Transcript of podcast episode 66
Josée Arnold (JA): Welcome to “Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.” I'm your host, Josée Arnold. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada's documentary heritage.
High in the mountains of southwest Yukon, as far west as one can go in Canada, lies Kluane National Park and Reserve. It is a land of extremes. The park is home to North America’s most genetically diverse grizzly population, the largest ice field in Canada, and the country’s highest peak, the 5,959-metre Mount Logan. With average summer temperatures on the summit at around -27°C, Mount Logan boasts an impressive eleven peaks, each more than 5,000 metres high. Few places on Earth are as high, as cold, or as remote. All of these factors make the mountain a coveted prize for the world’s mountaineering elite. Hardly the site, one might think, for careful and exacting scientific study. However, from its earliest documented ascent, in 1925, Mount Logan has been a continuously productive site for the advancement of scientific knowledge.
Two of our guests on today’s episode, from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, are Dr. Alison Criscitiello and Dr. Zac Robinson. They are part of the Mount Logan Ice Expedition. This expedition, taking place in 2021 is intending to drill ice core samples from the summit plateau, and to re-take landscape photos from previous climbing expeditions, many of which are held here at Library and Archives Canada. This “repeat photography” process will help to document high-altitude landscape change over the last 100 years.
Also joining us on this episode is LAC photo archivist Jill Delaney. She will talk to us about the photos that LAC holds of the original ascent of Mount Logan in 1925, and explain how Zac and the team will be using them. She will also tell us about more treasures in LAC’s collection associated with the original ascent of Mount Logan.
Zac Robinson (ZR): Hi. My name is Zac Robinson and I'm a historian at the University of Alberta, in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, where I study the literature and history of mountain sport in Western Canada.
JA: That was Dr. Zac Robinson. Zac is a writer and a teacher of mountain history and literature. He is also the Vice President for Mountain Culture of the Alpine Club of Canada, the amateur athletic association for Canadian mountaineering. The 2021 Mount Logan Ice Expedition will be Zac’s third trip to Mount Logan.
We asked Zac how he initially got interested in mountain climbing.
ZR: I grew up in an outdoorsy family in Ontario, but I came west as a younger person through tree planting mostly, putting my way through university and the like. I fell in love with the mountains, and I never really looked back. I first came to climbing through its literature, through old books that I'd find in the public library. It's exciting stuff to read these epic accounts of impossibly brave people stepping out into the thin air, into the wild, into the void and the like, the beauty and danger of the landscape, the immensity of it all.
And that was it. I was really hooked on those stories, the landscapes that they evoked, the images, the fold-out maps with the unfamiliar names, all of it. It never really left me. I still go back sometimes and reread mountaineering classics, whether it's Maurice Herzog's Annapurna or Heinrich Harrer's The White Spider. Gaston Rébuffat's Starlight and Storm. So, it's the literature for me.
JA: Kluane National Park and Reserve is home not only to the highest mountain peak in Canada, Mount Logan, but also to the world’s largest non-polar ice fields, vast green valleys and glacial lakes. This immense mountain is located in the Tachal Region of Kluane First Nation’s traditional territory, or “A Si Keyi” (Grandfathers’ Country in Southern Tutchone). The majority of Kluane people are of Southern Tutchone descent, and many of this First Nation’s members have Tlingit and Northern Tutchone ancestry in their family backgrounds. The predominant Indigenous language spoken today in this region is Southern Tutchone, and it is the language being taught to children in the Kluane area’s communities. The translated equivalent of Southern Tutchone is ‘’people who live beside the tallest mountains’’.
We asked Zac if he could tell us a little about Mount Logan. What makes it so special?
ZR: Mount Logan is the highest mountain in Canada. It's the second-highest in North America. It's located deep within Kluane National Park and Reserve in the southwest corner of Canada's Yukon Territory in the traditional lands of several Southern Tutchone First Nations. The mountain itself is pretty unique; it's pretty special. It's really unrivaled in terms of physical mass. In '92, an RCGS sponsored Geological Survey of Canada expedition using GPS, which was sort of new in those days, determined its height to be 5,959 metres, but the massif itself boasts the largest base circumference of any non-volcanic mountain on the planet.
JA: RCGS stands for “Royal Canadian Geographical Society.”
ZR: Twelve distinct peaks rise from its 20-kilometre long summit plateau, which is all about 5,000 metres, and so it really is an immense mountain. Paddy Sherman in his book, Cloud Walkers, likened it to a cosmic comb because of its great size and its coastal position. It just rakes moisture from the almost countless year-round storms produced over the Pacific.
