Devil’s Thumb: Epic First Winter Ascent


A solo first winter ascent of Devil’s Thumb in southeastern Alaska was followed by a hairy helicopter rescue after a crevasse fall during the descent. Zac Hoyt, an accomplished climber who lives in nearby Petersburg, helicoptered to the base of the 9,077-foot granite spire at first light on March 11. He immediately started up the 1977 Jon Krakauer route on the southeast face and reached the summit around noon. Hoyt bivouacked partway down, hoping to ski to tidewater the next day.

However, as Hoyt continued down the mountain in a building snowstorm, he fell deep into a crevasse. He spent the night in the crevasse and then managed to climb out using a single ice axe. Hoyt set up his tent and called his close friend Dieter Klose on a satellite phone. Asked how he was doing, Hoyt replied, “Not so good.” Klose called for a rescue.

A Coast Guard helicopter responded with Klose and other rescuers on board. Poor visibility, temperatures of –20°F, and winds gusting to over 60 knots created extremely hazardous flying conditions. Hoyt could hear the chopper but could not see it. Finally spotting Hoyt’s tent at around 5,700 feet, the crew maneuvered overhead, unable to lower rescuers to the snow. The chopper was flying “right at the margins” of its operating envelope, one Coast Guard officer told the Daily Sitka Sentinel. Hoyt struggled to put on his boots until an officer radioed to him, “This is a one-shot deal…. Get in the [rescue] basket if you can.” A few minutes later he was on board and headed to the hospital, where he was treated for frostbite on his hands.

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