The Expo 67 web site proudly presents: "Centennial Peak"
Acknowledgement: The Expo 67 web site wishes to thank the following people and organizations who assisted in making this "Centennial Peak" tribute a reality: To Stan Rosenbaum, a very big thank you for supplying all of the breathtaking photographs of their climb up Centennial Peak. As you will see from some of his own pictures taken from the event, he's a pretty darn good photographer. He also provided the text report below that was written by Waldemar Fips Broda, and for that I am most grateful. Also, a very special thanks goes out to the Canadian Alpine Journal and to the Canadian Alpine Club for granting permission to e-publish the entire Broda write-up along with the accompanying photographs from their magazine. And finally, to Helmut Microys, Hans Weber, and Waldemar Fips Broda, a very big thank you to all of you for allowing this Expo 67 web site to publish your photographs as well. With everyone's support, this historic climb in the Centennial Range is now available for everyone to view and enjoy once again!
By Waldemar Fips Broda, for The Canadian Alpine Journal, 1968
Team: Waldemar Fips Broda (leader), Klaus Boerger, Stan Rosenbaum, Jean-Robert (Howsie) Weber.
July 15th was a beautiful clear day; only the upper reaches of the surrounding peaks were shrouded in fast moving clouds. A wet and frustrating week lay behind us and now we had established our new basecamp. It took almost 8 hours to reach the headwall of this subsidiary glacier from our old Prairie camp, but worth the effort, since the distance to our peak was somewhat shortened. Hans Gmoser, who at this time was still with us, ready to film the story of the ascent of Centennial Peak, was also quite disappointed when Jim Davies with his helicopter suddenly arrived. Stan Rosenbaum and I went for a quick look and see tour, while Hans got his gear ready to move on to the Steele Glacier camp.
Our advance base camp lay just at the bottom of a steep S-shaped couloir. On our previous try, due to very bad weather and snow conditions we had not been able to climb the couloir in its entirety and were therefore happy to have an opportunity, on a quick flight, to see what lay ahead of us. From the air the couloir looked steep enough, but passable; so was the immediate slope to the east of the col, down to the Centennial Glacier. Far too fast to really grasp and evaluate, Centennial Glacier passed underneath us with its final steep slope to the Centennial Col. Three prominent crevasse systems and icefalls were noted by both of us, but unfortunately the aforementioned clouds shrouded the summit pyramid and only the lower part of the southwest ridge showed its jagged rock outcroppings along the skyline. Back at camp once more the peaceful silence surrounded us and gave us an opportunity to discuss our impressions with Weber and Boerger. I felt quite happy and more at ease after this 'scout' trip and therefore conveyed my great hopes on the various possibilities to my climbing companions. Plans were made to leave early next morning for an attempt on our peak, since there was hope the good weather might stay with us. During the first week of our expedition we had experienced very bad weather and rotten snow conditions. Little was accomplished and nothing could be done about it. Our great worry was that time was passing quite rapidly now.
After a good night's rest we got up early and started out on frozen snow, to all our delight. Our packs contained food provisions for 2 days, as well as bivouac gear, just in case of getting benighted. Our crampons gripped firmly into the steep frozen snow slopes of the couloir. After 3 hours of steady climbing we reached our previous little food cache, just under the ice gully, the steepest part of the couloir. After a short rest, I led on, first an iced-in traverse to the right which gave access to the funnel of the chimney-like ice gully formed at one side of sheer rock walls and the other of the hanging glacier wall, bulging over from the actual col above. A tiny orange spot below us and a faint line indicated our tent and route to the base of the couloir. Two exposed leads, including the use of several ice screws, enabled me to reach the top of a little shoulder and a decent belay stance. Another three leads over very steep snow and we all stood, after 6 hours hard work, on our No. 1 col, 1640 feet above camp.
At first hardly noticeable to us, it started to cloud in as we made a short rest. We now realized that the sky was completely clouded. A steep and a very soft snow slope down to the Centennial Glacier took a lot of careful belaying. It started to snow and as fog rolled in over the glacier visibility became quite poor in a short time. Nevertheless we wanted to press on. Breaking trail in the extremely soft snow, crevasses partly hidden around us, slowed our progress considerably so frequent leading changes were essential. The first icefall was negotiated under very poor conditions, it became worse by the hour. Since there was just a little more visibility to the left rather than on the glacier itself, I found a passable traverse onto a snow band in the steep flank of the mountainside, reaching diagonally up to the rock ridge above us. It proved again very miserable going. Soft snow on top of water ice. Every 60 feet or so, for safety reasons, ice screws were set. By about 10 p.m. I finally reached the first rocks of the ridge. A small and quite exposed ledge was finally cleared of loose snow and rock which gave just barely enough room for the 4 of us to call it a bivouac place. Wet snow fell heavily during the night. A cold wind started to blow and our aluminum foil rescue blankets, which acted as shelter, had to be held firmly in place. It was a cold and miserable night, little was said, and not too much sleep was had. The rest after the first tiring day was marvellous, since we had been going quite steadily for many hours.