Average temperatures on the plateau hover around -27oC, and that's in the summer. There really are few places on earth that are as high and cold and remote as Logan and its elevation, its size and its latitude, its coastal position. All of this makes the mountain really a coveted prize for climbers.
Hardly the site you would think for careful and exacting scientific study but yet, for all of its severities, Mount Logan has long been a really productive sight for the advancement of science. From its earliest ascent, which was in 1925, and that was by government surveyors and climbers with the Alpine Club of Canada, to the Arctic Institute of North America's decade-long HAP study, the high-altitude physiology study, which was in the 1970s, right up into the 1980s, which saw the emergence of ice core science on the mountain. And with it began sort of a new chapter for scientific exploration and an adventure.
It's exciting for us to be able to try to contribute to that tradition in whatever extent we can.
Alison Criscitiello (AC): Hi. My name is Alison Criscitiello and I'm the Director of the Canadian Ice Core Lab at University of Alberta, in the Faculty of Science, and I am an ice core scientist and an alpine climber.
JA: The Mount Logan Ice Expedition team is being led by Dr. Alison Criscitiello. Dr. Criscitiello is an ice core scientist. She studies the history of sea ice in polar regions using ice core chemistry, which involves drilling ice cores in places like Antarctica, Alaska, the Canadian High Arctic, and Greenland. She is the Director of the Canadian Ice Core Lab at the University of Alberta, and holds the first PhD in glaciology ever conferred by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
We also asked Alison what makes Mount Logan so special and, more specifically, why it’s a great place for gathering ice core samples.
AC: Outside of the polar regions, there are not very many places that are high enough and cold enough to preserve paleoclimate records. Places that receive no summer melt, they never have positive degree days, even in the height of summer. There are very few places outside of our poles that have the right conditions to preserve these records. There are other things that are required to make something a really ideal ice core site and to allow it to preserve really well the kind of records that we're pulling out of there, such as these sort of dome regions of snow accumulation that have some area where there's very little horizontal ice velocity.
All of these factors exist on Logan, it's very high, it's very cold. The summit plateau region doesn't suffer melt yet and the plateau region has an area that is quite stagnant in terms of ice velocity, which means that we have this undisturbed stratigraphy that we can drill into. There are, of course, some other very high, cold peaks, like Denali just over the border in Alaska, for example, that do exist. There are a couple of other spots, but Logan is pretty unique, and it's also quite important because of what Zac just touched on, this cosmic comb idea.
Where Logan is, in terms of global atmospheric dynamics and where it fits and its potential for preserving records of North Pacific climate variability, is extremely valuable. We have this record that's non-polar, in a really nice location, for telling us something about long-term climate variability in the North Pacific.
JA: We asked Alison what type of information ice core samples can reveal.
AC: Ice cores contain a wealth of information about our past climate. They hold these secrets that are laid down as it snows, and that snow compresses and gets deeper and turns into ice, and they contain so much information! Everything from gas bubbles that trap old air and give us a glimpse into what ancient atmosphere looked like, to preserving pollen particles and dust particles, to the actual liquid chemistry of the ice, which we can analyze and can tell us things about temperature in the past, for example, or even sea surface and sea ice conditions near to that ice core site in the past. They are just these absolutely invaluable records of paleoclimate.
JA: During this expedition, the ice core team will be using ground-penetrating radar and GPS to determine the best location for the actual drilling of the ice core samples. The new ice cores will lead to an evaluation of North Pacific climate variability over the last 10,000 years. The collected ice core samples eventually get airlifted off Mount Logan by helicopter and are stored in -40°C freezers at the Canadian Ice Core Lab, in Edmonton, Alberta.
The first documented ascent of Mount Logan, a joint initiative between the Alpine Club of Canada and the American Alpine Club, happened way back in 1925. Led by Albert H. McCarthy, the international team of climbers began their journey in early May, crossing the mainland from the Pacific coast by train. They then walked over 200 kilometres to the base of the Logan Glacier, where they established base camp. The expedition, 65 grueling days of wilderness travel through Alaska and the Yukon, met success on 23 June 1925.
Zac tells us more…
ZR: In the early 1920s, under the organizational leadership of the Alpine Club of Canada, climbers representing the national alpine club of this country and the United States rally together in what they called the “The Conquest of Mount Logan.” The continental team really went in that same similar spirit that their British counterparts were devoting in the same years of the 1920s to Mount Everest's first ascent.
