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AWG WEEK: The Games Reach New Heights

AWG WEEK: The Games Reach New Heights

It's 1972, the second Arctic Winter Games. And five mountain climbers have gone missing.
By Herb Mathisen
Mar 13
From the March 2018 Issue

As athletes arrived in Whitehorse for the second games on Sunday, March 9, 1972, a group of five mountain climbers—with representatives from the NWT, Yukon, Alaska and Northern Quebec—were on the move. On Saturday night, they had radioed in to Whitehorse from 8,000 feet up a mountain, stating that the next day they planned to scale the previously unclimbed and unnamed peak, 150 miles west of the capital. Once atop the summit, they were to plant an Arctic Winter Games flag there and officially name the mountain to commemorate the games.

Whitehorse awaited the triumphant news on Sunday. But there was nothing. An aircraft flying over the area reported high winds and heavy snowfall below, so games officials assumed the group had hunkered down for the day. Perhaps their radio equipment had frozen too. But there was silence all day Monday. And again on Tuesday. The daily Ulu News, which proudly gave front-page real estate to the expedition in its first edition, now relegated coverage to paragraph-long briefings on the climb, with cryptic headlines like “Mountaineers still silent.” Finally, on Wednesday morning, a Beaver aircraft was dispatched to attempt to locate the missing climbers.

Success! Mostly...

That afternoon, a helicopter landed in Whitehorse and its pilot was photographed piggybacking Jim Boyde, the NWT representative, across the tarmac to a waiting car. Boyde had third-degree frostbite to his feet and was rushed to hospital. But the expedition had completed its goal. They reached the peak early Monday evening, with the wind howling at 30 miles per hour and the temperature a cool -25 C. They planted the games flag and “horsed around and took pictures,” according to Louis Lambert, the Quebec climber, before descending to camp at 8,000 feet, where they stayed until the Beaver pilot found them.

So, reporters asked, what’s the mountain’s name? Well, they didn’t have that figured out yet. Some were adamant it be Mount Ulu, after the medals given out at the games. Others wanted to call it Mount Igloo, because they had to build an iglu at every camp along the way.

Eventually they settled on Ulu Mountain, which remains the summit’s name to this day.