Revising the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America
Allen Steck and Steve Roper's Fifty Classic Climbs of North America is both a revered and sometimes scorned book—but though it has flaws, there's no denying its staying power and popularity throughout the years since its publication in 1979.
Many climbers agree that numerous routes in this tick list are no longer classic, due to choss, climate change, or even accessibility. We talked to those who have attempted to climb all 50 of the routes—Mark and Janelle Smiley, Nancy Hansen, Allen Steck, Gary Clark, and Kurt Blair—to get their opinions on which climbs to remove, and which to add to the list. Here's what they came up with. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section!
- EAST BUTTRESS, MIDDLE TRIPLE PEAK, AK: A super-involved endeavor, demanding weeks of time and great expense, with extremely uncertain weather. The first pitch has been erased by rockfall, and a replacement line has yet to be climbed
- HUMMINGBIRD RIDGE, MT. LOGAN, AK: The peak is striking. But the full line hasn’t seen a second ascent, and four people have died attempting it
- SHIPROCK, NM: It’s a sacred site for the Navajo Nation. Though it’s occasionally poached, it’s been off-limits to climbing since 1967
- D1, THE DIAMOND, LONGS PEAK, CO: The Diamond’s first route, but its seeping, hard free climbing at 14,000 feet and poor rock quality make some climbers question its inclusion
- NORTHCUTT-CARTER ROUTE, HALLETT PEAK, CO: Rockfall wiped out the first two pitches in the late 1990s. It’s still climbable, but it requires a tricky traverse on poorly protected terrain
- WISHBONE ARÊTE, MT. ROBSON, CANADA: A low success rate, dangerous approach, and choss make this the second-most-despised route of the Classics after Hummingbird Ridge.
- CRIMSON CHRYSALIS (5.8), RED ROCK, NV: Many climbers wanted some of the intense mountain routes replaced with more accessible, stellar rock climbs in the Southwest, especially Red Rock. Steck expressed regret for not including this area, but at the time, “We just didn’t know it, and no one was pushing it,” he says. The variety of crack and face climbing on Crimson Chrysalis now makes it one of Steck’s favorites.
- WHITNEY-GILMAN RIDGE (5.7), CANNON CLIFF, NH: An aesthetic and prominent long route in the East. Hassler Whitney and Bradley Gilman climbed the jutting spine with no pitons or other protection in 1929; they merely stopped to belay whenever they found ledges.
- MOONLIGHT BUTTRESS (5.8 C1), ZION NATIONAL PARK, UT: The most-requested replacement route. Moonlight Buttress ascends an obvious prow on its namesake buttress with perfect splitters cleaved into the upper sections. Free climbers and aspiring aid climbers alike flock here for a chance to tick this colorful line.
- CASUAL ROUTE (5.10A), THE DIAMOND, LONGS PEAK, CO: A relatively accessible route on Colorado’s highest wall. Most of the climbing is 5.8 or 5.9, and the crux moves are well protected. Plus, the alpine environment still gives you a full-value experience.