Is that Climb Bold or Stupid?

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 Nominees (Updated 5/14/15)

Late 1800s

  • 1897 first ascent of St. Elias by the Duke of Abruzzi

Early 1900s

  • Sourdoughs 1910 Denali North Peak FA.
  • Dora Keen and George Handy’s 1912 ascent of the East Peak of Mount Blackburn.
  • Moore/Carpe’s FA of Fairweather 1931.

1960s-1970s

  • Wickersham Wall Direct, Denali, by Hank Abrons, Rick Millikan, John Graham, Don Jensen, David Roberts, and Chris Goetze, 1963.
  • Harvard Route, Mount Huntington, Roberts, Hale, Jensen, Bernd, 1965.
  • Allen Steck and John Evans 1965 Hummingbird Ridge FA on Logan.
  • Art Davidson’s and Rick Millikan’s 1966 first ascent of Kichatna Spire.
  • 1967 first winter ascent of Mount McKinley by Art Davidson, Ray Genet, and Dave Johnston.
  • Charlie Porter’s 1976 Solo of the Cassin.
  • Mount Emmerich, Fred Beckey, Jack Tackle, and Craig Zaspel, 1976.
  • 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.

1980s-1990s

  • 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.
  • Naomi Uemura’s 1984 solo winter ascent of Mount McKinley.
  • East Face of Mount Hunter by Jim Donini and Jack Tackle in 1985.
  • Wine Bottle, Mount Dickey, Orgler, Bonapace, 1988.
  • East Face, Mount Russell, Charlie Townsend and Dave Auble, 1989.
  • Phil Kaufmann’s. Steve Carroll’s, and Patrick Simmons’ 1995 first (and to date only) ascent of Mount Orville.
  • East Butt of University Peak by Buhler/Sassara in 1997.
  • Thomas Bubendorfer’s 1997 solo first ascent of Mount Laurens.

2000s-present

  • 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.
  • Mount Augusta’s North Face by Jack Tackle and Charlie Sassara, 2002.
  • Entropy Wall on Mount Moffit, climbed in 2007 by Jed Brown and Colin Haley.
  • Linkup of the third ascent of Denali’s Isis Face and the fourth ascent of the Slovak Direct by Katsutaka Yokoyama, Yusuke Sato, and Fumitaka Ichimura, 2008.
  • Haley and Aartun’s Dracula Route on Mount Foraker, 2010.
  • Kevin Cooper’s and Ryan Jennings’ ascent of “Stairway to Heaven” on Mount Johnson in 2014.
  • Ryan Fisher’s and Nathan Lane’s 2014 first ascent of Mount Muir from tidewater.

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.

[Read the next post in this series, here, which includes the updated list of nominees.]

Thanks again for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following The Suburban Mountaineer on Twitter and Facebook.

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Comments

  1. Steve Gruhn says:

    A few other bold climbs come to mind: Dora Keen and George Handy’s 1912 ascent of the East Peak of Mount Blackburn, Art Davidson’s and Rick Millikan’s 1966 first ascent of Kichatna Spire, the 1967 first winter ascent of Mount McKinley by Davidson, Ray Genet, and Dave Johnston, Thomas Bubendorfer’s 1997 solo first ascent of Mount Laurens, Kevin Cooper’s and Ryan Jennings’ ascent of “Stairway to Heaven” on Mount Johnson in 2014, and Ryan Fisher’s and Nathan Lane’s 2014 first ascent of Mount Muir from tidewater. Some other bold climbs that weren’t entirely successful include Belmore Browne’s and Herschel Parker’s 1910 attempt on Mount McKinley that turned back a couple hundred feet short of the summit, Naomi Uemura’s 1984 solo winter ascent of Mount McKinley (he perished on the descent), and Phil Kaufmann’s. Steve Carroll’s, and Patrick Simmons’ 1995 first (and to date only) ascent of Mount Orville (all perished on the descent).

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