Recently, while skimming through Fred Beckey’s classic book, “Challenge of the North Cascades,” I was surprised to see the name Guido Magnone. When I first read Beckey’s book, nearly twenty years ago, I surely thought nothing of Magnone’s name, but this time I recognized it immediately. It made me quite curious, I pestered Fred a bit, and with some help from Megan Bond Pauli, learned some local climbing history that I thought was pretty fascinating:
In 1952, the first ascent of Cerro Chaltén, one of the greatest first-ascents of all time, was completed by French alpinists Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone, with Magnone leading most of the final push to the summit. Ten years later, in 1962, Magnone decided he wanted to explore the Cascades, and came to the Pacific Northwest with fellow French climber Jean Coure. Unsurprisingly, the French alpinists contacted Fred Beckey, the most skilled and accomplished climber in the region.
The French climbers’ trip was apparently delayed because of “poor organization on the part of their sponsors,” but at least they must’ve been well funded, because they could afford multiple airplane flights. Magnone and Beckey flew around Tahoma (AKA Mt. Rainier) to get a good vantage of Willis Wall. Willis Wall was one of the hottest objectives in Pacific Northwest climbing at the time. The first ascent had been made just the year before, solo, by Charles Bell. Bell’s ascent was at first viewed with much skepticism, but later accepted. Regardless, Magnone prudently concluded that the serac band lining the top of the face made Willis Wall too dangerous of an objective, and he turned his attention elsewhere. I’m unsure if it was the same flight or a separate flight, but Magnone and Beckey apparently also flew through the North Cascades, and Magnone was reportedly impressed by Mt. Fury.
In any event, Magnone eventually set his sights on The Enchantments, and specifically the then-unclimbed south face of Prusik Peak. It’s no surprise I suppose that a climber familiar with the Mont Blanc Massif and the mountains of Chaltén would be drawn to one of the faces in the Cascades with the highest-quality granite. Magnone and Coure attempted the face with Beckey and Les MacDonald,* but the four climbers ran out of time 200 ft. from the summit. Beckey went back a few days later to finish the route, and complete the first ascent of the south face, now regarded as one of the jewels of alpine rock climbing in the Cascades. Here is Beckey’s report of the climb from the 1963 American Alpine Journal:
South Face of Prusik Peak, Cashmere Crags. Although we had reserved the first ascent of the 900-foot south face of Prusik Peak for the visit of the French climbers, Guido Magnone and Jean Coure, poor organization on the part of their sponsors and their decision to retreat because of lack of time only 200 feet from the summit prevented their completing the climb. From a camp near Enchantment Lakes established by an air-drop, Magnone, Coure, Les MacDonald and I had pushed the route up the beautifully clean granite slabs and cracks of the face. An interesting free chimney began the ascent, followed by a pitch of continuous chickenheads on a sheer slab. The day’s climbing was all fifth class with the exception of 100 feet of aid at the high point, 200 feet below the summit. Several days later Dan Davis and I climbed back up the route and found that between the high point and the summit notch there were only two pitches requiring just three pitons for aid and several more for safety. One hanging belay was used. The final summit horn was done by a new variation; we used a bong-bong crack for aid instead of lassoing the final horn. This wall, in the opinion of the writer, is both the longest ascent and of the most sustained interest in the crags.
*Les MacDonald, for another bit of random trivia, accomplished two years earlier (in August 1960) what is probably still one of the coolest climbs ever done on Mt. Shuksan. With Gerard McGill, MacDonald made a 2-day high alpine traverse, up Nooksack Tower, across Nooksack Ridge to the summit of Mt. Shuksan, and then SE across the seldom-touched Jagged Ridge to the Nooksack cirque.