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.

The Web has made it much easier to establish consensus difficulty and quality ratings. Sport climbing and rock gyms 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 changed our priorities.

The Guidebook

Fifty Classic Climbs

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 continental 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.

The Objections

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.

Routes that were in the original list are marked with a * symbol.

North & Central Cascades, Washington

Mt. Baker, North Ridge (AI 2+)

South Early Winter Spire, South Arête (5.5, Grade II)

Liberty Bell, Beckey Route (5.6, Grade II)

Forbidden Peak, West Ridge (5.6, grade III) * or Torment-Forbidden Traverse (5.6, grade V)

Mt. Rainier, Kautz Glacier (AI 1, grade III)

Mt Shuksan, Fisher Chimneys to Southeast Arête (5.5, III)

Snow Creek Wall, Outer Space (5.9, grade III)

Inspiration Peak, East Ridge (5.9, grade III)

Dragontail Peak, Triple Couloirs (AI3/M3, III)

Mt. Stuart, Upper North Ridge (5.9, IV) * or North Ridge Direct (5.9+, IV)

Mt. Slesse, Northeast Buttress (5.9, grade V) *

Liberty Bell, Liberty Crack (5.11-, A2/C2, grade V) *


Sierra Nevada, California

Bear Creek Spire, Northeast Ridge (5.4, Grade III)

Mt. Whitney, East Face (5.7, Grade III) *

Mt. Whitney, East Buttress (5.7, Grade III)

Mt. Russell, Mithril Dihedral (5.9+, grade III)

Mt. Dana, Third Pillar Regular Route (5.9+, grade III)

Palisade Traverse (5.9, grade IV)


Colorado Front Range

Eldorado Canyon: Bastille Crack (5.7, grade II)

Lumpy Ridge: Kor's Flake (5.7+, grade II)

Longs Peak, Kiener’s Route (5.4, grade II)

Petit Grepon, South Face (5.7, grade III) *

Hallett Peak, Culp-Bossier (5.8+, grade III) or Northcutt-Carter *

Longs Peak, Casual Route (5.10a, grade IV) or D1 *


Alaska Range

Denali, West Buttress (AK Grade 2)

Little Switzerland: Middle Troll, S. Face (5.8, grade III, 6 pitches)

Kahiltna Glacier, SE Fork: Mt. Francis, Southwest Ridge (5.8, grade IV)

Kahiltna Glacier, SE Fork: Mini Moonflower, North Couloir (WI4, grade IV)

Ruth Gorge: Mooses Tooth, Ham and Eggs (WI4, M4, grade V) or West Ridge *

Denali, Cassin Ridge (5.8, WI4, AK grade V) *


Red Rock, Nevada

Birdland (5.7+, grade II, 6 pitches)

Frogland (5.8, grade II, 6 pitches)

Solar Slab (5.6, grade III, 9 pitches)

Crimson Chrysalis (5.8+, grade III, 9 pitches)

Dream of Wild Turkeys (10a, 7 pitches)

Epinephrine (5.9, 13 pitches)

Rainbow Wall, (5.10a C2, grade V)


Moab Area, Utah

Fisher Towers, Ancient Art, Stolen Chimney (5.8, A0, grade III)

Castleton Tower, Kor-Ingalls (5.9, grade III, 4 pitches) *

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)

Diedre (5.8, 6 pitches, grade III)

Rock On (10a, 5 pitches)

Angel’s Crest (5.10b, grade IV, 13 pitches)

Grand Wall (5.11a, A0, grade IV, 9 pitches)


Coast Range, British Columbia

Mt Waddington, Wiessner-House South Face Route (5.7, grade V) * or Bravo Glacier (5.7, AI3, III)


The Bugaboos, British Columbia

Pigeon Spire, West Ridge (5.4, grade III)

Bugaboo Spire, Kain Route (5.6, grade III)

Bugaboo Spire, Northeast Ridge (5.8-, grade IV, 10 pitches) *

South Howser Tower, Beckey-Chouinard (5.10, grade IV, 15 pitches) *


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