North American Classic Climbs

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Devil's Thumb

East Ridge

Beta Images Slide Show

The Pacific Coast ranges of British Columbia comprise a vast and wild region of jutting peaks, wild rivers, and rugged glaciers. If you were to fly along the "Inside Passage" to a destination such as Anchorage on a clear day, you'd strain your neck picking out objectives from your comfortable window seat at 30,000ft. On a rare day, you might catch a glimpse of some truly outstanding peaks just east of Petersburg, Alaska. The dominant peak elicited thoughts of the Devil by early explorers of the area. The reaction of Fred Beckey, the foremost exploring alpinist on the continent in the 20th century, was ambition to be the first on the summit. He joined with Fritz Weissner to form arguably the strongest team possible to make an early attempt, but Weissner sprained a knee on the long approach through extremely difficult terrain that typifies the Coast Ranges. Not to be deterred, Beckey simply cached their gear and supplies and hiked back out to convince other climbers to come join him for another go.

He succeeded in putting together a party that not only climbed another impressive unclimbed feature called Kate's Needle, but also pushed a route up the Southeast Flank of the Devil's Thumb to a high notch on the East Ridge, and from there directly to the summit. The total effort on Beckey's part required 50 days, a commitment that few other climbers would have thought reasonable in 1946.

In testament to the seriousness of the venture, the mountain was not even attempted again for 24 years. Hoping to forge a new route up the Thumb, a Canadian team arrived to conclude that no alternate route looked feasible. Instead, they chose to 'repeat' the East Ridge route, and climbed it from near its base, not realizing until their return that they were on untrodden ground for the first two-thirds of the ridge. This modern full East Ridge route is chosen for the North American Classics collection. It should be obvious that it is at the upper end of seriousness for climbs in this collection. Although access is now rendered trivial by helicopter compared to the era of first ascents, the perpetually foul weather and highly variable snow and ice conditions, coupled with high standard rock climbing and constant route finding, render this a route suitable only for very experienced alpinists who possess considerable patience.


Alpine Mixed




Coast Ranges of British Columbia, near Petersburg, AK



I1, I2, I9


V, 5.8 mixed


Route Descriptions & Maps:


First Ascent:

F. Beckey, B. Craig & C. Schimdtke (upper third), 8/25/46. D. Culbert, P. Starr, F. Douglas, 1970, lower ridge


Trip Reports:

Anderson 6/02