Hiking the High Line

The Yukon Alpine Centennial Expedition (Y.A.C.E.) 1967

Saskatchewan Glacier August 17th, 1966 : Primary source of the North Saskatchewan River
Saskatchewan Glacier August 17th, 1966

The Yukon Alpine Centennial Expedition was a monumental climbing expedition organized by the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) to celebrate Canada’s centennial. It was the largest coordinated group climb in Canadian history. The expedition consisted of three phases:

Phase one: A joint Canadian- American climb of the south summit of Mount Vancouver which straddles the Alaska-Yukon border known as Good Neighbor Peak. This climb would celebrate Canada’s centennial as well as the centennial of the Alaska Purchase. Two four member teams would climb, one American and the other Canadian. This was accomplished rather quickly, although the team was trapped for a time on descent by poor weather.

Helicopter at Mount Wood Camp : August 11th, 1967
Helicopter at Mount Wood Camp

Phase two: 13 four climber groups (52 climbers in all) would attempt 13 unclimbed peaks in the newly named centennial range. A mountain for each province and territory in Canada (Nunavut would not become a territory until 1999) and one called Centennial Peak. Eleven of 13 were successfully summited. Ascents of Mount Saskatchewan and Mount Manitoba were unsuccessful. Despite several later expeditions, Mount Saskatchewan still has not had a successful ascent.

Phase three: The third and final phase of the Y.A.C.E. was the general mountaineering camp, staged at the foot of the Steele Glacier during the last two weeks of July ( one group of over 100 climbers) and the first two weeks of August (a second group of over 100 climbers). Over 19 peaks were climbed and of these 14 were first ascents.

Hodgson Glacier & Mount Walsh from helicopter : August 11th, 1967
Hodgson Glacier & Mount Walsh from helicopter

Bill was involved in the third phase, the general camp at the Steele glacier, and his photos are from this event. This camp would attract more than 200 climbers many from Europe, the USA, as well as Canadians. Bill isn't credited with a first ascent however – Bill in a group led by Peter Fuhrmann summited 15,885 ft. Mount Wood on August 10, 1967, Canada's 7th highest peak. In a description of that climb from “Expedition Yukon”, a book edited by Marnie Fisher, Neil McCubbin recalls, “We took turns breaking trail but the lion's share was done by Bill Hurst, who seemed immune to altitude, slope, and deep snow.” (p.143)

Intense lobbying by the ACC and others led to the establishment of Kluane National Park and Reserve in 1972 protecting the St. Elias range. In 1979, the Park and bordering parks in Alaska and B.C. were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mount Wood and reflection : August 3rd, 1967
Mount Wood and reflection
Fynn Creek Camp : August 1, 1970
Fynn Creek Camp
Howser Spires : Gerry Brown at Howser Spires August 1970
Howser Spires