williams’ new book, Mount Logan and the Icefields: Yukon Flying Adventures.
You know you have a good book in your hands when you open it at random and it has tips like this: “You have to know what mountains look like from all angles.” Because you will get lost. And you have to be able to recognize mountains from all sides.
Williams’ new autobiographical tale of four decades of mountaineers and scientists flying around Mount Logan and the Icefields, published by the MacBride Museum and packed with stunning photos, is the Yukon’s must-read new book.
The Yukon is a wild and rugged place. Which sometimes makes it shocking to listen to conversations in cafes in the capital and hear people complaining about boring Powerpoint presentations or the ordeal of having to reset the wifi connection at their garage door.
What about these challenges? Landed on a sloping glacier at 17,600 feet. Install a spare engine in your plane with a gantry so that you can replace the engine on another plane already stuck on a glacier. Dig your plane in six feet of snow and flip it over before this nasty storm you can see on the horizon buries it again. Or decide if the expedition doctor who helps you offload the plane is behaving strangely enough that you need to bring in a second doctor to treat the altitude sickness.
I don’t want to rack you up with angst just before the holidays, but compare your resume to the following and ask who would be more interesting to invite to dinner: you or an ex-Royal Marine Commando who went on to be a surveyor. antarctica, director of research stations on two continents, mountaineer and glacier pilot in the Yukon.
Even if, like most of us, you’re more comfortable risking computer crashes than plane crashes, Yukon Flying Adventures is a great read. It’s based on Williams’ talk show and photo show during one of MacBride’s Wayback sessions. The book connects the reader to the long and astonishing history of alpine and glacial exploration in the Yukon, a subject generally confined to a relatively small community of extraordinary Yukoners.
These stories are amazing in several ways.
For mountaineers, there is the story of the first ascent in 1925. Without the aid of planes, they set off for Mount Logan from Alaska (there is incredible film footage of this expedition in a documentary titled Conquering Mount Logan which you can find on YouTube).
For geologists, there are photos and stories about Walter Wood’s early expeditions and the founding of the Arctic Institute of North America. For biologists, there is the groundbreaking High Altitude Physiology Study (HAPS), which investigated the effects of thinning air at high altitudes on unacclimatized individuals or those who spend prolonged periods at altitude. In the 1960s, this was among the priorities of scientific research. In addition to new activities such as high altitude flights and space missions, he had just broken out a war in the Himalayas between China and India where Indian troops airlifted to high altitude bases have suffered significant losses.
The HAPS study benefited generations of people at altitude, documenting conditions such as acute mountain sickness, pulmonary edema, retinal damage, cerebral edema and Cheyne-Stokes breathing.
The need to build a large research base at high altitude has led to a series of breakthrough innovations and adventures. They needed an aircraft capable of landing and taking off with a load of 15,000 feet or more. They learned that pilots in the Peruvian Andes were flying the Helio Courier, known for its short take-off and landing capabilities, equipped with turbochargers on airstrips above 15,000 feet.
They decided to buy one and try it out with skis for glacier landings and takeoffs, eventually reaching 17,600 feet where the legendary Logan High Camp would be located.
I once had the privilege of being flown to King’s Trench on Mount Logan. It’s an experience you won’t forget, from the raw majesty of the mountain to the roaring power of the mighty Turbo Beaver plane.
The flight also reminds you, as the book does, that Kluane Park is huge. Even if you paddle the Alsek River or walk to the Kaskawulsh Glacier, you are barely at the edge of the front yard of Mt Logan.
For those of us with modern office jobs, the book is a fascinating glimpse into the people who go on glacier expeditions. For young Yukoners, this book can be an inspiration to earn a pilot’s license or a science degree to work in places like Kluane. In much safer and better known conditions, of course, thanks to the accomplishments of the smiling people in the photos in Andy Williams’ book.
Mount Logan and the Icefields: Yukon Flying Adventures is available at the MacBride Museum, and the author will be signing copies on Saturday, December 11 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Keith Halliday is an economist from the Yukon, author of Yukon Aurora children’s adventure novels and co-host of the Klondike Gold Rush History podcast. He won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist.