What is the Boldest Climb in Alaska?


Denali Rising Stark. (All rights reserved)

In Alaska, the most memorable news are about things done on a big scale to live up to the big untamed image of thr landscape. Road trips are longer, sometimes involving RVs. Hikes go to remote places, sometimes requiring an air-lift to reach the “trailhead.” Climbs often share the signature feature of being high and very exposed.

A year ago I was taken aback by the style and brashness by so many of the pioneering ascents in Alaska. I thought that a few of my new acquaintances, all climbers with expertise in Alaska, would be able to pitch in and give me some insight into their significance compared to one another. So I reached out to Jonathan Waterman, John Frieh, Mark Westman, and Clint Helander. These climbers are among the leading climbers of Alaska today. I asked them a question that was fraught with some excitement and a bit of tension: What were their thoughts on what were the boldest ascents in Alaska?

The list was nearly overwhelming. At the same time that I received it, I was preparing for the big lobbying day for the members of the trade association that I worked for at the time. All my energy for the necessary research crumbled under the weight of looming visits on Capitol Hill.

Now I am back and so is the list.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to dive in and consider what was the boldest ascent in Alaska.

These are not Ed Viesturs-worthy climbs. These aren’t trade routes or a list suitable for an impressive tick list.

These ascents are stories of someone’s personal limits pushed beyond our own. Foolish to some. That they returned home may make it seem repeatable.

Here are four examples of the bold ascents in Alaska:

  • The Duke of Abruzzi’s 1887 first ascent of Mount St. Elias.
  • The Sourdoughs’ 1910 FA of Denali’s north summit.
  • Charlie Porter’s 1976 solo of Denali’s Cassin Ridge.
  • Michael Kennedy’s and Goerge Lowe’s 1977 ascent of the Infinite Spur on Mount Foraker.

More to come next week… [Read the next post, Is That Climb Bold or Stupid?]

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