Mark and Janelle Smi­ley’s Epic Quest to Climb the Fifty Clas­sics

Climbing - - COMMITED - By Chris Kas­sar

The fire-en­gine-red DeHav­il­land Ott­ter morphs into a speck be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing into the cobalt sky. Left be­hind on Alaska's ice-blue Tatina Gracier. Mark and Janelle Smi­ley. a mar­ried cou­ple from Jack­son Hole. Wy­oming move through Yosemite-sided gran­ite spires and walls capped in snow. It's May 2016 and these two Exum Moun­tain Guides are 46 climbs into their first peo­ple to climb ev­ery route in Steve Roper and Allen Steck's 1979 book Fifty Clas­sic Climbs of North Amer­ica. For those who know the book and its in­flu­ence-how it's drawn hordes to cer­tain climbs - the scope of their ob­jec­tives is im­pres­sive, as is their goal to pull off all 50 in a largely self-funded ef­fort that they have doc­u­mented as they go with phots, videos, and an in­ter­ac­tive Google map.

Af­ter 11 hours haul­ing 200 pounds of gear over a 1,500-foot col, the pair sets up base­camp be­low the East But­tress of Mid­dle Triple Peak, an 8,835-foot spire in the Kichatna Moun­tains—a range Royal Rob­bins de­scribed as “Yosemite meets the North Pole.” Of all the routes in the Clas­sics ( see “All 50 Clas­sics…”

side­bar, p.66), which range from a moder­ate rock romp like the Royal Arches, to desert spires like Castle­ton Tower, to ven­er­a­ble alpine climbs like the North Face of the Grand Teton, Mid­dle Triple is among the most dif­fi­cult.

Morn­ing ar­rives. On re­con, the Smi­leys dis­cover ser­acs perched to the right of the route. Mean­while, over­head and left, a huge hang­ing glacier, and specif­i­cally the giant blue crack run­ning its length, draws their at­ten­tion. “That doesn’t look long for this world,” says Janelle.

The two ski back to camp. Two hours later, they watch as the glacier breaks loose, un­leash­ing a slide of ice chunks onto the very spot where they’d stood.

The fol­low­ing day, they scram­ble over the de­bris, spend­ing 20 butt-clench­ing min­utes in the serac blast zone, and then tackle the lower 1,200-foot head­wall. Not only is this the steep­est part of the 3,200-foot face, it also re­quires nav­i­gat­ing more than 100 feet of bare rock, since the bot­tom pitch fell off, Half Dome–

style, in a dra­matic route change dis­cov­ered in 2012 by Nancy Hansen, a Cana­dian alpin­ist and fel­low Clas­sics pur­suer who has suc­cess­fully climbed 46 routes on the list to date.

Mark leads over the flaky rock, drilling bat hooks and plac­ing pecker pitons. As the first to at­tempt the route since the rock calved off, he’s essen­tially re-es­tab­lish­ing it. Af­ter four hours, the Smi­leys com­plete two more pitches of “slow-mo aid” climb­ing to rise a mere 300 feet above the snow. Mark fixes the ropes, raps, and points back to their path—more fall­ing snow and ice have oblit­er­ated their tracks.

The duo hus­tles back to camp. Tent­bound for the next nine days, they ven­ture out be­tween squalls to check on the route, find­ing frozen ropes, icy rock, and more de­bris. If the moun­tain sheds again while they’re hur­ry­ing across the sketchy sec­tion, it’s all over. Back in the tent, their feel­ings os­cil­late be­tween a cloudy mix of hop­ing for an­other storm day so they won’t have to face the dan- ger and hop­ing it will clear so they can push for­ward.

“Nine days to just think about ser­acs … ” Mark tells me in an in­ter­view. “I hated it … I don’t ever want to be in a tent for nine days. Ever again.”


