David Roberts and Ed Ward: The Southeast Face of Mt. Dickey, Alaska
Recorded on 2/2/2012
By 1974, not one of the big walls in the Great Gorge of the Ruth Glacier
had been climbed. That summer, Club Medalist David Roberts and climbing
partners Ed Ward and Galen Rowell decided to attempt the biggest of them
all, the southeast face of Mt. Dickey, which rises 5,000 feet sheer from
glacier to summit.
The mountain had been climbed only once before, in 1955, by a twosome
led by Brad Washburn, which tackled the “easy,” glaciated west flank of
Dickey. Roberts, Ward, and Rowell also wanted to up the ante of Alaskan
standards by making one of the first major alpine-style ascents, without
fixed ropes, tent camps, or relayed loads. Fast, light, and
vulnerable—as Washburn himself had transformed Alaskan mountaineering in
The route begins on a near-vertical pillar of superb golden granite.
Above the first thousand feet, the face turns into a labyrinth of false
leads on steadily worsening rock. After two bivouacs, the trio—beyond
the point of no return—needed only to climb the last 800 feet of steep
ice and bad black schist, but a violent storm turned the third day into
a survival ordeal. To save on weight, the men had carried only one pair
of crampons and one ice axe. Using this gear Roberts led all day,
chopping steps for the others to follow, driving rock pitons into ice
for desperate protection, and route-finding with the help of a Washburn
photo that he had tucked into his pocket.
In 2004, Climbing magazine saluted the 1974 ascent as “at the time the
hardest alpine route in North America.”
Club member David Roberts is a noted author and climber. His latest
book “Finding Edward Reuss: The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a
Legendary Wilderness Explorer” was recently released. Ed Ward,
described by Jon Krakauer as “the most naturally gifted climber I have
ever seen,” resides in Northhampton, MA.
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- February 06, 2012 10:50
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