The Fifty Classic Climbs of North America List
And the climbers who've tried to climb them all over the past 40 years
Steve Roper and Allen Steck’s Fifty Classic Climbs of North America hit the shelves in 1979 and it became an instant classic. Roper and Steck were two of the most cutting-edge climbers of their generation.
Elite climbers from around the world finally had a source of information that showed off North America’s mountains, from the big walls of Yosemite to remote faces in Canada and epic ridges in Alaska.
The list has never been climbed by any one climber or team. Canadian Nancy Hansen climbed 46, and Mark and Janelle Smiley climbed 48. Kurt Blair, Gary Clark and Allen Steck himself all tried to climb the 50 routes.
The two routes that stopped the Smileys were the Hummingbird Ridge and Middle Triple. Due to the dangers of the climbs, they’ve abandoned their attempt to climb all 50.
In 1965, the Hummingbird Ridge saw its first, and only, successful ascent. The late American legend Mugs Stump and his crew took 10 days to climb the lower section of the route (which the first ascent party bypassed) before bailing. Then in May 1987, Dave Cheesmond and Cathy Freer were killed while traversing a section of the route called the Shovel Traverse. A few years later, a group of Canadians were avalanched off, killing one of them.
Middle Triple Peak’s East Ridge has only been climbed around five times, with the last one coming 25 years ago, long before the first pitch broke away.
A majority of the climbs can be done on a road trip with good weather and conditions, including those in Western Canada.
There are a number of “list” books about climbing in North America, including Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, Fifty Favourite Climbs in North America, Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North America Climbs, and The Bold and Cold.
The 50 Classics
Alaska and the Yukon
Mount Saint Elias, Abruzzi Ridge
Mount Fairweather, Carpé Ridge
Mount Hunter, West Ridge
Denali, Cassin Ridge
Moose’s Tooth, West Ridge
Mount Huntington, West Face 5.9 A2 with “severe snow and ice”
Mount Logan, Hummingbird Ridge
Middle Triple Peak, East Buttress VI 5.9 A3
Mount Sir Donald, Northwest Arete [Ridge] III 5.2 [5.4]
Bugaboo Spire, East Ridge III 5.7
South Howser Tower, West Buttress V 5.8 A2 or 5.10
Mount Robson, Wishbone Arete V 5.6
Mount Edith Cavell, North Face IV 5.7
Mount Alberta, Japanese Route V 5.6
Mount Temple, East Ridge IV 5.7
Mount Waddington, South Face V 5.7
Devils Thumb, East Ridge IV 5.6
Lotus Flower Tower V 5.8 A2 or 5.10
Slesse Mountain, Northeast Buttress V 5.9 A2
Mount Rainier, Liberty Ridge
Forbidden Peak, West Ridge II 5.6
Mount Shuksan, Price Glacier
Mount Stuart, North Ridge III 5.9
Liberty Bell Mountain, Liberty Crack V 5.9 A3
Devil’s Tower, Durrance Route II 5.6-5.7
Grand Teton, North Ridge IV 5.7
Grand Teton, Direct Exum Ridge III 5.6
Grand Teton, North Face IV 5.8
Mount Moran, Direct South Buttress IV 5.7 A3
Pingora, Northeast Face IV 5.8
Wolf’s Head, East Ridge II 5.5
Crestone Needle, Ellingwood Ledges III 5.7
Hallett Peak, Northcutt-Carter Route III 5.7
Petit Grepon, South Face III 5.8
Longs Peak, The Diamond, D1 V 5.7 A4 or 5.12a
Utah & New Mexico
Shiprock, III 5.7 A2 or 5.9
Castleton Tower, Kor-Ingalls Route III 5.9
Fisher Towers, The Titan, Finger of Fate, IV 5.8 A3
The Royal Arches, Royal Arches Route III 5.6 A1 or 5.9
Lost Arrow Spire, Spire Chimney III 5.5 A3 or 5.10 A2
Sentinel Rock, Steck-Salathe Route V 5.9 A3
Middle Cathedral Rock, East Buttress IV 5.9 A1 or 5.10
Half Dome, Northwest Face VI 5.9 A3 or 5.12
El Capitan, Nose Route VI 5.11 A3
El Capitan, Salathé Wall VI 5.10 A3
Mount Whitney, East Face III 5.7
Fairview Dome, North Face III-IV 5.9
Clyde Minaret, Southeast Face IV 5.8
Charlotte Dome, South Face III 5.7
Lover’s Leap, Traveler Buttress II 5.9
In 2015, the group of climbers attempting all 50 (including author Allen Steck) offered some changes to the original list.
The climbs they would remove are: Middle Triple Peak (The first pitch has been erased by rockfall, and a replacement line has yet to be climbed); Hummingbird Ridge (No second ascent and four people have died attempting it), Shiprock (Sacred to Navajo Nation and closed since 1967), Hallett Peak (First two pitches wiped out in late 1990s).
The climbers suggested the replacements as being: Cimson Chrysalis 5.8 in Red Rock, The Whitney/Gilman 5.7 at Cannon Cliff, Moonlight Buttress 5.8 C1 in Zion, and Casual Route 5.10 on the Diamond.
Many climbers select a region and aim to climb all of those routes in a season; a fun goal for next summer.