At the time, Logan was the highest unclimbed peak on the continent, and it really was an extraordinary proposition that in some ways equaled even an Everest. Logan was located over 240 kilometres from the nearest human habitation. It lay in the heart of an immense glaciated region. Not only was the route to the summit unknown, but the way to simply reach the base of the mountain wasn't yet fully understood.
The 1925 endeavour would require a 45-day reconnaissance expedition and it happened the summer before, in 1924. That was immediately followed by a dark two-month-long winter freighting expedition to haul two-and-a-half tons of supplies and provisions to the mountain’s base. Then finally, the climbing expedition began not long after, and that was in early May 1925. By late June, six climbers, three Canadians, three Americans, they were exhausted near frozen, they reached the summit.
According to Chic Scott in his book, Pushing the Limits: The Story of Canadian Mountaineering, he wrote that no mountain in the annals of mountaineering has ever extracted more sweat, suffering and hard work than this one and he's probably right. The descent was equally harrowing, if not more. The team experienced storms on the upper plateau. There was unplanned bivouacs, they had to deal with altitude sickness, snow blindness, frostbite, it was epic in every sense of the word and even actually, when they got off the ice, the group was plagued by misstep and misfortune.
They attempted to build a raft, and thinking that it would be more easy to float down the Chitina River, and that sort of ended poorly. But they had done it, and it made front-page news around the world. It would be another 25 years before the mountain would be even attempted again. It was quite a feat given the time.
JA: One of the climbers, who stood on the summit, was Dominion land surveyor Howard Frederick Lambart, the deputy leader of the climb. Zac tells us more about some of the main goals of the expedition.
ZR: The ascent was the main goal. They collected quite a lot of photographic material, and a lot of different landscape images. The team's deputy leader, Howard Fred Lambart he was a Dominion land surveyor by profession and member of the Geodetic Survey of Canada. He'd spent seven years working on the international boundary survey along the Yukon–Alaska border, using photography in the service of creating highly accurate topographic maps. He was tasked by the Department of the Interior, the federal government, to join the expedition to make a high-resolution photographic survey of the mountains.
The Department of Mines equally contributed by sending along a member, Hamilton Mac Lane, he was a naturalist, to survey the flora and fauna on the approach to the mountain, collecting specimens for Natural History Collections. They were also tasked with shooting a moving picture for a silent film to be produced by the National Museum of Canada, which was called The Conquest of Mount Logan, and it in itself is quite, quite stunning. 1925 is really early, it's early days for silent film and here is this amazing film, black and white, of course, that was shot of this expedition, and they took footage all the way, right to the very top.
So they were doing a handful of different sorts of inventory tasks, whether it was flora or fauna or the landscape, that was all archived by the government. The main task, of course, was to contribute to the larger sort of mountaineering fever that really characterized the 1920s. Again, that was largely characterized by the British in their attempts to climb Mount Everest. The Canadians and Americans felt that they would show their support of that endeavour by doing the most logical thing, and that was climbing Canada's highest mountain.
JA: LAC holds a copy of that silent film that Zac mentioned, The Conquest of Mount Logan, which you can watch on
LAC’s Youtube page. In a moment, we’ll be talking to LAC photo archivist Jill Delaney who’ll give us more details on that and the other amazing material from Fred Lambart that we have in our collection. But, first, we asked Zac to tell us a little more about Lambart.
ZR: Yes, he was a climber, he spent a great deal of time roughing it in the wilderness, and again spent years on the international boundary survey along that Alaska-Yukon border which, so it’s super remote backcountry work. He was also a climber, he was a prolific member of the Alpine Club of Canada. He was from Ottawa, but would come out in the summers to climb. The year before, for example, in 1924, he attended the Alpine Club’s general mountaineering camp at Mount Robson and climbed the mountain with a great Australian guide Conrad Kain. That mountain had been climbed before in 1913, but it hadn't been climbed since 1913 really, until 1924. He was climbing big mountains and had a lot of experience doing this type of work.
JA: Here’s LAC photo archivist Jill Delaney.
Jill Delaney (JD): My name is Jill Delaney, and I'm a photo archivist at Library and Archives Canada. That means that I work with the documentary photography collections that we have here at LAC, and that includes photographs that are used by the Mountain Legacy Project. We've had a partnership with them for 18 years plus now. I met Zac Robinson through Mountain Legacy Project. Mountain Legacy Project has a lot of connections with communities and organizations that are interested in the mountains in Western Canada. So, there was a lot of discussion about the Logan expedition that Zac is participating in.