A break in the weather gave courage for a new start at 4 a.m. Slowly our weary and stiff limbs got accustomed to movement again. Mt. Logan was now visible in part of its might; a layer cake cloud cover gave a spectacular peek-a-boo view of the upper portion of this mountain giant, golden with the first glow of the morning sun. Quickly our safety ropes and pitons which belayed us during the night were taken off and after some chocolate bars for breakfast, I started out right above us onto the snow-covered and exposed rock ridge. After 3 leads, a traverse over a thin ice slab led out into the snow slope of the ridge again. Hoping to reach once more Centennial Glacier on a traverse, a huge bergschrund with a most unstable bridge foiled this attempt. After assessing our situation, the steep snow slope to the left ridge above us seemed feasible. The direct fall line proved the best in the new snow. Ice axe belays had to do as only one rock piton was persuaded to stay in at a short traverse before the final very steep pitch. Extremely carefully I had to almost tunnel my final 20 feet up onto the knife edge snow ridge, more or less level at this spot. At about 1 p.m. after 9 hours steady climbing, we were once more all together, huddled on this very exposed ridge. A few nuts and some chocolate was our lunch. This ridge seemed to be leading toward the south peak of our mountain, but a rather large double cornice was blocking our view. To my disgust and surprise I could see approximately 300 feet of an extremely serrated knife-edge snow ridge, corniced every so often. In my opinion it was not worth risking, since the only chance from there on was an exposed band, diagonally leading into the east flank of the south peak at the junction of Centennial Glacier. Fog started to roll in over the glacier and the top cloud cover came down over our peak and Mt. Québec.
Our only solution was retreat. Rappelling the snow face down the way we had come proved quite slow, since great precautions had to be taken. We finally managed to rappel at one point over the bergschrund and reached the glacier level just in time for a whiteout. The going was now extremely slow and visibility so poor that at one point we had to wait 2 hours to get a few bearings to carry on through the unpredictable icefall. One spectacular ice block bridge separating a huge gaping hole to one side, and an icicle-hung overhang of an ice tower on the other side, proved the only passage (nothing short of excitement) toward our tracks of the day before. Instead of going all the way down to the foot of the slope of "Strip Col" we traversed a new route in order to gain a point on the ridge, just above the col. The rock was extremely rotten and a piton was set for another rappel. By now it had begun to snow and loose rock made the rappel very unpleasant. One more traverse on snow to the south led out to the col. Since we were extremely tired we decided to rappel all the way down the couloir for safety reasons. Klaus did a fine job in setting up the icescrew rappels, 11 in all. It almost rained when we reached the bergschrund which was crossed in a gliding position. Unfortunately a mistake in finding the right route to the tent proved very time consuming. Again a complete whiteout gave no alternative but to retrace our steps back to the bergschrund. By a new try, boldly holding a straight line into the fog, I finally found our tent in 7 minutes.
Dehydrated as we were my bottle of Portuguese Rose never tasted any better, and a few minutes after our arrival at 3 a.m. July 18, we fell into a sound and well earned sleep. All in all, we had been 44 hours on the go, with a 4-hour bivouac interval. The latter part of the afternoon was put to better use than sleeping. Since our food supplies had dwindled down quite rapidly, we decided to fetch some more ration boxes. Howsie and Stan were to bring the rest of the food cache at the 7000-foot level back up, while Klaus and I chose to walk down to Prairie camp for more supplies, news, hardware, etc. By about 1 a.m. on July 19, we arrived back at our base camp. We found a cozy, warm tent with an ingeniously made spider-web-like drying net, constructed by our two scientists Howsie and Stan.
The next three days passed quite uneventfully. Snowstorms and sometimes rain changed the landscape considerably and the almost continuous roar of rock slides and avalanches cascading down the mountains around us made up for the otherwise missing entertainment. Time had to be spent in the damp sleeping bag by reading, writing and eating. Finally on July 22nd there was a visible tendency for the weather to break. It was quite warm during the day, actually too warm to start out into the avalanche filled couloir. We decided to leave for our final attempt on our mountain toward the evening, hoping that it might be a little colder by then. Well equipped and much wiser by now to be prepared for bivouacs and better food, we finally left our tent at 8:15 p.m. This we all knew would be our final chance. Time on the expedition was really running out.
