As part of my series on the boldest ascents in Alaska, I asked several leading Alaskan climbers to give me their suggestions for the boldest ascents for me to consider and share here on TSM. I didn’t define “bold”, and asked for their take instead.
The Example of Devil’s Thumb
The attempt on the northwest face of Devil’s Thumb over the Stikine Icecap near the Alaskan-British Columbia border is a good illustration of the problem with the word “bold”… In 2003, the unclimbed wall had tempted several teams to consider being the first. Before the 2003 adventure, climbers watched the wall and considered their chances against the slope, the overhang, the rockfall, the weather, and the frequent avalanches. Half the would-be suitors usually went home without touching the face, and no one has climbed more than halfway.
In April 2003, Guy Edwards and John Millar of Vancouver ventured to southeastern Alaska and peered up the northwest face like 13 expeditions turned away before them. Only they didn’t turn around and run. Despite the conditions, the storms, the rockfall, and the avalanches they went. I heard Mike Libecki once tell an audience at National Geographic in Washington, DC that this wall might be the only wall that might never be climbed. He explained that the slight overhang accumulates such seracs and they frequently cleave off wiping the wall clean.
Edwards and Millar didn’t come home, and to the best of my knowledge their bodies have not been found.
Bold or Stupid?
John Frieh provided me a his list with a bit of a warning about his choices. He explained that he struggled with the term “bold”: “It is a fine line between bold and stupid,” he wrote.
Perhaps the difference is luck. The luck of the conditions. The fortune of unfortunate events happening away from the climbers. The outcome that was actually an outlier.
Perhaps the difference between bold and stupid is whether you survive. Had everyone on the Harvard ascent of Denali’s Wickersham Wall died in the ascent, there is no way that it would even be considered bold.
So here is the list of the bold and the stupid. I am going to go through several of the stories and rank the boldest climbs in Alaska shortly. For now, let me know what you think.
The Preliminary Nominations
- 1897 first ascent of St. Elias by the Duke of Abruzzi
- Sourdoughs 1910 Denali North Peak FA.
- Moore/Carpe’s FA of Fairweather 1931.
- Harvard Route, Mount Huntington, Roberts, Hale, Jensen, Bernd, 1965.
- Allen Steck and John Evans 1965 Hummingbird Ridge FA on Logan.
- Charlie Porter’s 1976 Solo of the Cassin.
- Steve Hacketts 1976 solo 3rd ascent of Mount Igikpak (followed by paddling 365 miles back to civilization.)
- Infinite Spur, Foraker, Kennedy-Lowe, July 1977.
- Johnny Waterman’s 1978 solo Mt Hunter Traverse.
- North Face (“Timeless Face”) of Huntington, Simon McCartney and Jack Roberts, July 1978.
- Southeast Spur, Mount Hunter, John Mallon Waterman-solo, 1978.
- Southwest face of Denali, Simon McCartney and Jack Roberts, June 1980.
- 1981 East Face of Moose’s Tooth by Mugs Stump and Jim Bridwell.
- Southeast Spur, Mount Hunter, Alpine style by Glenn Randall, Peter Metcalf, and Peter Athens, 1981.
- Moonflower 1981 FA by Mugs Stump.
- Andy Politz’s 1984 FA of St. Elias South Face.
- Wine Bottle, Mount Dickey, Orgler, Bonapace, 1988.
- East Face, Mount Russell, Charlie Townsend and Dave Auble, 1989.
- East Butt of University Peak by Buhler/Sassara in 1997.
- Slovak Direct, Denali, House, Twight, Backes, 2000.
- Blood from the Stone, Mount Dickey, Ueli Steck and Sean Easton, 2001.
- Infinite Spur, Foraker, House and Garibotti, 2001.
- Entropy Wall on Mount Moffit, climbed in 2007 by Jed Brown and Colin Haley.
- Haley and Aartun’s Dracula Route on Mount Foraker, 2010
I would love to know if you have anything that I ought to add to this list of ascents. Feel free to leave me a comment or contact me via email (on the About page), Twitter, or Facebook.