I think he met up with the lead of the Mountain Legacy Project, Eric Higgs, and then I heard that Zac was coming to Ottawa to look at the Lambart photo albums. I was in touch with him, and I said why don't we meet and had a really good chat, got very excited about mountains and photography, and it went from there.
JA: Started in 1998, and based at the University of Victoria, the Mountain Legacy Project involves repeat photography. This is the process of retaking historical mountain photographs in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Zac and the Mount Logan Ice Expedition team will attempt to retake photographs shot during Mount Logan expeditions in 1925, 1950, 1970, and 1992. The ultimate goal will be to create a new, publicly accessible dataset of paired images, old beside new, that can help document high-altitude landscape change over the last 100 years.
We asked Jill to tell us more about LAC’s photo collection.
JD: Sure. LAC has a mandate to collect documentary photography related to Canadian societies, Canadian histories, and experiences, and that includes Canadian landscapes. We have two main components of the collection: the government collections and the collections we get from private donors. All told, we probably have about 28 million individual photographic items in the holdings, going from the 1840s up to 2016, I would say about now, but a lot of the historical material we have are landscape views.
JA: Part of the landscape photos in LAC’s collection are the Dominion Land Survey photographs. These phototopographic archival photos, which range from the 1880s to the 1950s, are the basis for the Mountain Legacy Project. Of course, since 2016, our collection of photographic items has grown, so that the number Jill mentioned (28 million) will be higher.
Jill tells us more.
JD: Those were started in the mid to late 1880s. The Dominion Land Survey was creating topographic maps right across the country and when they hit the mountains, they knew they needed to come up with a way that would be a more efficient way to try and create topographic maps of Canada. The head of the Dominion Land Survey at that point decided to experiment with a technique that he had heard about in Europe that hadn't been used too much, but used photography; It was called phototopography. They started doing that in the southern mountain ranges and in the National Park areas first, and then it spread from there.
In the end, we have a collection which we took in in 2002 from Natural Resources Canada of between 60,000 and 70,000 glass plate negatives, which document the mountains from the southern border with the US right up to the border with Alaska. It really covers that whole Western Cordillera from the BC and Alberta sides up into the Yukon.
JA: Other groups who use these archival landscape photos are cultural historians, glaciologists, who use them to study the changes in glaciers, and also local communities trying to better understand the landscape around them. We asked Jill to tell us more about Howard Frederick Lambart and the Lambart family fonds, which we have here at LAC.
JD: We actually have two fonds related to the Lambart family. We have the Frederick Lambart fonds, which includes his photographs, including this very large photo album named Vine Lynne, and as well as other photographs, some negatives, and his diaries, which are very interesting, and some other textual documents, financial, family sorts of things. Then we also have another Lambart Family fonds, and that includes a lot of correspondence from the family members and a couple of really beautiful illustrated photographic albums that are quite stunning and quite interesting.
There's lots of historical photographs tintypes and cased items and that go back into the family history, and lots of interesting correspondence related to them being a prominent family in Ottawa over the years. But the most interesting thing for us right now is the photo albums and then Lambart's diaries related to those.
JA: Jill tells us more about the diary…
JD: Fred Lambart kept a diary for, I believe, most of his adult life. The last entry is in 1944 and he passed away in 1946. He was a geodetic surveyor, he went to McGill University as an engineer. Then he worked for the Grand Trunk Railway for a little while, doing some surveys for them, and then he joined the federal government essentially as a surveyor.
In a way, that's the connection to Mountain Legacy Project because part of the survey photographs, the glass plate negative collection that we have, includes some of Lambart's surveys that he did. He did a survey of the Jasper National Park boundary, but he also did a survey of the 141st meridian, which is the border between Alaska and Yukon.
He did a few other surveys as well. He was a huge mountaineer. He was very involved with the Alpine Club of Canada, like Zac, and he loved to be in the mountains. He kept diaries of everyday life. He kept a diary at home, and it would just be a diary of his appointments and any activities he did with his children or with his family, but he also took these diaries with him when he went to do the so-called “Conquest of Mount Logan” in 1925. So, we have a pretty detailed account, day-by-day account, of what was happening during that expedition in 1925.
That's pretty exciting, especially because we can match it up with the photographs that he took. He took a camera as well. He was a very good photographer. He had been trained for the photo topographic survey. He took a camera with him and did quite a lot of photography.
