The Big Four

Climbing - - ASCENDANT -

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.


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.


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.”

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