American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Devil's Thumb and Kate's Needle

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1994

Devil’s Thumb and Kate’s Needle. Eric Trouillot and I spent three weeks in May skiing and climbing in the Stikine Icecap area on the Alaskan-British Columbian border. Our major climbing objective was the Devil’s Thumb (2767 meters, 9078 feet), whose summit we reached in a 24-hour day from a 2100-meter camp on May 23 after two aborted attempts. On our second attempt, we climbed the lower two buttresses of the east ridge and were traversing around some pinnacles where the southeast snowfield meets the ridge when bad weather and time (five P.M.) forced us down. On our successful climb, we reascended the right (east) margin of the southeast snowfield on 45° snow and ice to our previous highpoint, a rock buttress directly below the first tower beyond the prominent lower two buttresses of the east ridge. We climbed three 5.7 pitches of south-facing rock to gain the ridge and followed the crest to the summit. This entailed much 5.7 with a short section of 5.9 to ascend directly the largest gendarme. This pinnacle had been bypassed by the first-ascent party on the south side, using aid, but we made a point of staying on the crest. We made a few short rappels from the larger towers. With exceptionally dry conditions, we climbed from the snowfield to the summit in rock shoes. On the descent, we left the ridge closer to the summit and rappelled diagonally five or six times to the southeast snowfield. We also climbed Kate’s Needle (3055 meters, 10,023 feet) by the normal west-face and ridge route. The crux was a heavily corniced ridge between the west and the main summits, where avalanche hazard on the south-facing side and large cornices on the north made things exciting. Aside from the two climbs, we checked out ski approaches to the area. We attempted to helicopter to the Patterson Glacier from Petersburg but ended on the next glacier north in bad visibility, which cost us several days of descending a nasty icefall with sleds and big packs. Our exit to Shakes Lake on the Stikine River was straightforward but a rendezvous with a boat at Shakes was thwarted by ice on the lake.

Robert Enagonio, Alpine Club of Canada

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