Burkett Needle, Smash and Grab, Pipsqueak Peak, East Ridge
Alaska, Coast Mountains
Three years ago Fred Beckey pulled out his little black book (actually a tattered FedEx envelope) and showed me a blown-out photocopy of the unclimbed west side of Burkett Needle. Of course, no tactical information could be gained from scrutinizing the fuzzy blobs and lines on the page, but it showed that half of an amazing peak on the Stikine Ice Cap remained overlooked. That summer Fred, Micah Lambeth, and I flew to Petersburg and then helicoptered in to the Burkett Boulder. During that trip Micah and I attempted the west ridge of the Needle and, on July 4, 2006, climbed the East Ridge (5.7) of a 6,700' pyramidal-shaped rock peak. This peak, which we dubbed Pipsqueak Peak, is situated on the left (west) side of the major col west of the Needle.
It took several summers for everything to align, but on July 3 John Frieh and I caught a helicopter flight with Wally from Temsco Air in to the Burkett Boulder. The weather was set to be absolutely gorgeous for at least the next two days. We quickly packed in the afternoon sun and hiked east a quarter-mile to the base of a ridge that allows access to the upper glacier under the Needle. We followed the scrambly ridge (3rd and 4th class) for 1,800' to a small, flat campsite on a knife-edge ridge. On the morning of the 4th we left camp and climbed the glacier to the base of the South Pillar (Cauthorn-Collum-Foweraker, 1995). From here we traversed on steep snow into a couloir that led to the col at the base of the unclimbed west ridge. One long mixed pitch (M4) got us onto the rock. From here we simul-climbed perfect granite along the crest for many enjoyable pitches (up to 5.8). Higher, we climbed two tricky mixed pitches (M4) to the top of the false summit, then made a short rappel to a col below the imposing summit pinnacle. A short knife-edge traverse with great exposure led to two more fantastic rock pitches, following cracks up and right toward the summit (5.6). A final pitch up an icy fist crack and the last dollop of snow led us to the summit. We rappelled the beautiful South Pillar route, touching down in the hot-pink glow of the setting sun.
We named our route Smash and Grab (IV 5.8 M4), after Dieter Klose’s expression for climbers who smash into town and grab a summit before the Stikine’s clouds realize what’s happened.
Dave Burdick, AAC