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Mendenhall Towers, Juneau Icefields, 1973

These towers, insignificant from Mendenhall valley and small in comparison to many Alaskan peaks, must be seen from close at hand to be properly appreciated. Not “giant”, but “big” (2000-foot) walls abound here; seven towers with buttresses, ridges and faces of sound granite and continuous crack systems. Although we had visited the towers in the past, we had avoided all but the easiest lines to the summits. In July, 1973 we concentrated on high-angle and seemingly smooth areas. Most climbs would have involved bivouacs if we had not fixed lines beforehand. As there seemed to be only one day of clear weather between storms, we fixed rope, dangling in blowing snow or whiteout. Mike Clark and Rick Daday completed the second ascent of the West Tower via the unclimbed, 1800- foot-high east ridge in one day from our camp at 5500 feet, fifteen miles from the coast. After 15 pitches of combined snow, ice and rock, they returned to camp with tales of twelve points and great exposure. The recent storm had deposited convenient ice slabs across difficult rock, a common occurrence above the icefields. We made the first ascent of the small spire between the West and Main Towers in 10 pitches. We completed three new lines up the Main Tower. One was a variation of the original route. George Fisher and I climbed the southeast ridge in 19 hours, having first fixed 300 feet. Snow-covered ledges and awkward leads put us on the summit at ten P.M. after 12 pitches. Changing weather made this a fearful climb but it was one of the most direct lines on the peak, 2000 feet from base to summit. On the last day, the fourth good day in a month, Clark and I ascended the Main Peak’s south buttress, an 1800-foot prow with a 600-foot smooth wall in its center. With 500 feet already fixed, we were on the wall at dawn. We used mostly nuts, though we placed two bolts for belays. The wall went mixed and we made the summit at dusk, rushed by a storm. We descended to camp, a blizzard on our tails.

John Svenson, Unaffiliated