Walsh, Steele, Donjek: climb, ski, walk, float
Words by Jeff Crompton, photos and video by Graham Kraft
On May 15, we flew up from Kluane Lake with pilot Thom of Icefields Discovery. The group was Jeff Crompton, Flavien Beaud, Adrien Gilbert, and Graham Kraft. It took two flight to get us all in. There was forest fire haze in the air, unseasonably warm temperatures (freezing line getting above ~3,000m in May) and not a cloud in the forecast for the foreseeable future. We landed below the northwest ridge of Mt. Walsh and went for a nice evening tour.
The next day we decided to take a leisurely start up Walsh, thinking that it would be good acclimatization for Steele. It didn’t look too big, but the scale is deceiving up there. We had a really nice climb up the northwest ridge, which is a bit exposed in sections. We had to use snow protection on one ~60m section. We also found and kept a picket at the end of the ridge. The ridge ended up taking way longer than expected. After the ridge, it’s a long walk to the summit. Adrien and I crapped out with altitude around ~4,250m, but Graham and Flavien carried on to the summit. We skied back down (had to walk to ridge) and arrived at camp around 11 p.m. In hindsight, we should have properly acclimatized, and we underestimated the amount of time that we would spend at altitude.
The following day Flavien and I went for a really nice and recommended tour up Jedken. This would be a great option for day one acclimatizing! We all spent the next two days heading up the Walsh plateau, up and over the “fucking hill,” which looks small but is really quite a big knoll at 4,300m.
On May 20 we started up the southeast face of Steele. There was a fun section of ridge near the bottom of the face, and a bit of steep icy cramponing above a big bergshrund to get to the ridge. It was beautiful, steep and straightforward once on the face: up and up to the summit. We found and kept another picket that was left just below the summit…score! From the summit, we skied down the face, dropping in from the shoulder just to the north of the face. The snow was icy in spots and balled ice in most. The skiing is not recommended, as we had a near miss with edges slipping out above an endless icefall. Back to camp below the face at around 10 p.m.
The next day we skied back down the plateau, grabbed our gear from the earlier camp, and covered another bunch of kilometers for a most enjoyable experience. We woke up very early the next morning to catch some frozen bridges where the snow line ran out in crevasse central for a least enjoyable experience. The next three days were tough travel navigating massive ice dunes and crevasse fields filled with beautiful surface lakes. We stayed glacier right and found a nice moraine to walk down for a bit, but as often as this glacier surges, it is likely in constant change and this moraine may be not so good in a few years. We finally exited the glacier up from the terminus on glacier right, and walked down a beautiful valley to the Donjek River.
The next day we floated down to the lake at the terminus…amazing! but the river got nasty here as it flows through a canyon for a ways past the terminus, so the next day we walked. After two days of floating out the Donjek River, we arrived back at the highway for an easy hitchhike back to Kluane Lake. Superb country all the way through.