Conditions halt ascent of Mount St. Florian

Firefighters may attempt summit again prior to July dedication of memorial mountain

Posted: Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Two Kenai firefighters were foiled by avalanche conditions in their attempt to summit the newly named Mount St. Florian last week. But they are already making plans to go back and try it again this summer.

John Harris and Sam Satathite left Kenai April 9 to summit the mountain, named by the Kenai Firefighters Association for the patron saint of firefighters in memorial to the firefighters who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They hoped to climb the mountain as a way to further dedicate it.

Harris and Satathite stayed on the mountain for three days before they decided to play it safe and postpone their trip to the summit. They returned to Kenai Thursday night.

"The avalanche conditions were pretty bad," Harris said. "Basically I thought I had a route picked out, but we would have been in avalanche danger the whole time on it. I told Sam the whole route was too loaded, and the conditions were too spooky to continue."

Cloudy conditions gave the climbers a late start April 9, so they began their ascent around 4 p.m., Harris said. They climbed for a few hours and made camp around 8 that night. The next day they set out and climbed for about 6 to 7 hours, then made a second base camp. When they set out again, they got within a half hour of their first summit before conditions became too perilous to continue.

"We were 30 minutes from the top," Harris said. "It was real tempting to keep going, but there were too many objective hazards as far as avalanche conditions. A big part of mountaineering is making good decisions. I said we will have to save this until the snow melts off."

Despite the adverse conditions, Harris was happy with the pace he and Satathite were able to keep.

"I was real pleased with our progress," he said. "(Other than the avalanche danger), everything else went pretty good."

The two plan to mount another expedition in June or early July, before the Mount St. Florian dedication ceremony the Kenai Firefighters Association is planning for July 4. They scouted out possible alternate routes to the top that they will monitor between now and June. Once the snow melts, they plan to try it again.

"You don't even start climbing bigger mountains till May or June," Harris said. "With a lower range like this, it's either a winter range where the snowpack is more firm or a summer range when the snow melts off. We'll keep a close eye on it and possibly go back in the summertime."

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