The other members of that expedition team, most of them also had cameras with them. What we have in the Vine Lynne album, which was largely, I think, constructed by Fred, is his photographs from that climb, but also some of the other members gave him some photographs as well.
JA: The 525-page album entitled
Vine Lynne Canada and Abroad contains thousands of photos, including a small selection, around 200, related directly to the 1925 Mount Logan climb. Each photo in the album has been carefully labeled by hand. The photos show all aspects of the expedition, from the actual climbing, to life in the camps, to digging and hauling equipment, and, of course, landscape photos of the mountain itself. It’s these photos that Zac will be attempting to re-create, as part of the Mount Logan Ice Expedition.
Jill tells us more….
JD: It's a very large album. There's probably 520 pages of the album. It's a large album. Something that you would keep at home to document your family history. Unlike the earlier albums that I was talking about, it's not illustrated, but it is full of family photographs from the late 19th century onward, I think. It also includes Fred's photographs from the various expeditions he went on and various mountaineering escapades he had over the years. So, it's a really interesting album in terms of the history of mountaineering in Canada.They're in two parts. He actually has some photographs at the very beginning of the part that's starting with the Logan expedition that are actually photographs taken by the team leader for the expedition, McCarthy. He actually went up and did a reconnaissance mission in 1924 to scope out Mount Logan and see what the best route might be, and he took photographs on that trip. Then, in the winter of 1925, he returned to take a massive amount of equipment and food partway up the mountain so that, when they did the expedition in May and June, they wouldn't have to carry as much. He took a few photographs there as well. Some of those photographs have ended up in the Vine Lynne album as part of the visual story of the expedition.
JA: These photos are almost 100 years old. What sort of condition are they in?
JD: Photographs are in pretty good condition when you think about what they went through. You can read in Lambart's diary, although he doesn't give a lot of detail about the camera that he used, he talks about doing test prints before he left. Because one of the big challenges you can imagine photographing when you're climbing a mountain is that there's going to be a lot of snow and ice around. It's actually really difficult to find the right range and the all the right f-stops and all of those things. He tested a bunch of different films and everything like that before he went, so I think that really helped in the quality of the photographs that he got.
The prints are in very good condition, for the most part. There 's a few that were, I think the negatives were probably a little overexposed or slightly damaged. They hit a lot of bad weather on that expedition. He did have to stash some of the negatives partway up and then go back and get them on the way down. That's basically burying them as a cache in the snow somewhere on the glaciers. All things considered, Lambart almost lost all his toes on that expedition, but he came back with all of his negatives intact so that's pretty good.
JA: How many of these photos are being digitized for the Mount Logan Ice Expedition team?
JD: Right now, I think they're requesting about 50 photographs out of the 200, and that's not because not all of the photographs are interesting. Most of the photographs are quite interesting, but because Zac is planning to do a repeat of those photographs for people to be able to study the change in the glaciers and snow cover, there has to be a way to line up his new photographs with the old photographs. Usually, that's done through landscape forms, right? Like rock out-croppings, distant mountains that you can align it to, that sort of thing. They've mostly focused on those kind of photographs for this particular project as well as a few photographs of the team members on the 1925 expedition.
JA: Are there a lot of photographs in the album showing camp life? Or are there mostly landscape photos?
JD: There are a fair number of them in fact. There's, I think Lambart and some of the other members who took cameras with them would take a photograph every time they pitched a new camp. The only exception to that is probably on the way down from the summit, they had to spend one night burrowed in the snow, and so there's no photographs from that because they were basically just trying to survive at that point. But there's a photograph right at the summit, and there 's photographs on the way up and on the way down. They show the encampments and the different members and what they're doing. They also show just some views that they were seeing as they went up.
Lambart might stay a little bit behind so that he could photograph the team pulling the sleds up the ice or something like that. For me, it's a really interesting combination. You can read his diary, and then you can look at the photographs and you can follow it along very well between the diary entries and the photographs that are in the album now.
JA: To see some of the photos that Lambart took in 1925, head over to our
Flickr gallery, where you’ll see a selection of his landscape shots as well as photographs of the members of the expedition team in camp. You’ll find the link to the Flickr gallery on the episode page for this podcast. Here’s Zac telling us about the challenges of climbing Mount Logan back in 1925, and the challenges that climbers tackling Logan today still face.
