Beautiful New Route in Alaska


10/8/12 - In a blitzkrieg long weekend from the Lower 48, John Frieh and Doug Shepherd completed the first ascent of the northwest face of Mt. Burkett in southeast Alaska. The two men helicoptered from Petersburg to the rarely climbed, ca. 9,750-foot peak on Friday, October 5, summited the next afternoon, and flew out Sunday morning. Frieh was back at work on Monday morning.

The speed of their ascent belies the difficulty of a new route in the weather-battered Stikine Glacier area, and also reflects Frieh's extensive experience in the range, where he has now done three new routes since 2009, always in rapid "smash and grab" style. "I get three weeks a vacation a year. I have a wife and two kids," said Frieh, who lives in Portland, Oregon. "I don't want to waste all my time sitting in a tent waiting for a window that might never come. So I stalk the weather in specific locations in Alaska, and when I see a window I get on the horn and see who is available."

This time it was Shepherd, who lives in New Mexico. Frieh did a new route on Alaska's Mt. Dickey with Shepherd in April, in similar smash and grab style. But now Shepherd was recovering from reconstructive surgery on his big toe, which he'd undergone a little over six weeks earlier to deal with degenerative arthritis. "John texted me on October 2 [and asked] if I could wear ice boots," Shepherd said. "After walking around my backyard in my double boots, I figured I could probably make it work. I flew to Seattle on Thursday night. John picked me up, and we then flew to Petersburg on Friday morning."

The two choppered into the glacier below the south side of Burkett that Friday afternoon, and they set up a high camp in the same spot Frieh had used earlier, during one of his two first ascents on Burkett Needle, a striking peak adjacent to Mt. Burkett. On Saturday morning, though nearly halted by tricky late-season crevasses, they climbed to the col between the two peaks and then descended to the foot of the northwest face of Mt. Burkett. "The standard question would be, 'Why not fly to other side?' " Frieh said. "It turns out Mt. Burkett is on the Canadian border, and a chopper can't fly across that border."

Their route (Can't Knock The Hustle, IV 5.8 AI4) went smoothly, and around 4 p.m. they were on top, completing what they believe to be the sixth ascent of the peak. The two men rappelled and downclimbed the Golden Gully route on the opposite side, and made it back to high camp around 9 p.m.

"With Doug fresh off toe surgery we weren't exactly pushing the pace, but both of us were very pleased with how it went," Frieh said.

Dates of Ascent: October 6–7, 2012

Sources: John Frieh, Doug Shepherd