AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

North America, United States, Alaska, Little Switzerland, Royal Tower, Spam and Legs

Royal Tower, Spam and Legs. Memories of fear and exhilaration lingered as I waited out the storm. What a climb our new route was! For 26 hours of continuous climbing, the ice, rock, and snow of the Royal Tower demanded our concentrated energy. My partner Eric Seifer and I got a full-value climb; a 2,500-foot Grade V that went at M5 WI4 5.8 A2.

Spam and Legs ascends the left Royal Tower, as seen from Pika Glacier, by the right-hand of two parallel couloir systems—the couloir immediately right of Boomerang Buttress (photo p.207, 2001 AAJ). About three-quarters of the way up the couloir, after it widens from a ribbon, the route exits right across rock to reach the upper snowfields. Kicking steps up the slope, we used sparse rock protection for a running belay.

We began at 8 p.m. on May 21. Our first difficulty was crossing the bergschrund of rotten snow. Eric swam and slithered tenuously between rock and delicate vertical snow mushrooms on the left side of the ‘schrund. Once we were across, the race began as we fed our calves 800 feet of moderate mixed terrain with marginal alpine belays.

In the thinnest section of the couloir and the darkest hour of the northern night, Eric scrapped his way up the crux pitch. Barely attached to the wall he pounded pitons in a shallow groove smeared with sublimated ice. Frazzled from the M5 section, he handed me the rack and looked at an upcoming blank section. “Do you think it’ll go?”

“No problem,” I responded, though I didn’t have a clue, really. I had him lower me and used big-wall tricks to pendulum across the face. Finally, at the height of my arc and with my body fully extended, I stuck my tools into ice and heaved us back into the game.

In the gully above we climbed two beautiful sections of WI4, in each a lack of anchors necessitating some simul-climbing. Finally the couloir widened, and we traversed right for two pitches across loose 5.8 rock, until we reached snowfields. It was cake to the top, until I almost fell in the summit cornice crevasse.

We were so far up and so vulnerable. The view was powerful, as seen through the lens of the journey. Down and down now, descending through the steep fear. We stuck our ropes on the first rappel, forcing me to ascend them and move the anchor. We fixed gear for 15 rappels and each of us fell asleep while waiting for the other.

Down safely and out of the way of the storm and accumulating spindrift, I could let go and feel the weight of our adventure sink in.

River (Jamal) Lee-Elkin