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Cole Taylor Solos Old Route on Alaska’s Devil’s Thumb

During the middle of summer, America Cole Taylor sailed his boat from Washington state to Alaska and then headed up the Baird Glacier to Devil’s Thumb in the Coast Mountains.

He arrived and made the second ascent of the upper half, as Alpinist reported here, nearly four decades after the first ascent of the VI 5.9 by Dave Stuzman and Bob Plumb.

Northeast Face of Devil’s Thumb by John Scurlock

Taylor borrowed gear and knowledge from longtime Coast Mountain climber Dieter Klose. On the summit, Taylor bumped into another party, which had likely never happened on the remote peak before.

Mike McMahon was one of the climbers Taylor met on the summit. He noted on the Alpinist story, “I was on the Direct East Ridge when Cole climbed the Northeast Pillar (which is a crazy coincidence in such a desolate Range).

“The pillar must have been terrifying, as the unconsolidated, super-saturated snow on route was continuously sluffing around him as he tooled for firmer rock beneath the sopping-wet sugar.

“Navigating the lower Baird, and the icefalls surrounding the Thumb, solo, must have been absolutely hellacious and nerve wracking. I’ve never witnessed such determination. What a truly incredible achievement!”

The Devil’s Thumb, first called Taalkhunaxhkʼu Shaa in Tlingit, was first climbed by Fred Beckey, Cliff Schmidtke and Bob Craig in 1946 up the East Ridge.

The Northwest Face is one of the last great alpine challenges in America. Many climbers say it can’t be done. It has killed at least three parties, including Timothy Rouner, his older brother Rainsford and Peter Cole during a 1977 attempt; and that of Canadians Guy Edwards and John Millar in 2003.

Kai Hirvonen was with Edwards and Millar, but opted to not attempt the climb with them. They skied in under clear skies. Hirvonen turned around after a day of rest and before they reached the face.

From the glacier, Hirvonen watched Edwards and Millar’s headlamps heading up. He never heard from them again and skied out alone. A helicopter search turned up no clues.

Upper Northwest Face on Devil’s Thumb by John Scurlock