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Hallucinations and Endless Wallowing–Team Climbs New Route on Mt. Dickey

Jason Stuckey leads the first belayed pitch off the glacier early on March 20. The ice was more neve than ice, so while protection was limited, the sticks were solid. From here, the route continues up and right.

[Photo] John Frieh

Between March 20 and 22, John Frieh, Jason Stuckey and Chad Diesinger established a new route on the northeast aspect of Alaska’s Mt. Dickey (9,544′), a mile-wide face, naming it Blue Collar Beatdown (Grade V WI4 M4 65-degree snow, ca. 3,000′). For historical reference, Brian Okonek and Roger Cowles completed the first winter ascent of Mt. Dickey in February 1979, via the West Face route.

Chad Diesinger (blue jacket/upper climber) and John Frieh (red jacket/lower climber) following one of the early ice pitches on day one.

[Photo] Jason Stuckey

The team came up with the route’s name while brewing fluids after being on the move for 41 hours. At the time, some team members were seeing hallucinations in the snow while another heard a phantom lawnmower. Here, “one of the guys said it was a beatdown–the stretches of crappy rock, runout ice and technical wallowing where you’re trenching 60-degree snow [and trying] not to fall,” says Frieh, of Portland, Oregon. “That was the most work that I have ever done on a route.”

Chad Diesinger settling in for a “sit and shiver” session in a snow cave dug into the side of a snow fin.

[Photo] John Frieh

The climb marks Frieh’s sixteenth trip to Alaska and his ninth new route or first winter ascent in the area since 2009. This list includes a winter ascent of Mt. Huntington (12,241′) with Stuckey in 2011.

“I’ve done this a lot,” Frieh says regarding his in-and-out blitz from Oregon to Alaska, only a four-hour flight one way. “I like to watch the weather, get in, do the route, and get home. It takes practice, but [this way] I can climb in Alaska in a weekend…it doesn’t always work.”

March 21: Diesinger continuing the trench started earlier in the night by Stuckey.

[Photo] John Frieh

From watching the weather, Frieh believes, “there’s longer periods of high pressure in winter than in the spring,” but, due to the cold and short weather windows, “you have to have a healthy list of available partners, [and to] call people who live in cold parts of Alaska. They won’t turn you down. That’s part of the strategy.”

In 2011, Frieh used his rapid-fire strategy to climb Alaska’s Burkett Needle with Dave Burdick and Zac West, and made the video called Smash and Grab, which is embedded at the end of this article. Then, in February 2011, Frieh approached Stuckey at the airport in Talkeetna after seeing his climbing pack. A week later they made plans to climb, succeeding on Mt. Huntington for its second winter ascent, during the third week of March. (Jed Brown and Colin Haley first climbed Huntington in winter in 2007.) Frieh, Stuckey and Brad Farra teamed up in March 2014 to make the first winter ascent of Huntington’s French (NW) Ridge. For the 2015 outing, Stuckey recruited Diesinger to join the team–they both live in Fairbanks, Alaska. Blue Collar Beatdown marks Frieh’s first time climbing with Diesinger.

The team on the summit around 5 p.m. on March 21. From left to right: John Frieh, Chad Diesinger, Jason Stuckey.

[Photo] John Frieh

The trip didn’t start off well, and the suffering continued. On March 19, after the team skied to the base of the wall to look at new lines, ravens attacked their supplies. “[They] pulled out Jason’s gloves and shit all over his sleeping bag and puffy pants and ripped two giant holes in our tents,” Diesinger said over the phone. The team patched what they could with duct tape and set off on their climb concerned that their shelter, now structurally compromised, would be torn to shreds by the wind or birds. Diesinger said doubts about their success on the climb crept in as early as the first few pitches.

After summiting, and taking advantage of the remaining light, the team began their descent down the West Ridge of Dickey, nearly reaching the 747 Pass just before dark. When these photos were taken, of Stuckey (in black) and John Frieh (red), the team had been on the go for 41 hours.

[Photos] John Frieh (top) Jason Stuckey (bottom)

“When we got to the top of the first pitch, both John and I were apprehensive. [But] Jason stepped it up and got us up the next pitch,” says Diesinger. They continued up many rope-lengths of unconsolidated snow until close to dark, then attempted to exit the face, but couldn’t find a way. “It was getting steeper,” continues Diesinger, and “we thought we may have to descend the route, and we’d [already] been awake for 28 hours on the go. [Then] I saw something that looked promising on a snow arete. I broke through this big snicey hole to find a big hollow space, [which] provided a good spot for us to regroup.” After four hours of shivering, the team continued on in the dark.

Frieh (red backpack foreground) and Diesinger (out front) trudging for Mt. Dickey’s summit.

[Photo] Jason Stuckey

On the summit plateau, the sun’s rays hit the climbers for the first time during their climb. Several hours later, after traveling over rolling domes and postholing, the three men reached the top.

Frieh, who had previously climbed the mountain in 2012, via the first ascent of No Such Thing as a Bargain Promise (Grade VI WI5R M6, 5,000′), led the team down the west face to base camp.

Frieh leading the descent down from the summit. Behind Frieh on the looker’s left is Mt. Huntington; almost four years ago to the day, Stuckey and Frieh climbed Mt. Huntington together, making the second winter ascent of the mountain.

[Photo] Jason Stuckey

Diesinger recalls the trip’s low point: “[It] was at the end of the night; we [were] wasted and stumbling along and couldn’t find our tracks back to camp. We were all just scanning the glacier to find our tents. [Then] John’s headlamp died.” Eventually, they found their battered tents, which had not been further damaged by ravens.

After five hours of rest, the team prepared to be picked up by their plane. Once their ride arrived, with the props still running, a raven returned to their camp’s remains and “stared us down” as they departed, says Diesinger.

Sources: Chad Diesinger, John Frieh, Jason Stuckey, Alaska: A Climbing Guide