I first met the Smi­leys in June 2015 at 14,000 feet on De­nali. Mark, his blond hair point­ing in all di­rec­tions, came by our camp search­ing for choco­late. “Do you guys have any peanut-but­ter cups?” he said. We chat­ted while he scoured through the ex­tra food we were try­ing to pawn off be­fore head­ing down. He and his wife were de­scend­ing De­nali, hun­gry and ex­hausted, hav­ing climbed the

Cassin Ridge (VI 5.7 AI4) roundtrip in 6.5 days, with only 2.5 days for the ac­tual as­cent, a feat that seemed su­per­hu­man to me con­sid­er­ing the climb’s 12,000 feet of ver­ti­cal gain. The route had pre­vi­ously thwarted them twice—once in 2012 when they spent 26 days on the peak and failed to sum­mit due to weather, and once in 2013, when, af­ter 10 days of ac­cli­mat­ing, record-high temps turned the ac­cess couloir into a flurry of rock­fall.

Janelle, a slen­der woman with a neat, brown braid, wan­dered over and picked through and smartly re­jected our mushed candy. They told us they had spent the bet­ter part of their re­la­tion­ship pur­su­ing their dream to be the first peo­ple to stand atop ev­ery Clas­sic in “the book.” The Cassin was their forty-fifth tick.

The next day, back in civ­i­liza­tion, we shared a ta­ble at the Talkeetna Road­house. Over plates piled with eggs, pan­cakes, rein­deer sausage, and pie, we learned that Mark was a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher, film­maker, and guide, while Janelle was an alpin­ist, guide, and ski moun­taineer with three na­tional and two North Amer­i­can cham­pi­onships in the sport.

Mark grew up in In­di­ana climb­ing and camp­ing with his fam­ily and rap­pelling from maple trees in his front yard. Dur­ing sum­mers in col­lege at Pur­due Univer­sity, he led raft­ing trips in Colorado; af­ter grad­u­a­tion, he guided on Mount Rainier. Born in Aspen, Colorado, Janelle started ski­ing at age three and spent her for­ma­tive years climb­ing, ski­ing, and ex­plor­ing Colorado. Their worlds col­lided in Fe­bru­ary 2006 in sleepy Gun­ni­son, Colorado, when Janelle, a ju­nior at West­ern State Col­lege, and Mark, a ski bum,

Af­ter four hours of “slo-mo aid” climb­ing to rise 300 feet above the snow, Mark raps and points back to their path— fall­ing snow and ice have oblit­er­ated their tracks.

both at­tended a din­ner party about mar­riage or­ga­nized by lo­cal pas­tors.

“What if I get bored? That’s what I’m con­cerned about in terms of get­ting mar­ried,” said Mark. From across the room, Janelle piped in, “Me, too.” Who’s that? Mark won­dered. The fol­low­ing day, while hik­ing up a moun­tain to watch the sun­rise, they con­nected. Seven months later, they ex­changed vows in Ridg­way, Colorado.

Months later, Mark heard fel­low Exum guide Chris­tian San­telices, who in 1993 with Wil­lie Bene­gas, Nancy Fea­gin, and Hans Florine com­pleted 20 of the Clas­sics in as many days, talk­ing about the “50 Clas­sics” at an Amer­i­can Moun­tain Guides As­so­ci­a­tion course. When Mark re­al­ized no­body had yet com­pleted all of the climbs, he pro­posed to Janelle that they be the first. “We knew we would have an ad­ven­ture tack­ling this, so de­tails didn’t mat­ter,” says Mark—even de­tails like not ac­tu­ally con­sult­ing 50 Clas­sic Climbs.

In Septem­ber 2009, af­ter seven hours of climb­ing, they topped out on Longs Peak, Colorado, hav­ing climbed the Di­a­mond via the

Ca­sual Route (IV 5.10a), which Wikipedia had cited as the wall’s most pop­u­lar climb. How­ever, when they re­turned home and bought 50

Clas­sics, they learned that the ac­tual line was D1, a V 5.12a. Un­de­terred, the pair jumped into an en­deavor that re­quires as­cend­ing over 150,000 feet of rock and ice on ter­rain scat­tered from Alaska to New Mex­ico. They com- pleted 26 ob­jec­tives in 2010, in­clud­ing their ac­tual first clas­sic, Utah’s Castle­ton Tower. They com­pleted nine more the fol­low­ing year. Of the 32 climbs in the lower 48, the Smi­leys fin­ished 30 on their first try. With 35 sum­mits at the end of 2011, progress slowed sig­nif­i­cantly as they tack­led the tougher, more re­mote ob­jec­tives, many in Alaska and Canada.

