Rad New Route on the Witches Tit in Southeast Alaska


Jess Roskelly leading the M7 crux, a 50-foot, 12-inch chimney, on No Rest for the Wicked. Photo by John Frieh.

6/4/14 - John Frieh and Jess Roskelley have climbed a very hard new mixed route on the West Witches Tit during a brief trip to the Stikine Ice Cap in southeast Alaska. In their 36-hour, single-push round trip up the west ridge (No Rest For the Wicked, 1,500', WI6 M7 A0), they probably made the fifth ascent of the granite needle, a satellite of the well-known Devils Thumb.

Frieh had hoped to climb the route last August, but the glaciers were too broken up to reach the climb safely. When a weather window appeared to be opening in May, he flew to Petersburg, Alaska, with Roskelley and then helicoptered into the mountains on May 27. The next morning, they left camp at around 3 a.m. and made their way around the side of the Devils Thumb massif, reaching the foot of their route after eight hours of travel. Along the way, Roskelley lost a loose mono front-point on one of his crampons, which would add to the difficulties when the climb turned out to have much more snow and ice than expected. The two climbed the entire route in their crampons.

The crux section of the route, about midway, had several M6 leads and a striking M7 squeeze chimney, on which Roskelley endured a two-hour, clothing-shredding lead. The pitch was only protectable because of some ice in the back of the chimney. "Before I followed it, I thought about which of my jackets cost the least and put that one on the outside," Frieh said.

The west ridge of the West Witches Tit generally followed the left skyline. Devils Thumb is upper right.

The west ridge of the West Witches Tit generally followed the left skyline. Devils Thumb is upper right. Photo by John Frieh.

The pair summited around 11:30 p.m. and rappelled the same descent route taken by Bill Belcourt and Randy Rackliff when they made the first ascent of West Witches Tit in May 1995. They reached the foot of the peak by 5 or 6 a.m. and were back in camp 36 hours after starting, having had only catnaps en route. With the weather breaking, they were flown out of the mountains that same morning. "I was back home in bed in Portland [Oregon] that night," Frieh said.

Roskelly takes a break near midnight on the summit. Photo by John Frieh.

Frieh, who has done a number of similar "smash and grab" new routes in southeast Alaska and the Alaska Range, said this was probably the hardest climb of this type that he'd done, and he praised Roskelley for "getting it done" despite having only one intact crampon!

Dates of ascent: May 28–29, 2014

Sources: John Frieh, American Alpine Journal


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