Burkett Needle East Arete

Posted on: October 11, 2011

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.

Here at Alpinist, our small editorial staff works hard to create in-depth stories that are thoughtfully edited, thoroughly fact-checked and beautifully designed. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing.

Steve Gruhn

But a subsequent article on page 43 of Climbing 155 (September - November 1995), by the same author (Michael Benge), called Cauthorn's, Collum's and Foweraker's May 13, 1995, ascent the second ascent of Burkett Needle.

2013-03-29 00:13:38
Steve Gruhn

While studying Climbing No. 153 (June - August 1995), I noticed a brief mention on page 48 that indicated that Cauthorn's, Collum's, and Foweraker's May 1995 ascent was the fourth ascent of Burkett Needle. This note might lend some credence to ak3's claim that there had been more ascents than the six stated below.

2013-03-24 09:12:51

Agreement with Roger and Steve, with the grain of salt taken for the sport of classic shit talk.

I have great personal regard for the in flesh persons and climbing accomplishments of Schooner and Chewtoy. But, climbing is definitely one of those pursuits where actions speak louder than words...and its even better when the two line up in a consistent manner.

If you are still sending huge and not sharing about it, that is great and you have a solid footing from which to criticize the approach or publicity of others - until then you are a reactionary, resisting the evolution and expression of a sport you have at least in the past professed to love.

Samuel Johnson

2013-02-08 02:19:42

2012-05-09 19:09:03
Grant Reaper

I love.

2012-03-05 23:06:40
Roger Strong

Hey "Chewtoy", "Schooner" and every other pathetic hater that hides behind a pseudo-name on the interweb, how do you dignify the negative and nauseating contradictions of your replies and posts? All four of your 'tools' that you referring to on this post are not only dear friends, but whom i've climbed with extensively at the crags and on big routes. I can only say that each of them climb for pretty much the same reasons that you and i do...they LOVE nothing more than being in the mountains, are humble and extremely honest about everything they do. get a spine, come out of the hole, play fair and join us for a beer some day...better yet, maybe we'll be racing each other to the base of a shared objective and realize its only climbing...

2012-03-04 12:56:43
Dave Burdick

Hey Guys-

Sounds like there is some confusion, so here are a few clarifying points. We stayed and chatted with Dieter and Zac H. and they seemed to think that the history of the Needle stands as Steve laid out below. Correct me if Im wrong, but these two seem to be the most knowledgeable, and in Zacs case active, folks in the area.

There have been many attempts on the Needle, including the Colorado folks who put a line through the SE Face to join the South Pillar, Carl & Kales 06 attempt on the South Pillar, Millers attempt of the East Arete back in the 80s, Zacs near repeat of the South Pillar in 09, etc etc. If there are others, feel free to give specifics.

Also, we climbed in alpine style and packed all of our trash off the mountain aside from the nuts and slings left on rappel. I suppose you could fault us style wise for using a helicopter to fly in, but that seems the norm for most climbers who visit the area (though not all of course).

Dave Burdick

2011-11-21 10:07:07

Spraylord lmao again

2011-11-19 22:47:52

AK3- Re: "New route on Witches Tits"...pretty sure that's the same route my homies did a few years back but they didn't think it was important to tell anyone. Old news...but tell your friends that second-first ascents are cool, too. :)

2011-11-17 19:14:35

^<a href="http://go.transcentr.com.ua/"^>

2011-11-17 07:28:50

Schooner, spent mulitple days in Petersburg this summer and plenty of weather windows. South face and witches tit new routes climbed not by me.

2011-11-16 19:34:22

@ spraylord lmao

2011-11-16 19:32:29

I can appreciate someone's aversion to reporting ascents to instant-gratification magazines and forums. But as to records keeping: so, the Alaskan locals are so modest and ego-free that they can't even be bothered to submit their ascents to the AAJ, which has been documenting mountaineering history for over 80 years. Instead, they conceal their tracks and wait anxiously with the expectation that outsiders hoping to climb in "their" area will knock doors and track them down. Failing that, when someone from outside claims a first ascent, they'll use the media they hate so much to pop out of the bushes and say "We've done that climb, we just don't tell people about it. Until now. You're a tool!". Nothing says "tool" more than faux-modesty couple with the classically Alaskan pretension that one lives separate from the trappings of the world. If you want to live in a cave then at least be consistent. On another note, considering your proprietary attitude, even if they had checked in with you and your bro's to the climbed/unclimbed status of the proposed route- why the f$&k should anyone believe your answers? "oh yes we climbed that! It's all been climbed...".