To make this new life­style a re­al­ity, the Smi­leys would trade their home in Crested Butte, Colorado, for a Dodge Sprinter van. They drove across the west and up to Alaska twice— uti­liz­ing public spa­ces, ran­dom park­ing spots, and parks to pack, cook, and dry out gear. Life on the road al­lowed them an in­ti­mate look at the coun­try and plugged them into a net­work of friends both old and new. Be­ing in such close prox­im­ity was a mix­ture of in­ti­macy and frus­tra­tion. Janelle re­calls hav­ing a fight in the mid­dle of the night, slam­ming the van door, and re­al­iz­ing they were parked some­where ran­dom in Las Ve­gas and she had nowhere safe to go. She got back in and they worked through it. “Spend­ing so much time to­gether—in the van or in a 4X6 tent—forced us to solve prob­lems quickly,” says Janelle. “You can’t check out or go into the other room, and you can’t go to bed an­gry be­cause you have to fig­ure out how to work to­gether to­mor­row.”

The Smi­leys es­ti­mate their quest has cost them $100,000. Forty per­cent came out of pocket and the rest they raised via Kick­starter, films from their ad­ven­tures, and spon­sors like

Mark led in the arc­tic twi­light, turn­ing into a “V-thread ma­chine,” hunched over, bar­ing down, com­plet­ing a sys­tem be­fore the oth­ers reached him.

Gore-tex, Arc’teryx, and Goal Zero. The cou­ple also climbed with friends along the way, like Jed Porter, an IFMGA moun­tain guide who now lives in Vic­tor, Idaho, and who joined their June 2013 as­cent of Carpé Ridge (VI) on Mt. Fair­weather (15,325 feet) in Alaska.

On Fair­weather, the trio reached 14,000 feet in just two days, but a white­out sent them back to base­camp. Here, over the next 10 days, they dug an 11-foot-deep “pain cave” in the snow, lay­ing skis across it so they could do pull-ups. When the weather cleared, it took only three days to crank out the re­main­ing bits of the 11,000 feet of glaciated coastal climb­ing and re­turn to base­camp. “It was in­tim­i­dat­ing to climb with the best climb­ing cou­ple on the planet,” Porter re­calls. “But it went well and we had fun. They per­form at a high level and they’ve only got­ten bet­ter over the years.”

Porter later joined them on other Clas­sics, like the Steck-Salathé (V 5.10b) on Sen­tinel Rock in Yosemite, 16 pitches of wide crack. Janelle grace­fully led the Nar­rows, pitch 10’s in­fa­mous squeeze chim­ney. Mark, how­ever, hung and then got stuck in the maw. As he blogged, “… when I’d turn my head from left to right, my nose would scrape on the wall. Then the back­pack that I was trail­ing started get­ting stuck be­low me …. I lost it. Started scream­ing at the world. Not my proud­est mo­ment.”

As Porter filmed, perched near Janelle’s be­lay sta­tion, he noted her cool de­meanor while she set up a 3:1 haul­ing sys­tem. Blogged Mark, you couldn’t “even call it climb­ing, more like hang­dog­ging on toprope, only your be­layer has tied the rope to a car bumper and is driv­ing slowly away, ef­fec­tively tow­ing you up.” As Janelle told Porter, she’d never in her seven years of mar­riage seen Mark that an­gry, an emo­tion he quickly let wash away up at the be­lay. For his part, Mark has vowed to work on his hip flex­i­bil­ity, the lim­it­ing fac­tor in his abil­ity to pull off the crux, so he can re­turn to climb the Steck-Salathé in style.


