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Burkett Needle East Arete

Repeat Offender (IV 5.9 M5 AI3) as climbed by John Frieh, Zac West and Davie Burdick in September of this year. The trio climbed the new route after waiting months for good weather. [Photo] Dave Burdick

American climbers John Frieh, Zac West and Dave Burdick claimed the first ascent of the Burkett Needle’s east arete, a 8,500-foot tower west of Mt. Burkett on the Stikine Icecap in southeast Alaska. The expedition was funded by the Copp-Dash Inspire Award and the Mazamas Climbing Club. The trio’s new route, Repeat Offender (IV 5.9 AI3 M5), is the sixth ascent of the peak. Dylan Johnson, who was on the group’s original application for the Copp-Dash Award, was unable to make the expedition–Zac West shuffled commitments and joined Burdick and Frieh at the last minute.

The Burkett Needle was first climbed in 1964 by Layton Kor and Dan Davis on the north buttress. The mountain was not summited for a second time until 1995 when Greg Collum, Greg Foweraker and Dan Cauthern established a route on the south pillar (V 5.10 A3+). Burdick and Frieh visited the area in 2009, when their expedition established a new route on the west ridge of the Burkett Needle (IV 5.8 M4).

The expedition, which was the recipient of a 2010 Copp-Dash Inspire Award, spent the summer waiting for an appropriate weather window. Their original objective was Mt. Burkett (9,793′), but the rainy weather of the summer forced the expedition date later and later until the conditions on Mt. Burkett became prohibitive.

The Stikine Icecap is notorious for its wet weather. Petersburg, AK, the closest town, receives 110 inches of precipitation annually. Many beautiful lines remain unclimbed simply because there are few opportunities to climb: Frieh, West and Burdick waited all summer without receiving an open few days to attempt Mt. Burkett. They had even started the process of returning grant money, assuming that their expedition would not happen this year. Unexpectedly, the forecast released September 9, 2011 promised two clear days on the Stikine, and the trio immediately flew from Seattle to the Burkett Glacier.

Upon arrival, it was clear that Mt. Burkett would be unattainable. The Burkett Needle’s east arete immediately became the new objective, and on September 10 the group completed the approach through the icefall at base of the Needle. Being late season, the glacier was quite broken and they were forced to climb several moats and a short serac.

The next morning, Frieh, West and Burdick began the ascent of the east arete. Steep snow and low fifth-class rock lead to an obvious gendarme. After a short wall, exposed mixed climbing followed the ridge crest to a false summit, requiring a rappel to the summit tower. Here the route joined the 1964 Kor-Davis north ridge route. Three more mixed snow and rock pitches lead to the summit. The group descended via the northeast face.

It was not raining on summit day–so by Stikine standards, it was great weather. The group encountered many different climbing conditions: snow (primarily neve), a little ice, snow-covered rock and mixed climbing. “More succinctly,” Frieh says of the climbing conditions, “it was real alpine climbing.” The Burkett Needle is solid high-quality granite, similar to that of the Bugaboos.

Frieh says that what stands out most about their new route is the luck that they had with the weather. In a fickle climate like that of the Stikine Icecap, it is rare that such a brief clearing in the weather occur so late in the season. Local Dieter Klose claims that nothing in the Stikine Icecap has ever been climbed in September. Frieh, West and Burdick had all “reluctantly agreed that [they] weren’t going to get an attempt this year,” due to the wet summer, but Frieh says that “out of the blue (or more accurately wet) the weather threw us a bone.”

For more photos see their trip report on Cascade Climbers.

Sources: John Frieh, Dave Burdick.