Best Ascent in Alaskan History?


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hanging by a thread
Topic Author's Original Post - May 28, 2008 - 12:44am PT

Trad climber
Exeter, California
May 28, 2008 - 01:48am PT
Cool, but here's this..........I worked on a ranch here in the central valley foothills and theres a lady next door who raises goats. She was supposedly the first woman to summit Denali. She went in the place of a guy who backed out to keep the team of three. They skied in with heavy packs a hundred miles. They did it in the early sixties I fancy high tech clothes, just wool. They had a snow storm come in on the summit bid and had to go for it or not get it.......they went for it. Enora Jones is her name and she's got slides to prove it. Question is, was she the first woman to summit?? Anyone know??

Boulder climber
May 28, 2008 - 05:26am PT
Barbara Bradford was the first woman to summit Denali.

I can't remember the exact date...forties or fifties, that's for sure..
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
May 28, 2008 - 06:11am PT
I think you must have meant Barbara Washburn, who was the first woman to summit Mount McKinley. She was on her husband's team for his second time up the mountain.

"She had no mountaineering experience, not a day of conditioning other than 'pushing a baby carriage,' and...lived with a tribe of men for three months....

'And anyway, it wasn't that hard, you know.'"

Quotes from "Forever on the Mountain" by James Tabor, 2007

Ice climber
May 28, 2008 - 09:48am PT
Best ascent? I think not.
The Cassin Ridge must rank as one of the very finest. This latest "Trilogy" ranks right up there regards imagination and tenacity but all the routes had been climbed before, there is the possibility of rescue and two lives might have been lost. No one died on the Cassin, no one had ever climbed the route before, and very little was known about the mountain.

Double D

May 28, 2008 - 11:02am PT
Having Bridwell just relay the story of linking up our 1st attempt on the East face of the Moose's Tooth with the route he and Mug's did that traversed in to our high point and avoided 1,900 ft. of high-quality, technical climbing has to get my vote. If I remember right he was 62 when he did it and unlike the ascent with Mugs there was no ice on the crux chimney so it was a rotten aid fest. Bird said by far it was the hardest thing he's ever done...and from him that says a lot. The face is 4,500 feet tall and has everything from hard A5 to bold ice, mixed and moderate free pitches. Back in the 70's it had several serious attempts but all failed.

As he relayed the story I just couldn't fathom a 62 year old cranking up anything that hard.

Anyone for 2nds?


May 28, 2008 - 11:05am PT

Harvard Route on Huntington.

Preppy kids getting it done in a big way in wool and canvas - mostly because they wanted to, a visionary route, tragedy, survival and regret ensues, a tale is told that helps define the genre of wilderness adventure. The book motivates a generation of alpinists.

There's too much about this ascent not to consider it to be a "best".

Ice climber
May 28, 2008 - 12:03pm PT
"The essense of alpinism has always been a commitment to the unknown-following time's arrow along its only path. And great routes follow the mountain's natural path. And great climbs are those following these one-way paths with an irreducible minimum of equipment. Economy. No extra gear, no wasted thought or motion.
Every piece of equipment counts, no debilating debates, no inefficiencies. And two climbers-the sine qua of technical climbing. Two climbers-with more than the strength of two-the minimum of human society."

Bill Sumner, Ascent 1974

Infinite Spur, Michael Kennedy and George Lowe; 1977.

Trad climber
Menlo Park, CA
May 28, 2008 - 12:28pm PT
I'd have to vote for Johnny Waterman's 145 day solo ascent of Mt. Hunter.

Of that feat, American climber Jeff Lowe once wrote, "There is nothing else in the history of mountaineering with which to compare it."
Delhi Dog

Trad climber
Good Question...
May 28, 2008 - 12:35pm PT
I vote for Radish's woman if the goats were with her!

Scared Silly

Trad climber
May 28, 2008 - 12:50pm PT
I have to agree with Jack on the Infinite Spur. After Jeff left due to his broken ankle and it was just George and Michael they discussed doing the Cassin instead. One commented that they knew they could climb the Cassin but did not know if they could climb the spur. To me that is what makes it one of the best ascents in Alaskan history. The other ascent is the Sourdough ascent of the north peak of Denali. 12k to 19k in day hauling a Spruce pole.

hanging by a thread
Topic Author's Reply - May 28, 2008 - 02:01pm PT
I would vote for Wall of Shadows(Child/Kennedy), or maybe the Elevator Shaft(Backes/Twight)

'cross the great divide
May 28, 2008 - 02:09pm PT
I know it is "merely a rock climb", but what about the Orgler route (Wine Bottle??) on Mt. Dickey. I think all of the elements that Jack suggests upstream were present for this climb of a vertical mile of gnarstiness. No bolts, no previewing, alpine style in amazing time.

Boulder climber
Salt Lake, UT
May 28, 2008 - 02:37pm PT
If one defines best as strictly technically most difficult than maybe.

If best is the most groundbreaking, I wouldn't say it's even close.
The Sourdough ascent, Terray's ascent of Huntington, the Harvard ascents of the Wickersham wall or Huntington, Waterman's solo, even the Cassin ridge, were all much more impressive for being groundbreaking and adventurousness.