Dur­ing the next three climb­ing sea­sons (2012–2014), the Smi­leys topped out on just nine routes and failed more than 50 per­cent of the time, in­clud­ing an un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt in July 2014 on the Hum­ming­bird Ridge (VI) of Mt. Lo­gan (19,850 feet), the sec­ond high­est peak in North Amer­ica and Canada’s high­est.

For two years prior, Janelle had been strug­gling with in­creas­ing hip pain. Three months be­fore head­ing to Lo­gan, an MRI re­vealed labral tears in both hips. Her first cor­ti­sone shot pro­vided three weeks of re­lief, enough to com­pete in, and win, three ski-mo races. Un­for­tu­nately, an­other shot right be­fore the ex­pe­di­tion didn’t of­fer ad­e­quate re­lief. At ad­vanced base­camp, Janelle suc­cumbed to ex­cru­ci­at­ing hip pain and flew back to civ­i­liza­tion. Mark con­tin­ued up­ward with Porter and Reiner Thoni, a ski-moun­taineer­ing na­tional cham­pion who had also joined the Smi­leys on Mt. Rob­son and Mt. Alberta.

Three days later, tem­per­a­tures cooled enough that the trio could be­gin climb­ing the snowy couloir that led from 8,000 to 12,000 feet to gain the ridge proper. For the lower twothirds, they climbed hard, clean ice in run­nels whose “big walls lent a per­cep­tion of safety so we felt we could free solo,” says Porter. Af­ter 12 hours and 12 pitches (rang­ing from easy ice to 75-de­gree slopes) on the up­per third, they gained a ridge­line clad in deep, loose snow and un­sta­ble ice. Six hours, and two nar­row cor­nice es­capes later, they made camp on the ridge crest.

On day three, Mark, while lead­ing a rock pitch, fell into the abyss when a 15-foot cor­nice crum­bled. Af­ter two more days of slow progress and more near-misses, the team re­al­ized that cor­nice Rus­sian roulette wasn’t their game—a real threat given that in May 1987, while cross­ing the route’s hor­i­zon­tal one-mile Shovel Tra­verse, world-class climbers Dave Cheesmond and Cather­ine Freer were killed, likely due to cor­nice fail­ure. They also dis­cov­ered that a text sent via satel­lite hadn’t made it back to Janelle, wait­ing in White­horse, so she had spent a night think­ing the men were dead. “At ev­ery turn it was stress­ful … stress on top of stress on top of stress,” re­calls Porter.

Their de­scent was a night­mare: 4,000 feet of rap­pelling off 34 V-threads with only a sin­gle 60-me­ter rope, 12 hours on a wall capped by pre­car­i­ous ser­acs, lis­ten­ing to wa­ter run­ning un­der the ice and watch­ing chunks of rock and ice plum­met past. Dur­ing the dark­est, cold­est hours of the arc­tic-sum­mer twi­light, Mark led the way, turn­ing into a “V-thread ma­chine,” hunched over, bar­ing down, re­ly­ing on his head­lamp to com­plete a whole sys­tem be­fore the other two reached him. “Soaked and scared out of our minds, we were com­pletely, brain­lessly fol­low­ing Mark,” says Porter. When they reached flat ground, Mark col­lapsed from stress fa­tigue. Three and a half days later, the weather cleared and they flew back to town.

Weeks later, in late July, Janelle walked into the hos­pi­tal and left in a wheel­chair af­ter un­der­go­ing the first of two hip labrum re­place­ment surg­eries; the sec­ond came that Septem­ber. The pair had only six routes left— in­clud­ing Hum­ming­bird Ridge, which they weren’t sure they wanted to re­turn to. “There were about 100 times when we wanted to quit or just thought it was over,” admits Mark.

“This project pushed me up against my lim­its sev­eral times,” says Janelle. “It’s a to­tal gift to have the op­por­tu­nity to scare the shit out of your­self. But it’s also a gift to have the op­por­tu­nity to choose be­tween giv­ing up and work­ing through that fear to be coura­geous.”