Right! :) Thanks for ^<sort of^> sharing your experiences with us, anyway. Too bad you're too modest to share the whole story with us, like details, for instance.

Or, maybe I just smell sour grapes.

2011-11-13 03:50:48

and I like that one, " the rainy weather of the summer"...

Unusual weather for these parts in the summer, rain. Yeah, it was definitely a rainy summer and every other summer in this rainforest.

2011-11-12 00:50:56

"spent the summer waiting for an appropriate weather window."

I was in Petersburg A LOT this summer and I did not meet those dudes at Kitos Cave..... uh, where were they waiting, at basecamp , Thomas Bay, Muddy River or what?

2011-11-12 00:49:18

Again, I call these guys and the author of the article tools because of there self promotion commercial approach to the mountains. It is not hard to get accurate information on that area if you are a true journalist. Make a few phone calls and find out information on the area. Maybe find out that these guys foolishly went into an area out of season and pissed away precious grant money climbing a route in poor style that is not nearly as aesthetic as the dozens of un publicized routes in the area as well as other unclimbed lines. It is like writing of houses solos last year when people have soloed far harder lines with out the aid of people close by supporting and cheering them on. Laughable this is a garbage journal but it is the best available so I will reluctantly read on.

2011-11-04 06:14:05

there is no fault or blame, just more free tshirts and maybe some cool pictures posted on a blog of this or that dude at a trade show standing next to a pair of approach shoes that hey might get for free. That is all. No fault. Just commercialism. No soul. The Wanting. Needing.

2011-10-30 21:10:15
Steve Gruhn

While other climbers may well have previously climbed Burkett Needle without reporting their ascents, one can hardly fault Burdick, Frieh, West, or Alpinist for being unaware of these unpublicized climbs. If anything, they have honored the continued secrecy of those earlier climbers. And if some take issue with the resulting inaccuracies of the reported ascent history, the logical solution would be to provide the information necessary to correct them. If those earlier climbers did not let their ascents to become known, it should come as little surprise, then, that the records of those ascents will soon be forever lost to the ages.

2011-10-30 05:53:23

ak3 is right. There have been local AK climbers doing ascents in the area for MANY years without the hose of alpinist. I am not agreeing to the calling of these guys tools, just the other stuff.

2011-10-29 14:53:48
Steve Gruhn

So, who made those ascents, what routes were done, and when were they done? I'm truly interested.

2011-10-21 00:15:16

Steve not everyone sprays about how cool there climbing is, just off the top I know of two ascents that you did not list. Alpinist is a cool hollywood show but there is alot bigger stuff that goes on and is not written up and self promoted like these ego type people.

2011-10-20 07:03:22
Steve Gruhn

ak3, I, for one, would like to hear of any other ascents to the summit of Burkett Needle (or other peaks in the area).

While there have certainly been other attempts, I know of only the following six ascents to the summit of Burkett Needle:

1. Daniel Davis and Layton Kor - August 9, 1964 2. Dan Cauthorn, Greg Collum, Greg Foweraker - May 1995 3. Lionel Daudet and Sebastien Foissac - May 1999 4. Max Hasson and Jens Holsten - June 2009 5. Dave Burdick and John Frieh - July 2009 6. Dave Burdick, John Frieh, and Zac West - September 11, 2011

So, if you have additional information, please share it.

2011-10-19 22:54:30

These guys are tools. This article is BS alot of unclimbed lines there have been climbed they are just not sprayed in this self indulgent shit show.

2011-10-19 21:29:17

Nice work boys!

2011-10-11 13:22:12
Post a Comment

Login with your username and password below.
New User? Here's what to do.

Forgot your username or password?