Climbers set up several camps in Yukon’s St. Elias range in the summer of 1967 to accommodate hundreds of mountaineers who participated in the Yukon Alpine Centennial Expedition. This camp was set up near the Steele Glacier so climbers could explore the surrounding peaks. (Wally Joyce Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies) It was the largest mountaineering expedition of its time, taking place over two months and involving hundreds of skilled climbers, in one of the world’s most remote and inaccessible mountain ranges. New peaks were named, and dozens were scaled for the first time.
There were no serious accidents or disasters, and nobody died — which may at least partly explain why the Yukon Alpine Centennial Expedition of 1967 has largely faded from public memory. People came, they saw, they conquered, and they went home.
"I don’t think that a lot of Canadians today recognize what was accomplished in 1967 back there in the great Icefield Ranges — by what was, really, a whole generation of climbers," said Zac Robinson, with the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC). Mount Ontario is visible in the background of this file photo showing mountaineers at Prairie Camp in the Centennial Range. (Submitted by Phil Dowling) "A great deal of new terrain was explored; 26 first ascents were recorded."
It was the ACC that hatched the idea of a major expedition as a way to mark Canada’s centennial year. Organizers chose Yukon’s St. Elias Range, which is Canada’s highest land mass and home to the country’s highest peak, Mount Logan, as the ideal place.
"This was an expedition — this wasn’t a weekend of climbing," said Phil Dowling, who was the logistics coordinator, and one of the climbers.
"I thought it was exciting, I think everybody thought it was exciting. I don’t think there was anybody on the expedition who had ever done any climbing in the Yukon."
By the end of the two-month expedition, in August 1967, a team of Canadian and American climbers had scaled and named Good Neighbour Peak, while 13 more teams tackled 13 peaks in what’s now called the Centennial Range. A peak was named for each province and territory — save Nunavut, which was not yet a territory — with the 13th and highest dubbed Centennial Peak.
"We were Canadians, from every part of Canada, came in to explore this area and to sort of put it on the map," Dowling recalled. "This was an expedition — this wasn’t a weekend of climbing," said Phil Dowling, seen here with his Mount Alberta team. From left, team leader Wayne Smith, Klaus Hahn, Dowling, Jerry Wright. (Submitted by Phil Dowling) Making the cut
At the time, he was living in Alberta, and had been climbing for about 15 years. When the ACC put out word about the expedition, Dowling leapt.
"When I saw my pals were going to go, I said, ‘Jeez, I wanna do this.’ So we did it."
Each peak in the Centennial Range was assigned by the ACC to a team of four climbers, and Dowling pushed to be on the Mount Alberta team. He made the cut.
Bigger challenges were yet to come. Dowling says the whole Centennial Range "was extremely technical — everywhere." Climbers attempt a glacier headwall on the approach to Mount Alberta. (Submitted by Phil Dowling) It took his team two attempts to make the summit. No team had an easy climb, but some had it tougher than others.
"It was overwhelming. All of the mountains, I think, were overwhelming to the group," said Andrea Rankin, who was a member of the team attempting Mount Saskatchewan — the only team comprised solely of […]
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