Over the seven years that they ded­i­cated to the project, Janelle went through pe­ri­ods of won­der­ing why they were sac­ri­fic­ing so much time, money, and ef­fort to fol­low a list that seemed too dan­ger­ous. But, by sim­ply not giv­ing up on her, Mark would al­ways bring her back in. “My testos­terone brain had no lim­its, so when her mind would get in the way—be­cause she al­ways had the phys­i­cal abil­ity to do it—my stub­born­ness would just push us through,” he says.

Af­ter Janelle’s surg­eries, she ex­pe­ri­enced a shift: Sud­denly she wanted to fin­ish the list more than ever. They’d come this far and she’d paid a phys­i­cal price—one so great she was un­sure she’d ever climb again—so when she did re­turn to the moun­tains, her grat­i­tude for the abil­ity to sim­ply move pushed her to over­come any chal­lenge in their path.

In July 2015, just 10 months af­ter her sec­ond hip surgery, Janelle re­turned with Mark to De­nali, and they sum­mited via the Cassin. Their sec­ond evening on the route, as Mark be­layed Janelle up the fi­nal tech­ni­cal pitch—a rock scram­ble giv­ing way to a snow slope—he re­al­ized they were go­ing to make it. All the un­cer­tainty from Janelle’s in­jury, their past at­tempts, the point of it all, just fell away. “This was a point in our climb­ing time­line that we could say, ‘We got this. This is awe­some.’ I tried to stay in that mo­ment as long as pos­si­ble,” he

says. In Oc­to­ber 2015, they wrapped up the sea­son with num­ber 46, a climb of 11,033foot Mt. Edith Cavell’s North Face (IV 5.7), a 5,000-foot ice and rock route. But, in May 2016, on Mid­dle Triple Peak, they hit a stum­bling block: The climb, with its calv­ing rock and con­stant serac fall, was too per­ilous. The risk could not be jus­ti­fied.

They fol­lowed this dis­ap­point­ment with a sea-to-sum­mit climb via the Har­vard Route on Alaska’s Mount St. Elias (18,009 feet). “Within a few days, we went from Mid­dle Triple, a gor­geous place we couldn’t ap­pre­ci­ate be­cause we were to­tally ter­ri­fied, to hav­ing an en­tire moun­tain un­fold for us in a per­fect, al­most di­vine way,” says Janelle. Five weeks later, on Au­gust 1, the Smi­leys ven­tured to Colorado for their sec­ond and fi­nal at­tempt on D1, a thou­sand-foot alpine wall with four con­sec­u­tive gen­tly over­hang­ing pitches. They’d tried

D1 pre­vi­ously, but fa­tigue, cold temps, and hail had con­spired to drive them off. Janelle had put it last on the list, se­cretly hop­ing they wouldn’t have to do it.

This time, she re­turned to the Di­a­mond a dif­fer­ent per­son. “My jour­ney in all this has been over­com­ing the men­tal game and fears of the un­known,” she says. “Noth­ing about the route had changed, but I had.” Her In­sta­gram post summed it up best: “The first time I climbed the Di­a­mond [via the Ca­sual Route] I cried, was scared of the ex­po­sure, both weather and com­mit­ment, it took for­ever, I led maybe 2 pitches of 5.easy and I never wanted to do it again … 7 years later I find my­self on the Di­a­mond again but this time my com­fort and skills have changed. I didn’t cry, I was not scared, I even felt like I was in my el­e­ment, we swung leads, sum­mited in the rain, and I loved ev­ery minute of it.”

The Smi­leys, who had agreed they wouldn’t be re­turn­ing to Lo­gan or Mid­dle Triple, climbed know­ing the bit­ter­sweet fact that this, their forty-eighth Clas­sic, would be their fi­nal un­der­tak­ing of the project.


Mark had a hard time com­ing to grips with not fin­ish­ing all 50 climbs. He was adamant about their goal: They would be first to climb the 50 Clas­sics, and any­thing less was a fail­ure. Janelle, how­ever, sim­ply wanted to at­tempt all the routes as a team and tell a story about each. So by her met­ric, they had been suc­cess­ful.

