When the book “The Fifty Classic Climbs of North America” was published in 1979, not even the authors had done all 50 climbs.

Now Colorado-based Janelle and Mark Smiley are attempting to be the first to tackle all 50.
“There are some people in the 30s and 40s,” Mark Smiley said referring to the number of classic climbs people he knows have check off their lists.
“It’s never been done,” Janelle says. “We now know why.”

They are currently on #37: Mt. Robson.

The couple attempted to scale Mt. Robson last weekend using the Wishbone Arete route – along the front face of the mountain visible from the highway. Most people follow the Kain route, referring to the route the first summiter Konrad Kain took in 1913. Before leaving Valemount they said they were not going in with high expectations for having fun.

“It’s hard, loose terrain,” Mark said. “Goody.”

This was their second real attempt. Last year the weather was too bad to even try. Once again conditions were not in their favour.

The river was way higher than it usually is, they said.

They hiked 11km in to the river.

“We went to where we would cross the river and there was just no way,” Mark says. “The water temperature was maybe 3 degrees. Painfully cold and fast.”

They re-routed to see what the Kain face was like around the back side of Mt. Robson. They met two other climbers who had aborted the mission. They reported broken saraks, crevasses and wet slides.

“Avalanches kill so many really good climbers,” Mark says. “Without a good freeze it was going to be too avalanchy.”

The couple slouched on the couch of their hosts in Valemount following the attempt.
Janelle said wryly: “We just went for a really long hike with heavy backpacks. Gotta love the Canadian Rockies.”

They both say they have great admiration for Canadian climbers who seem to tolerate poor conditions better than they.

“It’s a lot of nasty bush whacking, loose rock and freezing water crossings,” Janelle says.
Their longest climb so far was six days. These aren’t your ordinary hikes – they involve very technical rock climbing, ice climbing, and a lot of cooperation with the weather and with each other.
Janelle is the female ski mountaineering champion of North America and Mark, also extremely fit, has a guiding company. Since 2010 they have spent the entire winter training and the entire summer climbing.

They’ve raised money through the Crowd Funding site Kickstarter, to help fund their travels.
The money will help them produce a documentary about their quest. They have been posted mini videos along the way along with photos and updates on their website www.smileysproject.com.
They plan to tackle a number of other difficult climbs including a route along Mt. Logan called Hummingbird Ridge that has only been tackled once before. Many people have died attempting the route.
But the couple, which carry35 lb packs and live out of their white 10-passenger van, is determined to tackle them all over the next two or three years.

Their book is an early edition, soft cover, two-tone blue and grey. It’s been flipped through many times. The description of each climb gives an idea of what sort of obstacles they may encounter along the way. But the Smileys say some of the routes have physically changed. Glaciers, for instance, have receded in the past 30 years.

When people to them about the danger or whether they have a “death wish” Mark says he provides a comparative.
“Throw someone from the 17th century onto the Interstate and of course it’s going to be dangerous. But people do it all the time because they’re used to it. Familiarity breeds comfort. You can do something extremely dangerous safely because you know how to do it.”

The couple say they hope to be back next year to try again.