North

Climbers make 1st winter ascent of Yukon's Mount Wood

Pascale Marceau and Lonnie Dupre reached Canada's 6th-highest peak on Monday.

Pascale Marceau and Lonnie Dupre reached Canada's 6th-highest peak on Monday

Mountaineers Lonnie Dupre and Pascale Marceau at the summit of Yukon's Mount Wood, elevation 4,842 metres, on Monday. (Submitted by Pascale Marceau)

It wasn't their first choice of peaks to climb this winter — but Canadian mountaineer Pascale Marceau and her American climbing partner Lonnie Dupre aren't complaining.

On Monday, they completed the first-ever winter ascent of Yukon's Mount Wood, Canada's sixth-highest peak.

And Marceau says she's the first woman to climb a peak in the sub-Arctic circle, in winter.

"There are a lot of other giants around, like [Mounts] Denali, Logan, St. Elias. They have been summitted in the winter, but not by a woman — so this is the first," Marceau said. 

Mount Wood wasn't even their original goal. The duo initially had their sights on Mount Lucania, Canada's third-highest peak and also part of the St. Elias range.

They attempted a winter ascent of Lucania a year ago, but aborted that expedition when they had problems with their sleeping bags. This year, they would try again.

Canada's highest mountains — including Logan, Lucania and Wood — are in the St. Elias mountain range in Kluane National Park. (Michael Schmidt)

Then they saw the lay of the land. A reconnaissance flight over Mount Lucania earlier this month showed them no clear way to the peak.

"So then we went to plan B — Mount Wood," Marceau said. 

"We felt good," Dupre said. "We landed, we got all our gear out of the plane, got camp set up nice and cozy, and then we started carrying our supplies up this ridge."

"The weather was on our side this time — we had nice, sunny weather during the day," Dupre said.

Once the summit was within reach, things changed. High winds obscured their route and it looked like they might have to turn back before reaching the top.

"It was such an emotional roller coaster, that disappointment... So I had a big crying fest that evening," Marceau said.

The next morning, the wind was still howling and so the pair broke camp and prepared to begin their descent. Dupre says they were about to set off when the weather started to calm.

Marceau making the ascent of Mount Wood. she says it was 'an emotional roller coaster.' (Submitted by Pascale Marceau)

"The peak opened up and we looked at each other and went, 'all right, let's go,'" Dupre recalls.

"All we carried was a little food in our pockets and some drinking water, and five hours later, after some really fast and hard climbing, we made it to the summit."

A brief stay

There was a brief moment of triumph before they turned back. It was bitterly cold and windy, and they didn't want to push their luck.

"We'd been advised to get off the mountain as soon as we could, because the winds were coming up, and then there was a storm coming off the Pacific and we'd be socked in probably for five or six days. So, we were motivated," Marceau said.

In Whitehorse a few days later, they said they were "still numb" — and grateful to have made it up and back safely.

Dupre and Marceau in Whitehorse, 'still numb' from their adventure, and already thinking about the next one. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

They also mused about returning next year to attempt Lucania again. Dupre says he can't help but think ahead.

"You start forgetting about the hardship — you know, about being hungry, dirty, tired," he said.

"We're all out there trying to do a few cool things here in our life, and try to not get too bored or sit on the couch too long."

With files from Sandi Coleman

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