“Not com­plet­ing all 50 def­i­nitely both­ers me,” Mark says. “But at some point the Clas­sics changed from a fun ob­jec­tive to an ad­dic­tion; it be­came our Moby Dick.” Ul­ti­mately, the pair felt the scales had tipped to a point where the sac­ri­fices out­weighed the ben­e­fits. And then there was the risk on the two that re­mained:

Hum­ming­bird Ridge saw its first and only suc­cess­ful as­cent in 1965 by a team that in­cluded

50 Clas­sics co-au­thor Allen Steck. And Mid­dle Triple Peak’s East Ridge had only al­lowed five

suc­cess­ful as­cents, with the last one com­ing 20 years ago, be­fore the bot­tom pitch exfoliated.

“We had an awe­some run, and the moun­tains made the de­ci­sions for us and made it pretty clear that it was time to head home,” says Mark. It’s easy to un­der­stand how such an in­tense pur­suit—one that has not only dom­i­nated the last seven years, but also the ma­jor­ity of their part­ner­ship—could lose its lus­ter. Not to men­tion the toll such in­ten­sity takes on a re­la­tion­ship. Yet, their quest has brought them closer to­gether and made them health­ier as a cou­ple.

“When we first started climb­ing to­gether, in­stead of say­ing, ‘I’m scared,’ or, ‘ This back­pack is too heavy and I can’t pull this over­hang!’ Janelle would yell, ‘Be­lay me bet­ter!’ I’d yell back, ‘I’m be­lay­ing you fine!’” re­calls Mark. “That wouldn’t go very well.” Over time, how­ever, Mark learned to look at the feel­ings be­hind the words; he learned to en­cour­age Janelle in a kind, lov­ing way. Mean­while, Janelle im­proved at voic­ing what was go­ing on for her. “Such a sim­ple so­lu­tion that Mark said, ‘ That was all I needed to do?’” says Janelle.

Oth­ers who climb with them have no­ticed an evo­lu­tion, too. Dur­ing their first at­tempt on the

Cassin Ridge— and other early climbs—they had trou­ble mak­ing de­ci­sions: They dis­agreed about when to move for­ward and when to call it. “Alpine climb­ing part­ners need to be on the same page,” says Porter. “It took them a while to get there, per­haps com­pli­cated fur­ther by hav­ing mar­i­tal stuff on top of it. Over time, they’ve gained a greater un­der­stand­ing of each other’s mo­ti­va­tions, risk tol­er­ance, and gen­eral ap­proach to de­ci­sion-mak­ing, which has led to in­creased ac­cep­tance.” Last year while the trio at­tempted a ski linkup in Peru, Janelle felt that a loom­ing serac posed too much dan­ger. Rather than Mark ex­plain­ing why the area was safe and try­ing to con­vince her to con­tinue, like Porter says Mark would have done five years prior, they turned back with­out any hard feel­ings or pres­sure to con­tinue. “Janelle felt ter­ri­ble about it, but fol­lowed her gut and owned her de­ci­sion,” Porter says. Along the way, through en­ter­tain­ing videos and hon­est blog and so­cial me­dia posts like this In­sta­gram post from Janelle re­gard­ing Mid­dle Triple Peak—“What hap­pens when you get caught on a glacier in a 9 day storm and you can’t climb? You get 9 days of snug­gle time with your climb­ing buddy #al­wayspick­a­cutepart­ner @smi­leyspro­ject #long­days #alpineclimb­ing #stor­m­day #alaska­climb­ing #not­climb­ing”— the Smi­leys have ex­posed the re­al­ity of em­bark­ing on such an es­capade with a loved one. By show­ing not only glam­orous sum­mit shots but also the real and hum­bling mo­ments, like Mark freak­ing out on the Steck

SalathŽ or Janelle paus­ing, cry­ing, and then push­ing through her fear to lead across Thank God Ledge on Half Dome, they con­nect with peo­ple on a more in­ti­mate level.