As we approached the bergschrund, now partially filled by avalanches, to start up into the couloir, Jim Davies arrived suddenly in his helicopter to pass on an urgent message to Klaus. Quickly we discussed a possible airlift with Jim up and preferably over the col to Centennial Glacier. Jim was willing, but could only land us on top of the "Strip Col", as fog was already rolling in on the lower part of Centennial Glacier. Nevertheless it saved us 6 hours of steady climbing of a part we had already done twice before. We could barely make out some of our previous footprints down the slope, most flags were snowed in, and once more the going was tiring, breaking in at times up to our hips. The first icefall was successfully navigated and a new route now visible to the right passed quite close by the actual flanks of Centennial and Québec. It meant circumnavigating some nasty crevasses in the second icefall. Again it began to snow lightly and after a passage through some seracs and a final pitch over a bulging ice shoulder I found a way to a little cirque with an ice and snow head wall, a most welcome wind shelter. A small crevasse with an overhanging shoulder was quickly prepared in snow-cave fashion as our bivouac; it is now midnight, the darkest time of the day. The aluminum rescue blankets formed our tent-like roof, ropes were spread over the seat and soon the primus was humming. We put on all our spare clothing, quite a task in this confined space; it was snowing very heavily by now. And it kept snowing almost all night. Seven long hours were spent half dozing, crouched under our blankets. Finally it was time to move on. Our last gas supply was used up for a morning drink, and enough fluid to fill our bottles for the climb. We got up at 7 a.m. and moved on by 8 a.m. It had stopped snowing and visibility improved so much that we had little difficulty in finding our way through the third icefall. We changed leads frequently in the deep snow to save strength.
By 10 a.m. we finally broke through the fog cover into brilliant sunshine. To our right a most impressive overhanging ice cliff with glittering long icicles formed a screen to an ice cave behind. A flat little area below was a welcomed rest place. We had a chance to rearrange our gear and to investigate our way up to the col. The steep snow slopes proved just a little longer than estimated and it was 1 p.m. when we finally reached Centennial Col, with a breathtaking view over to the west side. Mounts Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the greatly crevassed glaciers leading towards these peaks, lay far below us. We had lunch, cached most of our things not needed and started off by cutting a path toward the actual rock ridge. In parts the almost horizontal section was double corniced and greatest caution on my part was necessary. After l 1/2 hours of snow tunnelling, ice cutting and the preparation of a trail to make a safe return route, I finally reached the rocks for a safety belay to bring up the party one by one. The actual climb began with steep and rotten rock partly covered by powder snow above us. The exposure was also great; it took all my finesse and technical ability to get over the first vertical pitch. I had to climb free, since pitons would not hold in the rotten rock. This pitch was followed by a shallow gully with hardly a hold in it. Two more leads, and all 4 were roped together on 2 ropes. This brought me to the foot of a snow and ice chute ending with a short but very exposed rock chimney. (For an example of this type of climbing, see the Frontispiece). At the end of it was a wedged rock blocking the way through. As I tried to place a rock piton, the whole block started to split through the middle, and only by sheer luck was I able to pull out the piton without dislodging any parts of the rock. Howsie was directly below me, and some very anxious moments passed until I could get to the outside of the chimney and climb over the block without any further belay. A short traverse to the left and once more I had a safe stance to bring up the party. The view was just magnificent and we all enjoyed the climb and the companionship of each other. One more rope length, and an unpleasant traverse to the right, at the head of the gully, and a half decent rock on a little subsidiary ridge was under foot. A few more moves, a sharp little cornice, and the first major obstacle, the main gendarme, was reached. It was 9:30 p.m. Snow, rock and ice were all very poor, and the exposure generally great. Again the southwest ridge upwards was very serrated, steep and double corniced. Only the view is magnificent and Mt. Logan looked really what it is: A giant of a beautiful mountain.
Instead of climbing the ridge we now traversed out to the south flank onto steep snow on ice. We got up in the fall line, steps having to be kicked and ice screws placed every 80 to 100 feet. Although the going seemed a little easier the exposure was quite formidable. The slope inclined about 50 to 60 degrees. Rope length after rope length I had to kick steps and only slowly were we gaining altitude. A prominent rounded boulder type rock seemed the obvious assembly place for the whole party, the only safe spot in this steep south flank. By now it was midnight. It became quite dark, and a cold wind had sprung up. We debated our situation and estimated the approximate time ahead of us to reach the peak. We pulled all our down jackets on. Stan and Klaus passed the retrieved ice screws and pitons to me, and after a short break we were once more on our way.
