Capturing the Summit, Hamilton Mack Laing and the Mount Logan Expedition of 1925 by Trevor Marc Hughes

At 8:45 pm on May 8, 1925, a team consisting of eight mountaineers and one naturalist arrived by train at McCarthy, Alaska—the end of the rail line and the beginning of their journey on foot across the border into Yukon Territory where the mountaineers’ quest to ‘conquer’ the summit of Mount Logan, the highest mountain in Canada, would continue, and Hamilton Mack Laing, hired by the Victoria Memorial Museum, Dept. of Mines, Ottawa as Junior Zoologist and cinematographer from April 15 to August 15 would continue to carry out his duties for the expedition and the museum.

The expedition had been two years in the planning. It was sponsored by the Alpine Club of Canada, American Alpine Club and the Alpine Club of England, and financed by the Dominion of Canada, Great Britain and the United States. In the mountaineers’ party were: Albert MacCarthy (expedition leader), H.F. Lambart (deputy leader), Allan Carp (official recorder), Andy Taylor (guide), William Foster (medic) and volunteers Henry Hall, H. Read and Robert Morgan.

On June 23rd, 1925 six of the eight mountaineers would accomplish their goal but not reach the end of their harrowing ordeals. That would happen in mid-July after a search party had been convened back in McCarthy by Taylor to search for three of their party who’d been separated from the others several days before during what was supposed to be a relatively smooth leg of the journey but proved to be yet another life-sapping experience for those three, who were missing.

Laing, after accompanying the mountaineers to Trail End eight miles beyond a place called Hubrick’s Camp, taking photos and film of them writing final letters to their loved ones, and parting with them as they struck out for the Logan massif on May 18th, would continue his work alone, based in Hubrick’s Camp. During his time there, he would also meet multiple challenges but had only himself to rely on.

Albert MacCarthy had done reconnaissance with Andy Taylor and Miles Atkinson in June the year before and knew something of the beginning of their route in the Yukon but little about Mount Logan, located in the Elias Range, whose remoteness and…nature as the highest coastal range in the world made it uniquely dangerous and subject to erratic weather patterns. For his part, Laing knew nothing of what awaited him in the Chitina River valley, where Hubrick’s Camp was located. Where MacCarthy’s reconnaissance would prove helpful in the beginning of the mountaineers’ climb, it could not predict or prepare them for the incredible ordeals they would have to face. And where Laing’s independent nature and love of nature would sustain him in part, it would not save him from having to face what the forbidding territory of the inhospitable valley and the slopes that surrounded it would pitch at him.

In the introduction to the book, author Trevor Hughes details what captured the continuing interest in Laing that led him to research and write these intertwining stories. In the body of the book, he switches between the mountaineers’ climb and the naturalist’s experiences as each strove to complete their assigned tasks. In the afterword, we learn about the culture and mindsets of Laing’s time and what they and his accomplishments meant then, and led to now.

These are stories of journeys beyond formidable undertaken by men who carried the loads they’d accepted with a sober realization they may not meet their goals. Indeed, fairly early in the climb due to frozen toes, one of the mountaineers elected to quit with another selflessly volunteering to accompany him back to civilization. The other six marched on, alternatively struggling with snowshoes and crampons while their fingers and feet froze and barriers of mythic proportions rose before them and storms of unbelievable force assaulted them. Their strength in the ensuing weeks almost unimaginable. While Laing in his solitude faced loneliness, frustration, exhaustion, blinding dust storms, infuriating swarms of mosquitos, and the possibility of being mauled by bears with resourcefulness, resilience, and even humour.

While at times I felt like I was reading a textbook with a myriad of names and details I am bound to soon forget, the author’s understanding of the subjects and of the humans involved in the expedition drew me into the stories completely. He writes with a strong sense of the epic that at times leaves one holding one’s breath with anticipation or fear, at times wanting to clap and cheer for the participants out loud, and at times smiling or even chuckling at an event that feels well-deserved, or shows the resourceful strategies used to circumvent a potential downfall or to amuse the person or persons involved.

Perhaps what Hughes portrays most clearly in the telling of these stories is that the legacies of the Mount Logan expedition and Hamilton Laing’s Yukon nature studies go far beyond the stories themselves. They are monumental stories played out in a monumental land that resulted in knowledge that has influenced important policies regarding nature in the present and will continue to influence such policies into the future. In this reviewer’s opinion, Capturing the Summit, Hamilton Mack Laing and the Mount Logan Expedition of 1925 could be an important textbook in the study of Canadian history. One that will endure through history.


About the Author

Trevor Marc Hughes is a historian, writer and filmmaker. He began exploring the history of British Columbia while riding his motorcycle across the province. He has produced and directed two documentary films and is currently working on a third documentary about his grandfather’s younger days on the Fraser River. He lives in Vancouver, BC. www.trevormarchughes.ca 

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Ronsdale Press (June 1 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1553806808
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1553806806

Since graduating from the Banff Centre Book Editing Program in 1996, Jocelyn has explored all facets of book-making. She is a published author of fiction and non-fiction, an editor, and the founder of two presses established to produce three anthologies that together contain the work of 66 British Columbia writers and artists. Since 2012, she has also written book reviews of children’s books for Canadian Materials Magazine. You  can see more about her on her website:

https://www.peregrinpublishing.com

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