Climbers know and love the hallowed list of 50 Classic Climbs of North America. The list was published as a book by Steck and Roeper in 1979. But in 40 years we’ve seen changes in weather, climbing access, routes themselves, gear, and climbing skills. Perhaps it’s time to re-write the list. Guides Mark and Janelle Smiley have been working on climbing all 50 of the original routes, but Mark also had a few thoughts on a modern 50 list.
Over the past six years my wife and I have climbed 46 of the 50 routes listed in the book, Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. No person has climbed them all of them yet. Through this experience, we now have a pretty good understanding of why the list has not been conquered. To complete all these climbs you need an expert level of skills like, rock climbing on crack, off width, slab, chimneys, bigwall, tyrollean traverses, ice climbing, snow climb, Alaska expedition skills, high altitude experience, and a freakishly strong desire to spend loads of time stormbound in a tent. My wife and I have developed these skills to get where we are now. There have been highs and lows, and some of the routes just downright suck (ie- Mt Robson’s Wishbone Arete). That being said, I would not trade these last six years of climbing and adventuring for anything. Climbing is about adventure.
- If you climb even a handful of these routes you will have adventure in spades. Sure some of the routes are crowded, but get over yourself! At least you are climbing and not sitting in Chicago traffic, going to a job that you hate, just relax! To avoid the crowds you can jump on one of the several routes listed that have seen less than 10 ascents total. No lines on those routes.
- If you want to start with the easiest “Classic climb”, it’s the Durrance Route on Devils Tower. The second easiest is Royal Arches in Yosemite. The hardest route I have done on the list is probably Mt Waddington’s South Face in Canada’s Coast range. The climbs in the Lower 48 are significantly easier and safer than those in Canada and Alaska. Of the Canadian routes, the easiest is Mt Sir Donald, followed by Bugaboo Spire. Alaska’s routes are all serious expeditions.
- In 2016 we are going to try to finish the list. We have to climb Middle Triple Peak, Mt St Elias, Mt Logan and Longs Peak. If we pull it off it might be the most amazing three months of climbing I’ll do in my lifetime. Or we could get totally shut down, failing to reach the top of anything. Thats is where adventure is found. In the unknown. We are training like crazy, gearing up with the best stuff in the world and raising funds to give it the best possible shot we can.In closing, I’d encourage you to create your own list. Write down routes that inspire you to train and become a better climber. Don’t limit yourself to routes found in a book, or to just North America. The sky, and your personal drive, is the limit. Everyone has a finite number of days they will climb in their life. How will you spend yours?