In the summer of 1987, two world-class mountaineers vanished while climbing Canada’s tallest mountain.
Dave Cheeseman of Calgary and Catherine Freer of Boulder, Col., were taking a rarely-scaled path up Mount Logan when it was feared they were missing, since they were late in returning.
There was a search for the two but they were never discovered — until last week, it appears.
Last Thursday, a helicopter carrying staff from Kluane National Park, where Logan is situated, flew over the mountain. “It was spotted from the air,” Rick Staley, a warden at the park, said today.
“It” is a body spotted on a narrow section of the mountain called Knife Edge Ridge. “It’s a real hazardous, extreme terrain,” Staley said of the ridge.
However, despite seeing the body, the helicopter could not touch down anywhere near it. Staley said some spots of Knife Edge Ridge in that area are .6 metres (two feet) wide with 1,200-metre (4,000-foot) cliffs on either side. The body was spotted somewhere around 4,300 metres in elevation.
The helicopter was forced to return without getting a look at the body. The route Cheeseman and Freer took 13 years ago, called Hummingbird Ridge, is considered one of the most difficult on Mount Logan. That path had only been successfully taken once, in 1965.
Staley, who was involved in the 1987 search for the missing climbers, said it’s believed the body is either Cheeseman’s or Freer’s because they’re the only people who’ve disappeared in that area.
“It’s the only people that we know of the went missing there,” Staley said. Nobody has successfully scaled that path since 1965.
Those who’ve gone up the path since 1987 have not ventured that far. As well, others have gotten onto the path, but they’ve hooked up with it beyond this point, thus the body wouldn’t have been spotted.
Staley said because of the precarious spot where the body was sighted, it will not be recovered. “It wouldn’t be worth putting other people’s lives at risk,” Staley said. He said it could be obtained if the body melts and falls out but not from where it is currently.
Staley has spoken to the families of Freer and Cheeseman and explained why the body cannot be retrieved at this time. “They’re comfortable with our decision.”
In 1987, park wardens had tried to fly in food to the climbers part-way up their journey. However, when their camp was found, all that was discovered was ropes, packs and a tent hanging off a broken cornice. There was a drop of 1,525 metres from the cornice.
Staley pointed out both were experienced, high-calibre climbers. Between the two of them, they had taken on Mount Everest and K-2 in the Himalayas. “Both of them were world-class mountaineers.”
Staley said this is one of the major climbs in the world. “That’s why it doesn’t even get attempted very often,” Staley said of the Hummingbird Ridge route.
By Jason Small