The Big Four
Combine the inner drive of a smash-mouth competitor with a love of mountains and a taste for risk, and you almost couldn’t design a human more suited to forging big routes on the world’s wildest alpine walls. Mugs Stump roamed the world in search of adventure, but four climbs closer to home stand out as his signature achievements, all done with a purity of style and lack of fanfare that to this day embody the ideals of alpinism.
1978 EMPEROR FACE, MT. ROBSON, CANADA (FA), WITH JAMIE LOGAN
The 8,000-foot north face of Mount Robson was one of the last great problems of North American mountaineering and had previously repelled many experienced alpinists, including Stump’s partner for the climb, Jamie Logan.
The pair made quick progress up the snowy slopes on the lower reaches and then climbed increasingly steep and thin ice runnels etched through the striations. As the wall steepened, the ice petered out, forcing them onto loose, often unprotected rock. Their third bivy was two small seats chopped out of 70-degree ice. The next day, they resorted to their large rack of pitons, and Logan undertook the laborious, multi- hour task of nailing up the final, bulging headwall.
1981 EAST FACE, MOOSE’S TOOTH, ALASKA (FA), WITH JIM BRIDWELL
The nasty, crumbling 4,500- foot alpine face had stymied about 10 previous attempts by some of the best climbers on the continent. Stump and Logan had tried in June 1979, getting turned back by relentless rock- and icefall.
Two years later, Stump and Yosemite legend Bridwell traded warmer temperatures for more consolidated conditions and did the route in March. After flying in, the pair waited out a fiveday storm. When the storm abated, a huge avalanche swept the entire face, which the climbers interpreted as an auspicious sign— the climb was freshly cleaned and ready to go. They fortified themselves with whiskey- laced tea the night before embarking. But then a half-drunk Mugs declared, “Let’s get out of here and get up on this thing as high as we can before we realize what we’re doing.”
The pair climbed the route— Dance of the Woo Li Masters— over four days, carrying only
a small rack, starvation rations, and a puny butane stove that proved all but worthless. Stump led the crux pitch on day three—a blank headwall that involved body- weight aid off a marginal belay.
Interviewed about the climb, Stump admitted that “we pulled off something that was dangerous. There were some places where we were very lucky.”