So per­haps it’s not sur­pris­ing that the Smi­leys have par­layed their ex­pe­ri­ence into help­ing and coach­ing oth­ers in the moun­tains. Their goal is to use shared ad­ven­tures to help

The Smi­leys’ goal is to par­lay their ex­pe­ri­ence on the 50 Clas­sics into help­ing and coach­ing oth­ers on shared ad­ven­tures in the moun­tains.

cou­ples break free from the core is­sues af­fect­ing them. “I found joy by push­ing through fear, ful­fill­ing my crav­ing for ad­ven­ture, scor­ing a few fe­male first as­cents, and be­ing part of this re­la­tion­ship with Mark,” says, Janelle, who af­ter her hip surg­eries stud­ied to be­come a cer­ti­fied per­for­mance and life coach. “I couldn’t ask for any­thing bet­ter, and I want to share that.”

So far, the Smi­leys have been work­ing with friends and ac­quain­tances out climb­ing or ski­ing in the Te­tons; Janelle coaches them to iden­tify fac­tors that are hold­ing them back and helps them re­al­ize so­lu­tions. The goal is to give peo­ple an aware­ness of how they in­ter­act with each other and help them let go of lim­it­ing be­liefs. Mark, mean­while, han­dles lo­gis­tics and the tech­ni­cal and safety as­pects, a com­po­nent that will be­come more crit­i­cal as they ex­pand into burlier ex­pe­di­tions.

“So many of us don’t be­lieve in our own abil­i­ties,” she says. “I’m just help­ing peo­ple re­al­ize what’s al­ready in them.”

These days, Janelle is again train­ing for skimo rac­ing and pur­su­ing her IFMGA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, while Mark helps clients re­al­ize their dreams by lead­ing climbs, like first as­cents and the Cassin Ridge, that aren’t typ­i­cally guided.

Dur­ing rare down time back in Jack­son Hole, they’re com­pil­ing a list of “new clas­sics,” to be re­leased on­line, that ac­cu­rately re­flects changes in climb­ing tech­niques and style. As Janelle puts it, modern gear like front­point crampons and self-ratch­et­ing ice screws were just com­ing on the scene when the list was be- ing com­piled, “so the orig­i­nal Clas­sics con­tain a lot of ridges and moder­ate slopes.” She cites the West Ridge (V) of Alaska’s Moose’s Tooth (10,335 feet) as a prime ex­am­ple. In 2010, the Smi­leys at­tempted the climb, but poor snow con­di­tions and “pure Alaska-sized in­tim­i­da­tion” turned them around be­fore they reached the West Sum­mit (9,960 feet). When they re­turned in 2013, they nav­i­gated what the tagline for their Moose’s Tooth video de­scribes as a “breath­tak­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing moun­taineer­ing ex­pe­ri­ence” that in­cludes more than a mile lined with giant cor­nices where, Mark writes, they con­tin­u­ally played the game “where to walk so I don’t die.” Their list will re­place the West Ridge with Ham and Eggs (V 5.9 WI4 M4), a true Alaskan clas­sic that, says Mark, fol­lows “an amaz­ing, near-ver­ti­cal multi-pitch line that climbs steep snow, ice, and rock al­most all the way to the sum­mit.”

The Smi­leys’ list will pri­or­i­tize high-qual­ity, must-do routes and will in­clude newer climb­ing ar­eas like Ne­vada’s Red Rock Canyon, which wasn’t on the radar when Fifty Clas­sics was first pub­lished. Re­gard­less of the routes listed, this new re­source will surely ig­nite the imag­i­na­tions of climbers for gen­er­a­tions to come. Per­haps it will even in­spire an­other cou­ple to set out on the ad­ven­ture of a life­time, just as Fifty Clas­sic Climbs did for the Smi­leys.

Con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­o­gist, climber, and writer Chris Kas­sar lives in Sal­ida, Colorado, with her part­ner and their crazy yel­low lab, Dixie.







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