50 Classic Climbs
Fifty Classic Climbs of North America – with American Alpine Institute
What makes something a "classic"? Who gets to say, and why? In the last twenty-five years, new trends in the climbing world and in our society as a whole have forced a reassessment of the traditional answers to these questions.
Websites like Mountain Project have made it much easier to establish consensus difficulty and quality ratings. Sport and gym climbing have changed forever our collective sense of what we're looking for in a classic climb. And the increasing role of the commercial guiding industry, both in climbing itself and in the technical education of climbers, has subtly shifted our priorities and aesthetics.
The first edition of Fifty Classics was published in 1979.
Steve Roper and Allen Steck's Fifty Classic Climbs of North America hit the shelves in 1979 and became an instant classic in its own right. Owing in part to the reputations of its authors, who boasted long careers as Yosemite pioneers and hard men, and in part to the high quality writing, photography, and historical background content, the book succeeded in its main mission – to raise the standing of North America's mountains, especially the big walls of Yosemite and the giants of Alaska and Canada, in the eyes of the worldwide climbing elite.
And yet, many of the routes described in Fifty Classics are unrealistic goals for any but the very best climbers. Some of them, one guesses, were included to throw down a gauntlet before the British and European climbing communities, daring them to come and try our "classics." Taken as a true tick list, the set of climbs is virtually a pipe dream.
Start with the fact that no one, not even the authors, has climbed all the routes in the list. Mt. Logan's Hummingbird Ridge has seen only a single ascent, and has taken the lives of several would-be repeaters – a testament to the abilities and pluck of the first ascentionists, but not the stuff of classics. New Mexico's Shiprock is sacred to the Navajo people and is now permanently closed to climbers (Fred Beckey's famously irreverant photo notwithstanding). And the Northcutt-Carter on Hallett Peak, in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park, has had whole pitches largely obliterated by a major rockfall.
Another objection, for some climbers at least, could be that the list is lopsided towards alpine summits in remote areas such as the St. Elias Range and the Kichatna Spires, and ignores the classic qualities of famous crag climbs, especially in the East. The time and financial commitment necessary to complete the major routes in Alaska and northern Canada make the list a non-starter for many ordinary climbers.
Still other routes in the book are, well ... just a wee bit too hard. When mere mortals think of "classics", do they really imagine the West Face of Mt. Huntington, or Denali's Cassin Ridge? These are rightly called masterpieces, but to promote them to the climbing public at large as "classic" or "not to be missed" is debatable. In the end we kept some of these super-hard climbs in our list, while adding many moderate classics for balance.
The AAI Fifty
We began this list with the realization that of all American guide services, American Alpine Institute most likely comes closest to being able to offer the original fifty classics. With long-standing permits or concessions everywhere from the Alaska and St. Elias Ranges to Red Rock, from our home range of the North Cascades to our newest concession in Rocky Mountain National Park, we can guide at least twenty of the original fifty. But as we looked at that list, we realized that few of our climbers or guides would want to commit themselves to such a lopsided list.
We set about picking 50 classics that would be accessible to most climbers who are willing to make a serious effort and stick with it. And in keeping with our mission to train self-sufficient climbers, we picked a mixture of moderate, intermediate, and difficult classics, arranged first geographically and then in rough order of difficulty. All these routes and areas are available to AAI through our existing permits with land managers.
Routes that were in the original list are marked with a * symbol. Selected route names are linked to trip reports or route profiles. Some routes that we frequently guide are shown in bold and are followed by links to courses on which we often climb the route, and/or links to private program details.
North & Central Cascades, Washington
Mt. Baker, North Ridge (AI 2+) course | private
South Early Winter Spire, South Arête (5.5, Grade II) course | private
Liberty Bell, Beckey Route (5.6, Grade II) course | private
Forbidden Peak, West Ridge (5.6, grade III) * or Torment-Forbidden Traverse (5.6, grade V) course | private
Mt. Rainier, Kautz Glacier (AI 1, grade III) course
Mt Shuksan, Fisher Chimneys to Southeast Arête (5.5, III) course | private
Snow Creek Wall, Outer Space (5.9, grade III) private
Inspiration Peak, East Ridge (5.9, grade III) course | private
Dragontail Peak, Triple Couloirs (AI3/M3, III) private
Mt. Stuart, Upper North Ridge (5.9, IV) * or North Ridge Direct (5.9+, IV) private
Mt. Slesse, Northeast Buttress (5.9, grade V) *
Liberty Bell, Liberty Crack (5.11-, A2/C2, grade V) * course | private
Sierra Nevada, California
Bear Creek Spire, Northeast Ridge (5.4, Grade III) course | private
Mt. Whitney, East Face (5.7, Grade III) * private
Mt. Whitney, East Buttress (5.7, Grade III) course | private
Mt. Russell, Mithril Dihedral (5.9+, grade III) private
Mt. Dana, Third Pillar Regular Route (5.9+, grade III) private
Palisade Traverse (5.9, grade IV) private
Colorado Front Range
Eldorado Canyon: Bastille Crack (5.7, grade II) course | private
Lumpy Ridge: Kor's Flake (5.7+, grade II) course | private
Longs Peak, Kiener’s Route (5.4, grade II) course | private
Petit Grepon, South Face (5.7, grade III) * course | private
Hallett Peak, Culp-Bossier (5.8+, grade III) or Northcutt-Carter * private
Longs Peak, Casual Route (5.10a, grade IV) or D1 * private
Denali, West Buttress (AK Grade 2) expedition
Little Switzerland: Middle Troll, S. Face (5.8, grade III, 6 pitches) expedition | private
Kahiltna Glacier, SE Fork: Mt. Francis, Southwest Ridge (5.8, grade IV) private
Kahiltna Glacier, SE Fork: Mini Moonflower, North Couloir (WI4, grade IV) private
Ruth Gorge: Mooses Tooth, Ham and Eggs (WI4, M4, grade V) or West Ridge * private
Denali, Cassin Ridge (5.8, WI4, AK grade V) *
Red Rock, Nevada
Birdland (5.7+, grade II, 6 pitches) private
Frogland (5.8, grade II, 6 pitches) private
Solar Slab (5.6, grade III, 9 pitches) private
Crimson Chrysalis (5.8+, grade III, 9 pitches) private
Dream of Wild Turkeys (10a, 7 pitches) private
Epinephrine (5.9, 13 pitches) private
Rainbow Wall, (5.10a C2, grade V) private
Moab Area, Utah
Fisher Towers, Ancient Art, Stolen Chimney (5.8, A0, grade III) private
Castleton Tower, Kor-Ingalls (5.9, grade III, 4 pitches) * private
Fine Jade, the Rectory (5.11a, grade III, 5 pitches)
Fisher Towers, The Titan (5.8, A3, grade IV) *
Squamish, British Columbia
Skywalker (5.8, 5 pitches, grade II) private
Diedre (5.8, 6 pitches, grade III) private
Rock On (10a, 5 pitches) private
Angel’s Crest (5.10b, grade IV, 13 pitches) private
Grand Wall (5.11a, A0, grade IV, 9 pitches) private
Coast Range, British Columbia
Mt Waddington, Wiessner-House South Face Route (5.7, grade V) * or Bravo Glacier (5.7, AI3, III) course
The Bugaboos, British Columbia
Pigeon Spire, West Ridge (5.4, grade III) course | private
Bugaboo Spire, Kain Route (5.6, grade III) course | private
Bugaboo Spire, Northeast Ridge (5.8-, grade IV, 10 pitches) * private
South Howser Tower, Beckey-Chouinard (5.10, grade IV, 15 pitches) * private