Now I had to traverse in order to avoid steep rock above, and take the fall line of another flat gully. Most of the time now the ice under the snow was too thin to support an ice screw properly. Once in a while I broke through to the rock underneath, but all efforts to place rock pitons were foiled, due to the unbelievable rotten rock conditions. Most of the climbing therefore was free and unbelayed. A strong wind carried ice particles which in turn hit my face and it was almost a battle under blizzard conditions. The boys below me suffered still more. Due to the very poor visibility they had a hard time to guard themselves against falling rock and ice. I was always conscious of our return and tried to prepare the route to my best ability. Finally the moon came up and it was a glorious night. Quite eerie though, and even close distances were hard to estimate. By about 2 a.m. July 24th I had reached the end of the gully and a vertical rock out-crop about 15 feet high proved to be quite an obstacle. I brought Klaus up on a piton belay, and he in turn had Howsie coming up. Some rather thin handholds to the inside corner of the rock permitted finally a lower traverse. A small crack led to a step up over the bulge onto a snow shoulder to the left of the rock. A fierce wind was hitting me with full force and only by crouching could I circumnavigate this point. I little realized at the time that I was actually moving on the outside corner of a huge cornice somehow attached to this rock out-crop. Below me about 2800 feet was the cascading, and almost vertical W.N.W. face of Centennial Peak. A short traverse to the right and once more I was above the rock and the rest of the party. From here on the ridge started to lean a little back, mostly snow covered rock, with cornices either way. I quickly explained the situation ahead to the party, and went on again towards the peak. About 60 more feet on this ridge and I reached the partly snow covered rocks of the southwest peak. To my half right, E.N.E., a light drop off toward a serrated and corniced snow ridge led on to the central peak, which from my vantage point seemed somewhat higher in appearance but this was hard to estimate in the half-light. It was 2:30 a.m. and light conditions were still quite poor, the cold and the wind were fierce.
After some soul-searching I retreated down to the top of the last rock out-crop in order to convey what I had found. Since all of us were extremely tired and it would have taken about another 30 minutes to bring the entire party up, we decided that the team effort was undeniably great enough to claim the peak reached by all, even though we were half a rope length apart. The central summit mentioned before, remained unclimbed. It was now 27 hours that we had been climbing steadily and all our strength started to dwindle. Klaus felt quite sick and we were all on the verge of falling asleep. Howsie, Klaus and I were also bothered by totally frozen boots and extremely cold feet. My little spare gold line proved, at this point, very useful and a rock nose on top of the bluff provided the ideal rappel anchor. With great caution we rappelled off the peak, realizing that one wrong move could be fatal to the whole party.
It was 6:45 a.m. when we reached with great relief Centennial Col. Mt. Logan and all surrounding mountains looked just great, with the morning sun well advanced. We left at 7:15, again setting a hand line for safety down the very steep, long slope. Our aluminum rappel picket was lost at one point high up on the ridge, so parts of the wooden marker sticks were used to substitute as an anchor. Only Howsie managed a spectacular head first glissade, when suddenly under his weight the wood stick broke. Stan and Klaus directly below in the fall line were able to stop him just in time, ahead of a gaping crevasse. As the steepest of the terrain eased off we now started to kick our steps down through the third icefall.
Just as we reached a shoulder to have a look down over the rest of Centennial Glacier, a small black speck above the ice became rapidly larger and soon the unmistakable noise of a helicopter engine bounced off the mountain flanks around us. Jim Davies never looked better to four mountaineers. One at a time Jim ferried us down to the top of Strip Col first, and from there on again two and two down to our tent. Howsie's magic produced at once an open champagne bottle, foaming vigorously at this altitude. What a delightful way to soothe our parched and dehydrated throats! We were all elated about this sudden and effortless finish after the constant strain on body and mind while climbing up and down, hour after tiring hour. Howsie and I broke camp, while Stan and Klaus were ferried back to Prairie Glacier. A quick change over at "Divide" into the waiting Beaver and soon the sensation of flying in this immense mountain country engulfed us for the last time. After some 56 hours of climbing and flying we could finally bed down at Kluane Staging Camp, getting the chance for a long overdue rest and sleep.
- End of article. Copyright by the Canadian Alpine Journal, 1968. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
To view the photographic essay with notes from Stan Rosenbaum, please click here.
To read the "Weekend" magazine report published in 1967, please click: "Climbing for the Centennial".