That time when hundreds of climbers tackled Yukon’s remote St. Elias Range – North

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…

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