ZR: Some of the challenges in 1925, first and foremost was they just didn't know where the mountain was, so that took a long time to sort out. Once getting there, big-mountain climbing was a really new thing in 1925. The Brits were going to Everest in 1921-22 and again in 24. But, aside from these expeditions, climbers really hadn't sorted out altitude and what those really high elevations, how they affected the body. All of that stuff was still being sorted out. Add to that the fact that in the instance of Logan then as of now, it is a very big high Northern Arctic mountain. The elevation, the climate, just the winter cold, the severities of it all just made it an extreme, extreme winter camping challenge.
That's not adding in all of the hazards that come along with glacier travel that, associated with avalanches and snow etc. They were figuring it out as they went along and they had an enormous amount of gear and supplies, two tons. They were in snowshoes. They weren't really yet using skis for this type of work, which were more cumbersome and difficult especially when you're hauling massive loads on big sleds. When you see some of those black and white images of these guys on snow slopes all working together hauling a rope, like some tug of war imagery pulling up these huge big wooden heavy pokes filled with boxes, wooden crates of kerosene fuel and stoves and bags of flour and other types, you just go, “Oh, that could not have been easy!” and so, they had it really tough.
The mountain is more or less the same today in many of those attributes. But, of course, we have lighter gear; we have a better understanding of snow and avalanche dynamics; we have maps and GPS units; we have instant communication these days. That said, Logan is still really remote and even for climbers that visit there today, it's tough if you need help. A rescue is not something that you can just call and quickly get: it can sometimes takes weeks for people to get in there to help you. You really are alone and have to prepare accordingly.
JA: Here’s Alison.
AC: In general, mostly just from looking at photos of 1920s expeditions, and this one in particular, it was in a very basic way and, in my mind, a technological feat. We have such incredible tools now that didn't exist in the early 1900s, that make it seem almost like an easy endeavour when you compare the equipment, the clothing, and the technical tools that we have now compared to then. Now, in terms of challenges, even though we do have wonderful equipment and tools and clothing, still—having stood on top before and felt completely defeated, it's just a massive, massive mountain that is so cold.
You feel the altitude very severely because of the latitude of the peak. Standing on the summit plateau of Logan's, can feel to the body much higher than being thousands of feet higher. It just really takes a toll on the body, and the storms that the peak sees—the reason, in fact, that it's a really great site for preserving a climate record—means that it sees a lot of snow and a lot of storms, and they're the exact same things that make it a very hard and harsh place to be. I don't know that I've ever been on such a beastly peak, even compared to some much higher in the Himalayas.
JA: Along with Zac and Alison, the rest of the Mount Logan Ice Expedition climbing team consists of climate scientists and glaciologist from the University of Maine and the California Institute of Technology, as well as a representative from the Alpine Club of Canada. Zac tells us more about the expedition and its objectives and how they are preparing for it.
ZR: We are a group of seven folks, and it's a multi-disciplinary initiative, the initiative as a whole. We've got several different objectives Our primary objectives are, the first being what Alison and her group are leading up and that's to drill a new high-resolution ice core on the summit plateau for the Canadian Ice Core Lab, which is our national ice core repository.
Second objective is to measure, or to re-measure, the elevation of the main summit, which was again measured in 1992 at 5,959 meters, as well as its various subsummits if we're able. Our third objective is to try to re-photograph many of the historic images taken on that particular route and of the upper summit Plateau taken in 1925, many of which were Lambart's images, but also taken during the second ascent in 1950, an ascent in 1969, in the centennial year, and then taken in 1992, in order to survey potential rates of landscape change on a larger century-scale. Then lastly, our objective is just to communicate widely, widely as we can anyway, what we can learn about this iconic mountain and the changes occurring on its slope.
We're a hodgepodge group of interesting folks from different interesting backgrounds. We've got climate scientists and glaciologists. I'm a historian. We've got representatives from the Alpine Club of Canada joining with us, Toby Harper-Merrett is the Vice President of the Alpine Club of Canada, from Montreal, Quebec, and he's joining us and will be helping me primarily with the re-photography project and some of the re-measurement initiative. We're all going to try to work together because we all have similar overlapping projects, which in its whole, they all in different ways seek to preserve and advance knowledge about climate and about change on Canada's highest peak. I think we'll all need to help because it's a hard mountain just to climb, let alone to do these different sorts of projects. It will be a fun trip, and I think we'll all have the benefit of learning lots from each other, too.
JA: How long will the expedition take?
