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Pemberton teen completes Mount Logan climb

Naomi Prohaska youngest to summit Yukon mountain

Just getting to the top of Canada's highest mountain is an accomplishment.

But to be the youngest, at just age 15, to do it only adds to it.

Pemberton's Naomi Prohaska, along with her dad Rich, an experienced guide, Whistler adventurer Holly Walker and two clients all traversed the 5,959 metres of Yukon Territory's Mount Logan to the top on May 24 after three weeks of climbing.

"It hasn't completely sunken in yet," said Naomi.

"Because it was such a big deal for me, it's hard to accept that something like that is over. It's weird, I kind of thought I'd feel different or something. You have these big expectations, but it's cool thinking about the whole experience and how much work I put into making it to the top."

When summitting, aside from recognizing there was still plenty of work to be done — the entire descent, of course, lay ahead — Prohaska also realized the scale of her accomplishment and an appreciation for Canada's vastness.

"It is crazy how big the glaciers are. They were so much bigger than any of the ones I've seen on the coast," she said. "When I got to the top, I was thinking about our flight into the mountain and how long it had taken to get there. I was looking around to see how far I could see and just how there's nothing... There's no civilization. Thinking of how few people were within a 100-kilometre radius of us was crazy."

Prohaska didn't have any mountaineering experience prior to setting her sights on such great heights, having only done a few hiking trips and some occasional skiing in Whistler. She said she got in her mind that she wanted to tackle something big, and knowing she could go with her father made it realistic.

"I'd been to Multiplicity (a multimedia mountain-culture event at the World Ski and Snowboard Festival) in Whistler, and that had really inspired me," she said. "I was looking for a challenge and I wanted it to be something in the mountains — skiing-related or rock climbing. My dad has been going to Mount Logan for as long as I can remember. Every spring, he'd go away for a month and he'd climb Mount Logan, so it was something I was a bit familiar with.

"Knowing I'd be able to do it with him, and it was something he would be able to help me accomplish, that's why I chose Mount Logan."

Upon deciding to take on the trek, the Prohaska pair sat down and made a checklist of everything she would need to accomplish to be able to successfully complete the climb. Though Prohaska had some shorter training sessions of two to five days, none of them would be quite as long as the Mount Logan ascent.

"You don't know if you're going to be able to stay on the mountain that long until you try," she said. "Your mindset is so different. I knew I was going to be there for, potentially, a month. Your mindset isn't thinking about 'Oh, I get to go home in two days,' it's thinking about the next two days and what they hold."

The toughest part of the journey, Prohaska explained, was the final push to get to the top. In addition to battling fatigue and a tough climb, the weather also had turned on the team.

"The most challenging part was on summit day at the very end. We got into a little bit of a storm. It was really windy and it had gotten a little bit darker," she said. "At the very end, I was super tired and you had to go a little bit uphill to our camp at the end."

The effects of summit day lingered, as the chilly and gusty conditions attacked any exposed skin.

"Four out of the five of us got a little frostbite on our faces. I was wearing a full facemask and goggles, so where I got it was right on the seam of the goggles and the facemask," Prohaska said. "On my cheekbones and my nose, I just got a little bit of frostbite."

She also had some ice frozen to her ear, causing frostbite there, and she sustained frostnip on her fingers.

The full day she found most challenging, however, came a little earlier on the Kings Trench route, when a section the group knew would be tough started to seem interminable.

"We knew there was this hill called Heartbreak Hill and we knew that it was going to be really hard. We did that and then at the end, said 'That wasn't that bad.' But there was a lot farther to go after that," she said. "At the end of the day, I was really tired and I did not feel good. Going up that last hill, I felt really bad."

When hauling up gear, sleds and supplies, there are certainly no easy days, but some are perhaps a little more rewarding than others. In addition to the summit, Prohaska said the first sight of the Mount St. Elias peak when the group made its way up to Camp 3 was memorable. It was their second ascent to the site after first hauling up the bulk of their supplies in some foggier conditions.

"It had been cloudy so we couldn't see anything," she said. "When we moved up there, it was super beautiful and the loads were a little bit lighter. We could see Mount St. Elias when we were going up that section.

"I didn't feel super tired that day. I felt like I had a lot of energy."

Prohaska said the crew got off to a strong start, with cooperative weather that allowed them to begin with four straight days of advancement before taking a rest at Camp 2. From there, rest days came when needed in order to keep everyone ready for the road ahead.

"Usually, my dad wouldn't do that many rest days but this time he did just because of our situation," she said. "For me, the summit meant more than it would to a lot of people, so he really wanted to make sure that I would get to the top. Having more rest days ensured that I had the best chance."

Prohaska explained the group would generally sleep in fairly late on their rest days, usually the better part of the morning, if not all of it. She took an e-reader to keep herself entertained, eventually getting through four books on it, while there was also plenty of eating and chatting as part of the recovery.

"During those days, it was just recovering and also, acclimatizing because your body has to get used to having less oxygen," she said. "They helped your mental game and your physical game, too."

Though she doesn't know what might be next for her, Prohaska said she hopes to continue mountaineering. However, she'd like to keep it short, like a day trip, or a real beast of a journey, something two weeks or longer.