June 27, 2016

Ascending snow-covered Mount Baker was a spiritual journey for three adventurers who recently scaled its glacier.

Father Bryan Duggan and father-and-son duo Michel and Luc Gloanec climbed the 3,000-metre peak June 4 and 5, then celebrated the Eucharist, often called the "source and summit" of the Catholic faith, on the summit.

"The whole experience was very moving," said Duggan, director of the vocations office of the Vancouver Archdiocese and an avid hiker.

"I found the beauty and the ruggedness draw me into the heart of God in a unique way. I love encountering him in the mountains."

The sleepy volcano in northern Washington State is visible from many cities in the Fraser Valley and the Lower Mainland.


Duggan has dreamed of climbing the peak for years; he would often spy it on the horizon as he drove to the Seminary of Christ the King.

The young priest's dream became a possibility after he took a mountaineering course two years ago. As he prepared helmets, ropes, harnesses, tents, ice picks and other safety equipment for his first trip up Mount Baker this June, Duggan also packed a small Mass kit.

The three-man team hiked three or four hours in snow to a base camp at 2,100 metres June 4. They woke up at 2 a.m. to ascend the glacier before the sun warmed it.

"You could see the entire Lower Mainland lit up, from Chilliwack to Vancouver, yet it was far enough away that the stars were just magnificent. You could see the Milky Way with perfect clarity, other constellations and Venus low on the horizon."

They shouldered 22-kg packs and began the climb in darkness, navigating crevasses thanks to headlamps and the footprints of rope teams ahead of them. The light reflecting off the snow looked like "a procession of candlelight," Michel said.

The sun slowly rose as they ascended the summit. The last stretch, called the Roman Wall, was steep and dangerous.

"To get to the top was the deepest spiritual experience I've ever had while hiking," Michel said.


"Everything was more real! The sky was bluer, the snow was whiter and crisper. The whole thing was just so wild."

The team found an isolated spot facing Vancouver. They jammed two ice axes in the ground, laid a backpack across them, and placed a white corporal on top.

Duggan pulled out his Mass kit, which included a stole, just enough hosts and wine, a tiny chalice, a missalette, a crucifix, and a relic. They celebrated the Eucharist, praying for Vancouver, their families and their co-workers.

"To me, it felt like the most logical and correct thing to do," said Luc, Michel's son.

The team trekked back down after taking in the stunning views and saying a short prayer to consecrate the pure white mountain to the Immaculate Virgin.

Duggan has celebrated Mass in other unexpected places, including on a beach on Nootka Island and on an old boat sailing around Vancouver Island.

"There's something very special about celebrating Mass in the beauty of God's creation and encountering him in the sacrament, but also in the sacrament of nature."