ZR: To climb the mountain, given its elevation, it's usually about a three-week trip. It takes 14, 15, 16 days on average if you have really good conditions and weather, and that's following a conservative acclimatization plan. What you would do for a trip such as this is that, from the base, you would climb up a little bit higher above your base camp with some supplies and you would drop them. You'd get a gulp of that elevation, and then you'd ski back down to your base and you'd sleep, sleep low. Then the next day, you might move your camp to where you pushed that gear up the day before, sleep there.
Then the next day, push some gear a little bit higher up the mountain, come back down, sleep low, then move your camp up and slowly work your way up, giving your body a chance to acclimatize, as well as getting all of that, the food and gas and supplies up the peak which you'll need if you're going to be spending 14, 15 days there.
Usually, though, on a trip such as this on a mountain like this, you don't have perfect weather and conditions the entire time, and so there'll be times when we'll be hanging out in our tents, whether playing cards or reading books and just waiting out bad weather. Typically, most trips such as this one, it's usually about three weeks, but we're planning to take 20 days’ worth of food and fuel with us, plus a five-day food cache.
It's also tricky to get… most people nowadays will fly to the base of the mountain in a small fixed-wing plane with skis, and it takes a little bit of time to get everybody in. But likewise, it also can potentially take a little bit of time to get everybody out because you need really good weather to fly. You typically take a little bit more extra supplies as a bit of a buffer in case you're delayed on getting out. All in all, it is about usually, and given the projects that we're working on, it's about a month in total.
JA: Zac tells us more about repeat photography, the type of equipment he will be using, and how the new photos will be used.
ZR: Yes, repeat photography provides a really nice window for viewing the same place at different moments in time. It's accomplished by positioning cameras in the same location as the, in this case, the historic surveyor or climber. In the field, we're going to use a lightweight mirrorless camera system, a Fujifilm X-T3, which affords really excellent image quality as well as a field-friendly design. Those two things are key for the project. I also plan to document the work with environmental and locational measurements, so portable weather instrumentation, GPS, field notes all in accordance to current repeat photography methodologies.
Keeping the camera warm is key especially if we get temperatures that are colder than minus 25, and so I've got different heated packs for the camera gear. The other thing about this with, in terms of the cameras, it's not just the temperatures, it's the moisture. Because it's getting really cold and then you're taking stuff into tents which can get actually quite warm, a lot warmer than you’d think when you get everybody bundled in there and stoves start purring away, and you get big moisture fluctuations. A large challenge in trips like this is just managing that moisture.
Certainly just for your clothing systems for one, but especially for any of the electronics. That's something that I'm going to have to be really attentive to. Extra batteries, keeping the batteries warm, the cold really quickly kills the batteries, so keeping those batteries, sometimes in a really cold day keeping the battery in an inside pocket and then putting the battery in just when you go to shoot. Having backup cameras, therefore, is really important in case the electronics fail due to the temperature or if you do have a battery that dies on you.
I'll have a phone which has a pretty good camera and I also have a small handheld, really small digital camera, which I'll be bringing as well. I think between the three of those it should work out fairly well. As well as, in addition to the cameras, a small lightweight tripod. Aside from that not too much other equipment. Small portable solar panels, which have come a long way actually in the last decade or two. They're actually pretty good. So, I'll be able to recharge batteries in the field. I’ll bring a small battery bank as well as a backup.
All in all, not that much equipment, but quite a lot of equipment when you consider that we have to carry everything on our backs. When I say everything I mean our tent, our pots, our stoves, our fuel, our food, our sleeping bags, everything. It all adds up and so you really do have to be conscious about weight and what's reasonable.
JA: What can repeat photography tell us?
ZR: Good question. Well, like the polar regions, mountains respond really rapidly and intensely to climatic and environmental variation. So much so that they've increasingly become recognized today by both social and natural scientists as sentinels for change. They are harbingers of what's to come in our warming planet. Recently collected meteorological data from the St. Elias region generally have shown us that warming rates are occurring there six times higher than the global average, which far exceeded past elevations. We also know that the Pacific Ocean is warming and rapidly, and therefore that's causing a huge change in terms of precipitation and climate.
All of this makes the proposition of using historic imagery to see and display century-scale environmental change an exciting one. The archive of historic material is both extensive and, up until this point, really unutilized for this particular purpose. Our primary goal of the photography project will be to create a dataset of paired images from Logan and to make those images and the stories that they may tell accessible as possible.
