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

Posted on: March 27, 2015

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 For historical reference, Brian Okonek and Roger Cowles completed the first winter ascent of Mt.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

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I doubt anyone with the chops to climb technical routes in the Alaska Range needs to be reminded that there are objective hazards involved. I remember looking at a photo of Mt. Huntington's north face just after Roberts and McCartney made their ascent. Even as a rookie mountaineer I had no doubt that there was far too much hazard lurking above that route for it to ever tempt me. That year, 1978 was my first trip into the range. We did first ascents on Mt. Dan Beard and The Rooster Comb, discovering objective hazards on both routes. After seeing Mt. Huntington from both those routes, we came back in '79 , '80 and '83 to do climbs on Huntington. I don't recall ever being warned about objective hazards. Probably wouldn't have mattered if we had.

2015-04-02 20:14:18

There's a photo of the route on climbing.com. As for the objective hazard - here's a big photo of the route so you can decide for yourself: bit.ly/1I1SgoC

2015-03-31 18:59:02
helmet buckle

I think the first picture explains everything that needs to be explained.

If you've ever climbed in the Alaska Range you'll know that these seracs are literally everywhere. There are also dozens (or perhaps hundreds?) of unrepeated or hardly done routes because of objective dangers.

Glaciers change, seracs disappear, new ones form. That is one of the draws of the Alaska Range. It takes each individual to decide what is an acceptable risk for them.

I doubt that Frieh, Stuckey or Deisenger care if anyone repeats their route, just as most early Alaska climbers and pioneers felt.

2015-03-29 12:51:44
Norsk Lege

I disagree with the previous comment by "helmet buckle". It has been a tradition amongst traditional climbing literature that routes that contain an element or high degree of objective hazard are commented as such in the route description. A short word of caution note is adequate and appropriate to orient the reader. This has been and is expected of climbing literature sources so that the reader has a baseline appreciation for the route being described. For example, a route occurring under a large and continuous serac barrier should be commented as such. This immediately orients the reader to risk assessment decisions that were employed by the first ascensionists. I recall many years ago that when I was learning about mountain routes, if I came upon a route description in a book or magazine that included a word of caution about objective hazard, I would immediately become aware that the first ascensionists had a different appreciation for life than that in which I had and would then seek those elegant lines avoiding objective hazard as much as possible. In the case of this route, it would be appropriate to not only include a picture of the north aspect of Mt. Dickey and the hulking serac barrier lining the top, but a word of caution remark so that other readers maybe wanting to visit the region and seeking new route orientation would learn about the objective hazard of this aspect of Mt. Dickey.

2015-03-29 03:12:44
helmet buckle

that was a dumb comment

people can do what they want

what do you care anyway?

you're just a ball or a bone or a rope,

something to put in a dog's mouth

2015-03-28 18:55:21

Walking under seracs-what

No photo of the North aspect of Dickey?

we offer praise- perhaps betta to

choose routes

that will be repeated

so we can swap stories

about leads and fumbles

over coffee, whiskey and chocolate —- Lame prose aside,

Alpinist continues to give press to routes with high objective dangers.

Do the editors of Alpinist think moving under seracs is worth the so called "rewards?"

2015-03-27 15:55:40
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