American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Coast Mountains, Devil's Thumb, South Pillar, First Free Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

Devil’s Thumb, South Pillar, first free ascent. In July Carl Diedrich and I spent several weeks climbing and exploring around the Devil’s Thumb. Our main objective was to free climb the imposing South Pillar of the Thumb. However, we felt we first should climb the classic East Ridge route as a warm-up and to investigate descent options. On July 12, with a forecast of clear skies and high pressure, we set out to climb the South Pillar. From camp at the foot of the East Ridge, we descended toward the Witches’ Cauldron. Our plan to approach and climb the initial spur to the base of the pillar in a day proved to be excellent. The spur consists of low angle 5th-class rock that becomes steeper toward the base of the pillar. We bivouacked comfortably on the large ledges below the pillar.

We started up the pillar about 15m right of the crest and climbed a wandering three pitches that led us toward the obvious large, right-facing corner system just left of the crest. The towering, blocky corner offered four rope-stretching 60m pitches (5.9-5.10). (We found several rappel slings in the corner system.) These pitches deposited us on a narrow ledge that led right and back onto the exposed pillar crest. The following 60m pitch, brilliant climbing on excellent rock with small holds, left us at an exhilarating hanging belay at an obvious black band visible from afar. We were committed and began a race with the setting sun to the summit. A thrilling 5.10 flake, crack, and layback pitch ended on a large ledge, easing our minds, as well as the angle of the rock. Success seeming imminent, we comfortably climbed the corners angling toward a large roof. Peering around the roof to the right revealed easy face climbing, with a summit bivouac in sight. Continuing clear weather allowed for a morning of leisure. We spent several hours solving the world’s problems, while visually feasting on this grand landscape of white wilderness. We spent the remainder of our trip exploring the glaciers and ridges around the Thumb.

Our free ascent of the South Pillar deviated from the original line (Bebie-Pilling, 1991) with two notable variations. We took the obvious corner system to the left of the pillar crest in preference to the original line. And, where the original line climbs the Quartz Ramp to the right of the crest, our line ascends directly up the crest. The South Pillar of Devil’s Thumb as we climbed it comes in at V 5.10.

Air transport was provided by the wonderful folks at Temsco Helicopters. Also thanks to Dieter Klose for his hospitality and information.

Paul Adam Haraf

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