We're going to have post all of them on an open online gallery and that's the Mountain Legacy Project's Explore website, which is a really cool map-based interactive viewing platform for investigating century-scale climate-driven shifts in Canada's mountains. There is great tools on that website. You can run a cursor back and forth across a particular image and see the older image superimposed on the new image, and you can move back and forth so that you can get a really good idea of that change, whether it's a thickening of a forest or a rising tree line or a recession of a glacier.
Primarily, that's the goal is to get these things posted so people can see them and people can use them. We also want to document our own field processes and experiences with photography and journalism to tell strong stories about environmental and landscape change, as well as the history of climbing and science on Logan.
JA: To visit the Mountain Legacy Project website, where you can view thousands of high-resolution historic mountain photographs and a vast and growing collection of repeat images, go to
explore.mountainlegacy.ca. There you will find a map-based tool allowing you to investigate their collection. Clicking on a map point will show historic and modern comparative photographs.
ZR: Yes, it's been fun to use these images in these days, particularly the really old stuff, because a part of the impetus of those pictures, a part of the larger context of those early photographs, was very much wrapped up in the larger colonial project that was occurring in Canada in the early 20th century. They were really a part of that map-making project, that project of claiming and delineating space by settlers for the nation. So many of those early stories, as I mentioned earlier, they're just devoid of the peoples who were living there at the time, Indigenous peoples. Reading a lot of these accounts, so many of these accounts, they aggrandized these rugged individual achievements that are so often represented as these incredible feats off on the fringes of Empire in unknown lands and all of this silly stuff. So, it must be horrifically insulting for Indigenous Peoples to hear these stories, and the photographs are part of those larger processes, and so to be able to take that material and be able to turn it on its head and use it for these ends here and now as we're dealing with very different issues in a different time, is in some way, to my mind, a bit redemptive. That's one thing that we didn't mention is that it's been really at the front end of our trip and in the process of planning, and so maybe this is something that we can maybe talk about a little bit more when we reconnect in June for the second part. We have reached out and are in conversations with various First Nations communities for whom Mount Logan is in their traditional lands. Like everybody, folks up in the north are really interested and concerned about climate change and the change that's occurring in their backyard and they know it because they live there and they're living with that change.
So we're hoping that we can incorporate some of those communities in the project, even at the front end of things as well.
JA: Stay tuned for a follow up episode where we will re-connect with Zac and Alison after they have come back from the expedition. We’ll see how the repeat photography went, and what’s up next for the 2022 expedition.
If you'd like to learn more about H.F. Lambart and the photo collection here at Library and Archives Canada, please visit us online at bac-lac.gc.ca. On the episode page for this podcast, you will find a number of links related to the Lambart Family fonds, the Mount Logan Ice Expedition, and the Mountain Legacy Project. There you will also find a link to our Flickr album, which highlights a selection of photos from the Vine Lynne album.
Thank you for being with us. I'm Josée Arnold, your host. You've been listening to “Discover Library and Archives Canada—where Canadian history, literature and culture await you.” A special thank-you to our guests today, Dr. Zac Robinson, Dr. Alison Criscitiello and Jill Delaney. Special thanks also to Isabel Larocque for her contributions to this episode.
This episode was produced and engineered by David Knox.
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There's even a little bit, you get a sense in the, in the diary. I've read Lambart's diary. I've read McCarthy's account and one of the others very brief account and there are some differences there. Also, Lambart writes a little bit about the tensions that happened between the members of the expedition, they didn't always agree absolutely on everything that they were doing. Sometimes they had some really difficult decisions to make when the weather got bad and when they were trying to reach the summit. They had to make decisions about what equipment and food they would take with them further or what they would leave behind? Who would go up? Who would go back and forth?
One of the interesting things was that, even though this was such a struggle to do this expedition, there are entries in there where Lambart talks about the beauty of the landscape, and just the beauty of the ice formations, and what they're seeing. And then, if they would hit a point where they could overlook and see mountain ranges forever, because Mount Logan, the location of Mount Logan it’s fairly remote. It's close to this Alaska-Yukon border, but it's quite a remote location and it's extremely mountainous.
The other thing that happened is that he, Lambart, made it to the top two others didn't quite make it to the top and had to turn back very late in the game, unfortunately. Lambart made it to the top but he was really suffering. On the way back down, he actually started having hallucinations. He hallucinated that they were in the middle of yet another blinding snowstorm, fog, snow blizzard conditions, and he started to think that he could see a farm and he could see the fences and he could see the farm buildings off in the distance. He knew this wasn't true, but it was just there in his head and it seemed very clear to him. I think it also gave him a sense of what a terrible condition he was in at that point, but, yes.