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After 8 rescues in 7 years, Parks Canada has new rules for climbing Canada’s highest peak

Lisel Currie and Carl Nagy ski roped together on King Trench route of Mt Logan, Mt St Elias in background, Kluane National Park, Yukon in this handout image provided by Pat Morrow.  .
Lisel Currie and Carl Nagy ski roped together on King Trench route of Mt Logan, Mt St Elias in background, Kluane National Park, Yukon in this handout image provided by Pat Morrow. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Pat Morrow

Parks Canada has brought in new rules for climbers on the country’s highest peak after having to rescue eight people in seven years.

The rules, which are posted on the agency’s website, include a ban on solo climbing on 5,959-metre Mount Logan and a moratorium on winter mountaineering expeditions in Kluane National Park in Yukon.

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Climbers are also required to have insurance to cover search-and-rescue costs for any trip in the park’s Icefield Ranges before they are issued a permit.

“It’s an incredibly beautiful place and we still want people to come visit and experience all national parks, including Kluane, and we also want to make sure, when they do, that it’s safe,” said Ed Jager, director of visitor experience with Parks Canada.

He said that includes safety for both visitors and the teams who have to rescue people when something goes wrong.

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Jager said the moratorium on winter travel runs from Nov. 15 to March 15. Solo climbing won’t be allowed until further notice.

“Both of those combined together are because of increased rescues that we’ve been seeing,” he said. “Those two factors — time of year and being alone — make expeditions more complicated, more difficult and increase the chance that a rescue might be required.”

Climbers who want to do an expedition in the Icefield Ranges from late March to mid-November require a permit from Parks Canada.

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“We are adding a condition to the permit that you must have search- and-rescue insurance,” said Jager. “If you do require a rescue, we will be asking you to pay through your insurance.”

He said the eight rescue missions in the last seven years have cost between $60,000 and $100,000 each.

“It’s a complex operation.”

The insurance requirement reduces the burden on taxpayers who usually end up picking up the cost of rescues.

Jager said there’s no plan to expand the rules to other national parks.

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“The circumstances of Kluane are unique,” he explained. “There’s the isolation. The place where people are getting rescued from is 100 kilometres from the nearest road.

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“There’s the altitude. There’s no other place in Canada where you have all these peaks over 5,000 metres where helicopters don’t work well and you need to significantly change your approach to rescue. There’s very, very few people in that part of the world.”

He said about 120 people do expeditions in the area annually and about 35 of them climb Mount Logan.

Pat Morrow, a well-known climber who has climbed Mount Logan twice since the 1990s, said the rules sound appropriate.

“It’s totally reasonable that they are re-examining the rules of climbing up there,” he said.

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Morrow said he has skied and climbed extensively in the Rockies and has done four expeditions in the Saint Elias mountains in Yukon.

“The scale and seriousness of travel through the Saint Elias is significantly greater, not to mention the severity of the weather,” he said. “It’s right on the north side of the Gulf of Alaska and it just gets blasted by big wind and snowstorms, even in the summertime.”

The risks, particularly for solo climbers, include icefield crevasses and avalanches.

The distance to start an expedition adds another element of risk, Morrow said.

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“It makes eminent sense that there should be adjustments to the high costs — actual monetary costs and the potential costs of losing rescuers’ lives or even injuries.”