Ice climber
May 28, 2008 - 02:47pm PT
The Sourdough route would have to be up there as far as "on-sight" ascents of Denali. Thjose guys were tough and it was pure alpine style. The Wine Bottle route on Dicky was pretty proud but the Infinite spur is more isolated, longer (9,000 feet) and they had less equipment at their disposal if they were to try and rappel.

For sure Wall of Shadows was another great ascent but they were't climbing per the doctrine that Summers states.

Another route that has never seen a second ascent yet is listed as a "50 North America Classic", is the Hummingbird Ridge on Logan. And while that mountain is in Canada and technicallyu the Yukon it has repulsed more strong teams than almost any other.

It's difficult for me to top the Infinite Spur though as "the best of". The level of commitement required was amazing I think.Ttwo 50m ropes, six ice screws, a handful of nuts and six pitons.......they didn't have cams yet.........80 roped pitches and it took nine days. For years afterward, many of NA best alpinist's tried and failed to repeat this route. I think it was at least 12 years before Chris Nelson and partner did the second and THAT took ten days also!!!
Er, did I mention they (lowe and kennedy)didn't have a radio or Gore-Tex. Tough dudes. So many examples of great ascents. Mugs and The Bird on the first ascent of the East Face of the Mooses Tooth........but that one did not have the element of altitude.
EH!! guess it doesn't count!! LOL!

The Harvard Rt. on Huntington though might qualify as the first "super-alpine" route done as a FA in Alaska. Those "kids" were young and visionary and naive.......maybe just super-stoked and Bradford Washburn was their patron saint on that climb. Getting in and out of the upper Tokositna was way more difficult back then than it is now.........

Doug Buchanan

Mountain climber
Fairbanks Alaska
May 28, 2008 - 02:49pm PT
"Best" is an illusion of people who cannot figure out the second question.

What is the best galaxy in the universe?

John Waterman's 145 day solo of Hunter was what would have turned back many of those who did other lauded bests, and John could have easily done what they did. He had the distinct advantage of mental attributes not often sought.

There was the time, solo on the face of Robinson, that a sizable rock handhold came off when he pulled up on it. He still considered it such a good handhold that he put it in his pack and carried it to the top, just to have a good handhold in case he needed an extra.

John derived more from his climbs, than do climbers.

That is the real John Waterman, not the National Park Ranger (book author) Waterman who accepted the job of arresting or ratting on climbers who did not sufficiently kowtow to the National Park Pigs.

Oh, Hey John (K), you are always welcome at the new Alaskan Alpine Club HQ. Any identity is accurate.

But is not the best ascent in Alaska history the many done by Alaskan climbers who did not openly claim them, to leave them for others who needed more than the climbs themselves, to thus derive at least twice the value from any route?

Of course such Alaskan climbers have outraged of the American Alpine Club which once threatened, at a UIAA meeting, to not recognize anyone's first ascent if they did not inform the American Alpine Club. The international delegates politely obscured their common laughter at the childish AmerAC.

Alaskan Alpine Club

May 28, 2008 - 02:57pm PT
While I hold infinite respect and awe for the more 'modern' ascents by such luminaries as Backes/Twight, Kennedy/Lowe, I would have to agree that 'early' ascents such as the Sourdough/Denali, Harvard/Wickersham, Waterman, Cassin, and Washburn's Lucania ascent (though in the Yukon) are the greatest examples to me of commitment, vision, and, well, balls.

Ice climber
May 28, 2008 - 02:58pm PT
Terray's (& company) ascent of The French Ridge was proud and as the first route on the mountain which none of the team had ever seen before was a landmark climb for sure, but they had a big team and fixed ropes along the ridge........just not as high a level of committement as the Harvard route. The Wickersham Wall was more dangerous than technical and though it is huge, it is just not as visionary as the Harvard Route on Huntington.

Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
May 28, 2008 - 05:11pm PT
Best hat trick might be Beckey and a new route on Denali, Hunter (FA of that peak), and Deborah in a single season...and back in the day too.

Tons of candidates out there. High Alaska is full of some nice summaries of those climbs. Good reference.

Roberts had his share of fun. His route on Dickey, just repeated...yikes. And the Mountain of My Fear.

Ad and the boys FA of Foraker was out there for the day too.

Speaking of reporting or not the FA's in Alaska...some of the more prominant rangers seemed to be in the "don't report" catagory, as then the FA resource would last much longer. Hmmm...

Come to think of it, might have to give Dora Keen some due, there (Wrangells). And the husband and wife team (Vin and Grace Hoeman) did some pretty neat stuff way back when.

Amazing to consider what the Duke did on St. Elias pre-1900. That route is a "classic" (per the 50 classics book), and not done at all these days (Harvard being the main choice to get 'er done). 1910 boundary expedition did some pretty amazing ascents too, mapping the border of the US/Canada in the St. Elias area. That ridge they climbed on St. Elias is amazing, especially given the year.

Carpe on Fairweather?

Heckuva an alpine climbing history in Alaska.

-Brian in SLC

May 28, 2008 - 06:24pm PT
Waterman on Hunter is even now, many years afterward, still utterly inconceivable, especially in light of how the second-ascent party (who went alpine style) took two weeks to do it. Just try imagining anyone in climbing who would do that today

simply incomprehensible

the fast-and-light single-push ascents seem like dabbler's play in comparison

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