Fifty Classic Climbs of North America

With my series on The Greatest Climbers of All Time behind us, I thought those of you interested in continuing to learn about some important climbing history that this book might be worth reviewing now. This may resonate more with North Americans, but I think these routes are worth taking a look at regardless. Coincidentally, this book was featured in Climbing magazine in the most recent issue. I hope this isn’t redudant for those of you that read that one. I like to think I have some things Climbing didn’t mention…

Over three decades ago, two climbers — Steve Roper and Allen Steck — took it upon themselves to identify some of the best climbs on the continent. Since their book, Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, was first published in 1979, the routes it canonized as the 50 classic, soon became known as the 50 crowded climbs. People clearly agreed with their choices, yet they recognized that much of their decisions could be second guessed: “Our routes are not the fifty classic climbs of the continent, but rather our personal choice of the finest routes in several major areas which differ radically in length, type of climbing, and geographic setting” (Roper, xi).

The book is a wonderful history of those routes, as well as the regions they are in to some extent. They tell the stories based on the best of sources, and list the best available agreed-upon rating for those routes. As illustrated in the Acknowledgments section at the beginning of the book (p. viii), their sources were a virtual who’s who list of north american climbers: Monty Alford, Fred Beckey, Glen Boles, Mike Covington, Jim Crooks, Harry Daley, Greg Donaldson, Clark Gerhardt, Mike Graber, Jim Hale, David Isles, Chris Jones, Steve Komito, Alan Long, George Lowe, Leigh Ortenburger, Galen Rowell, Eric Sanford, Paul Starr, the late Willi Unsoeld, and Ed Webster. They also expressed appreciation for black and white photos from Ed Cooper and Bradford Washburn.

I spent the majority of my time reading (and rereading) the sections on Alaska and Western Canada. I was a little disappointed that the walls around the fjords around Baffin Island weren’t included in any way, but then again they were just coming into “popularity,” as much as popularity gets with climbers, in the 1980s. I had long known that the Cassin Ridge on Denali was one of their 50, where Riccardo Cassin,  Gigi Alippi Luigi Airoldi, Giancarlo Canali, Romano Perego and Annibale Zucchi made the first ascent in 1961, a climb I knew well, historically speaking. But I was suprised that Roper and Steck chose to call the mountain McKinley exclusively; I wondered it Bradford Washburn had anything to do with that.

As you might have realized from previous posts, I have a mountain-crush over Mount Huntington in the Alaska Range, yet I didn’t know it was listed. The route named by Roper and Steck was the west face of Mount Huntington (12,240 ft./ 3,731 m.), which was first ascended by David Roberts, Don Jensen, Ed Bernd and Matt Hale in 1965. It was also the ascent that inspired Roberts’ book The Mountain of My Fear. 

In Canada, one that I have admired for years because it’s in the Cirque of the Unclimbables is Lotus Flower Tower (7,500 ft./2,286 m.) The vertical wall was first climbed in 1968 by Jim McCarthy, Sandy Bill and Tom Frost.

Layton Kor recently passed away — fortunately in old age, albeit in poor health. One of his legendary climbs, and a tower I’d like to reach the top of, is the Titan (5,600 ft./ 1,707 m.) in the southwest.He made the first ascent of the 650-foot climbing route with George Hurley and Huntley Inglalls. It’s listed as number 38.

Copies are still for sale but mostly on the collectors block only. Some are going for several hundreds of dollars though worn and beat up copies may be acquired for as little as $40US. The American Alpine Club Henry S. Hall Library has copies for lending to its members and if you’re out west (unlike me) your library might even have its own copy.

Here is the list, which amounts to the table of contents without the page numbers. Enjoy…

1. Mount St. Elias, Abruzzi Ridge
2. Mt. Fairweather, Carpe Ridge
3. Mt. Hunter, W. Ridge
4. Mt. McKinley, Cassin Ridge
5. Moose’s Tooth, W. Ridge
6. Mt. Huntington, W. Face
7. Mt. Logan, Hummingbird Ridge
8. Middle Triple Peak, E. Buttress

9. Mt. Sir Donald, Northwest Arete
10. Bugaboo Spire, E. Ridge
11. S. Howser Tower, W. Buttress
12. Mt. Robson, Wishbone Arete
13. Mt. Edith Cavell, N. Face
14. Mt. Alberta, Japanese Rt.
15. Mt. Temple, E. Ridge
16. Mt. Waddington, S. Face
17. Devil’s Thumb, East Ridge
18. Lotus Flower Tower

19. Mt. Rainier, Liberty Ridge
20. Forbidden Peak, W. Ridge
21. Mt. Shuksan, Price Glacier

22. Slesse Mountain, Northwest Buttress
23. Mt. Stuart, N. Ridge
24. Liberty Bell Mountain, Liberty Crack

25. Devil’s Tower, Durrance Rt.
26. Grand Teton, N. Ridge
27. Grand Teton, Direct Exum Ridge
28. Grand Teton, N. Face
29. Mt. Moran, Direct S. Buttress
30. Pingora, Northwest Face
31. Wolf’s Head, E. Ridge

32. Crestone Needle, Ellingwood Ledges
33. Hallett Peak, Northcutt-Carter Route
34. Petit Grepon, S. Face
35. Longs Peak, The Diamond

36. Shiprock
37. Castleton Tower, Kor-Ingalls Route
38. The Titan

39. The Royal Arches
40. Lost Arrow Spire
41. Sentinal Rock, Steck-Salathe Rt.
42. Middle Cathedral Rock, E. Buttress
43. Half Dome, NW Face
44. El Capitan, Nose Rt.
45. El Capitan, Salathe Wall
46. Mt. Whitney, E. Face
47. Fairview Dome, N. Face
48. Clyde Minaret, SE Face
49. Charlotte Dome, S. Face
50. Lover’s Leap, Traveler Buttress

Thanks for dropping by again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.

Source: Roper, Steve and Allen Steck, Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, San Franciso, 1979.


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