‘Blood From The Stone’: After 21 Years, Alaskan Mega-Route Finally Repeated

It’s difficult to overstate the magnitude of this one.

A three-man team has managed the first repeat of a route that American Alpine Journal calls “one of the hardest in Alaska.”

Matt Cornell, Sam Hennessey, and Rob Smith have claimed the second ascent of Blood From The Stone, a route established 21 years ago by Sean Easton and the legendary Ueli Steck on Mt. Dickey’s imposing east face.

Though it offers a stiff rating (M7+ WI6+ X A1, according to Steck and Easton), that’s not the only reason the line went so long without a repeat.

Towering over the Ruth Gorge in Denali National Park, Mt. Dickey rises more than 1,500m from its base. It’s nearly twice as tall as El Capitan, covered in snow and ice, and guarded by dangerous, unpredictable weather.

“Its east face is so enormous that it’s hard to comprehend that it is actually a mile wide and 5,000′ tall,” Mountain Project wrote. “It’s impossible to miss.”

The mountain dares even the most experienced climbers to risk their lives on its frozen buttresses. But for ambitious alpinists, that’s as good as a welcome sign, and Matt Cornell sounded more than a little stoked to have sent this colossal line.

“Weather, conditions, and partners lined up perfectly to make the second ascent of ‘Blood from the Stone’,” he wrote on Instagram. “Can easily say this was the best climb I’ve been lucky enough to experience!”


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Una publicación compartida por Matt Cornell (@matt_cornell25)

An 18-year dream

Mountain guide Rob Smith echoed that sentiment. Smith recalled first seeing Mt. Dickey’s east face back in 2005, and gave himself “a very specific goal” of trying to repeat Steck’s line some day.

About 18 years after that moment, Smith said the effort was more than worth it.

“Last week this dream came true for me when perfect weather and conditions along with the perfect partners all lined up to climb this amazing route,” Smith wrote. “This was by far the highest quality route I have ever climbed in my life. I will forever be grateful to Matt and Sam for this experience.”

Even with the addition of Sam Hennessey’s short post, there’s not much more info about the climb from its latest ascensionists.

For a clearer picture of Blood From The Stone‘s difficulties, the American Alpine Journal invites you to reread the 2003 account from Sean Easton, who begins the piece with a succinct summary: “If it weren’t so big, it would almost have been fun.”

But ultimately, Easton ends with the same conclusion as the route’s newest arrivals: “Boarding my return flight home only 12 days after arriving in Alaska, I realized that this seemed far too short a trip to have climbed such an awesome mountain.”

It’s also the second Mt. Dickey ascent this season by Matt Cornell, who established a new route on the mountain last month. About the same time, another party pulled off a new line on Alaska’s Mount Huntington.

Perhaps these ascents reflect the prophetic final sentence of Easton’s 20-year old essay:

“I suspect that the Alaska Range will see heavy action as international political instabilities make many other ranges of the world less attractive destinations — and the Ruth will become one of the main attractions,” he wrote.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.