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North America, Canada, Coast Mountains, Alaska Highway, Free Solo

Alaska Highway, free solo. In July I was walking up the North Walls trail with my shoes, chalk bag, and the ashes of my friend Ben DeMenic. The plan was to climb Angel’s Crest, a 15-pitch 5.10, and scatter his ashes along the way. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I found myself at the base of Alaska Highway, a 5-pitch 5.11+ I’d climbed with Ben a few years before and had done a few times that summer. I had been toying with the idea of soloing the route for some time. I knew it was dry, I knew the weather was only going to last another day or two, I knew I’d already cheated the first crux (it would be an awfully stiff march up that trail all alone and empty handed). One question remained: Can I get to the top without falling off? I ran over the route in my mind: I d felt supersolid on the last few goes. I took the bag of ashes out of my pocket and put a large pinch in my chalk bag. “Bet you never thought you’d do this one,” I said. The first pitch is always a struggle, it involves weird (classic Squamish) tree-humping through a roof. It went smooth. The second is the crux for most people. It’s way steep, way awkward, and way physical. It’s also the type of climbing I find I’m best at. It went too quickly. The only part that was at all scary was the last 30 feet of 5.8 face climbing. I’m an awful face climber. I dug a little hole at the top to put Ben’s ashes in. Then I said goodbye. The walk down was weird, dreamlike but hyperfocused. Kind of sad and lonesome, too. The locals seemed to think it was the first free solo of the route, when word got out. This surprised me; I figured Croft had most likely done it and maybe somebody else as well. All in all, I don’t care. It was a fun solo and it’s a great route. It was also the last time I climbed with Ben.

Steve Seats