Ten to Remember
A thousand climbs couldn’t capture the richness of our last century.
So here are 10 to get us started.
While editing the stories that follow I had to start deleting the word “inspire”—it just came up too often. In fact, the I-word applies to every climb on this list, which is hardly a coincidence. The range and diversity of these first ascents is nearly as wide and complex as the century they span, though there is a huge difference. Human history during the 20th century hit as many low points as it did high points, whereas the stories that follow are nothing short of, well, inspirational.
These climbs were chosen to represent their decade not because they were necessarily the hardest of their era, but because they reveal something vital about that period in our history, something we’re better off remembering than forgetting, something that reminds us of the heights we’ve already achieved and the wonders that, ahem, inspire us as climbers.
With that in mind, the writers of each of the following essays have a personal connection to the stories they tell. Kitty Calhoun, who led an alpine-style ascent of Makalu’s west pillar, enjoys sharing stories like that of Fanny Bullock Workman on Pinnacle Peak in order to remind us that women have always been at the forefront of our sport. Dee Molenaar, whose watercol- ors grace this entire collection, describes the Sourdough ascent of Mt. McKinley’s North Peak from his own experience with Denali, and also as one of our most valued mountain historians. When it comes to history, Chris Jones literally wrote the book—Climbing in North America— and would understand as well as anyone how the east ridge of the Grand Teton fits into our historical puzzle. Nick Clinch led the first American expedition to reach a higher summit than Minya Konka—some 36 years after the ascent he describes herein. While Allen Steck writes that the Lost Arrow Chimney was the first big-wall climb in America, others look admiringly to his own first ascent of the north face of Sentinel Rock three years later, also with John Salathé.
Crossing the midpoint of the century, Jim Wickwire takes the 1953 attempt on K2 as inspiration for his own first American ascent of that mountain, 23 years after. And if anyone can understand the 1963 traverse of Mt. Everest described here, it’s Ed Webster, who himself participated in one of the great climbs on that mountain, the alpine-style first ascent of the Kangchung Face, which cost him the tips of most of his fingers from frostbite. Barry Blanchard unveils the 1974 ascent of the north face of North Twin with great intimacy not only because he is one of the hard men of the Canadian Rockies, but also because he placed the only other route on the north face of that mountain. Dan Mazur’s own outstanding Himalayan career includes a rare alpine-style ascent of Makalu, not unlike the earlier story he tells here from 1980. And Steve Schneider happens to be one of the fastest and most talented of the Yosemite big wall climbers; who better to understand Lynn Hill’s achievement on the Nose in 1994?
What all these people have in common is a gratitude and respect for those who’ve climbed before. And, dare I say it, they’re inspired by history—and they want to pass it on.
John Harlin III