I’m wary of “top-ten” and “best-of” lists. There are many beautiful and intriguing people, places and things in the world, and to settle on just one as “the best” suggests a lack of imagination and curiosity. That said, the Beckey-Chouinard is the best alpine rock route on the planet.
Am I qualified to say this? Probably not. Am I still going to make this decree? Yes. If you haven’t climbed this route yet, you should go do it. I’m willing to bet that when you’re sipping whiskey at the Applebee Campground later that night, you will be riding the Beckey-Chouinard bandwagon.
1. Once you complete the Beckey-Chouinard, it will be the route to which you compare all other alpine rock climbs. “It’s like the BC but shorter,” you will say on the drive to the crag. At the belay, you’ll assert, “It’s like the BC, except not as committing and wild.” On the drive home, you’ll reflect, “It’s like the BC, but without the splitter monolithic cracks,” and your partner’s eyes will start to glaze over. It’s like the BC, but it’s definitely not the BC. I actually retired from climbing after this route. I decided it could never get any better.
2. It was climbed 50 years ago, but its reputation is still intact. On paper, the BC sounds like a walk in the park: It’s mostly 5.8 with a few pitches of 5.10, and most of these have short cruxes. But it’s still intimidating. Storms can slam into the upper face, causing very experienced, very strong climbers to bail from high on the route. Rhime ice can form quickly during summer storms. Wayward webbing anchors are the artifacts of rappel epics. And if you do bail, you have to take the long walk of shame a couple thousand feet back up to Pigeon Col. The Bugaboo’s notoriously fickle weather doesn’t care how strong a climber you are.
3. I hid $1,000 bills on each of the twenty-plus pitches. Find them and you will become a Dirtbag millionaire. You will have thousands of dollars. Imagine the PBR you can buy with that.
4. Relish the history. The BC is the product of collaboration between two of the most iconic climbers at the height of their climbing careers. Technically, we come to the route for its creators. Today, when standing at the toe of the West Buttress and looking up, you’re reassured by the knowledge provided in the guidebook – it’s 5.10, even 5.9 with a few strategic points of aid. But in 1961 there was no beta for Fred Beckey and Yvon Chouinard. They placed 135 pitons on route. Left none. Placed zero bolts. Fifty years later, that’s still the pinnacle of climbing style.
5. I was kidding about the $1,000 bill part.