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North America, United States, Alaska, Peaks in "Little Switzerland"

Peaks in “Little Switzerland.” As far as I know, Roger Robinson, Ken Cook and I are the only climbers to have been in “Little Switzerland,” which lies within the big bend of the Kahiltna. On July 19 & 20 we climbed P 8130 (“The Royal Tower”) by the east face and northeast ridge. Though the weather was unsettled, the first 1000 feet went quickly as the bergschrund and runneled face presented no problems. Luckily so, for as we gained the rock, the entire face below was involved in one big mushy snow dance, celebrating the coming of the sun! The first two belayed pitches led up a narrow steepening ice gully which was plagued by falling rocks, anxious to join the dance below. At the end of the ice, Ken Cook changed to EBs and began to show us what a Californian rock climber really was. He moved lightly up over some loose blocks and seemed to float up a slimey, wet, vertical section to where the real climbing began. Grunts, groans and excited laughter fell our way and at any moment we expected that Ken might fall our way too. He cursed because of cold hands, of leaving needed hardware behind and of the fact that he should have aided sections; we tried to set up a better belay as his voice became more and more desperate. Eventually Ken gained the ridge and was off-belay. Pitch three had gone free at F10. We continued up enjoyable F7 to F8 cracks, crystals and dimples, wandering here and there up the rock band. Ken found friction-climbing up ice patches in EBs challenging. The eighth pitch got us above the rock band and onto mixed ground along a narrowing ridge. We again donned crampons and ice gear and continued toward the summit in puffy clouds. The summit icefields, which had looked steep and horrendous from below took on an easier nature as we climbed across them to reach the summit on the 15th pitch. After several days of cards in the tent, we set out on July 22 for P 6950 (“South Troll”) on a fine, clear, warm day. A long stretch got us over the schrund, and then five pitches of snow took us around the shattered rock of the lower west face to the better rock of the upper half. The flowers, the moss, the pikas, the ptarmigan, the fine view and the hot sun made this most delightful. We changed to rock shoes to enjoy the fine rock to the utmost. Four pitches of F7 found us on top. The trek back to Base Camp was under the unique light that only evening can bring. Patterns in the snow etched by shadow and far-off peaks crimsoned by the low sun made a scene that no artist could ever duplicate. Ken departed for home and Roger and I were foiled on two good attempts on “The Crowned Jewel.” On one of the attempts, while belaying on the sixth pitch, I noticed a black bear wandering up the glacier below. He ambled along sniffing and skirting numerous crevasses. Then suddenly it dawned on us that he was following our tracks toward Base Camp. What a drag it would be to have camp mutilated by our furry friend! We started yelling. The echoes that bounced around the cirque made the bear think he was vastly outnumbered or in a haunted valley, for he beat a retreat. Once again the weather cleared and on July 28 we wandered up a side glacier to do P 7950 (“Your Highness”). In the crisp morning air we circled to the west face and followed a glacier to within four pitches of the summit. The rock was magnificent: solid and sound; rough and warm to the touch. The climb was a push-over, much easier than we had expected. P 7390 (“The Throne”) is perhaps the most striking mountain in “Little Switzerland” in that it is one huge hunk of clean granite, somewhat like the Bugaboos. Roger Robinson and I gave “The Throne” a try via the south face on July 31, 1976. The first two pitches led up the “garden ledges,” a series of clean, solid cliffs cut by jam-cracks and faces of quartz crystals, each separated by an absolutely beautiful ledge of heather, mosses and a variety of sweet-smelling flowers. We found a two-pitch broken crack/chimney system that cut up an otherwise void, vertical cliff to a laid-back boulder patch and snowfield. Roger made nice moves getting past a waterfall and staying dry; I wasn’t so graceful. The upper eight pitches followed a wandering line directly to a large triangular visor up an unplanned route. Each move gave access to a previously unseen hold and thus we advanced, never sure where the next belay would be. The 12th pitch found us looking down the north face from the summit block. It was easily the finest climb of the summer after a long list of attempts and ascents. Other climbs in this region which Roger Robinson and I did in 1976 were very briefly mentioned in A.A.J., 1977 on page 157. On July 22, 1976 we climbed P 7510 (“Italy’s Boot”). We ascended the northeast ice couloir, which ended in three pitches of 50° to 70° ice to the north ridge. We then dropped off the ridge to the west, skirting the broken knife-edged ridge below the schrund. We reached the ridge again at a small icefall and followed it on rock and ice to the summit. The climb took eleven hours. P 7100 (“The Scimitar”) was climbed on July 25, 1976 via the south side of this small granite pinnacle. We climbed P 7490 (“The Dragon’s Spine”) on July 26, 1976 via the southeast snow couloir to the saddle and thence up the northeast ridge. We ascended P 6910 that same day via the northwest couloir to a notch above which three pitches of fourth-or fifth-class climbing took us to the summit pinnacle. A short F7 friction slab of good granite topped out on the airy summit.

Brian Okonek, Mountaineering Club of Alaska