American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Coast Mountains, Mt. Zeus, Northwest Ridge

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 2006

Mt. Zeus, Northwest Ridge. The many rock towers and pinnacles in the Pantheon Range often get overlooked in favor of the better-known peaks around Mt. Waddington, just south. The Pantheons have seen only a handful of visits from technical climbers. Mt. Zeus (2,959m) is the second highest peak in the group. It comprises solid granite and dominates the central part of the range.

Mark Robson and I visited Zeus to attempt the striking 500m-high northwest pillar of Athena Tower on the north side of the mountain. Athena Tower was first climbed by Bill Pilling and Greg Collum via the East Buttress in 1983, but had seen no further ascents. Unfortunately, our attempt ground to a halt at one-third height, when we encountered an almost featureless 50m-high wall. With no cracks for aid or protection, we were forced to retreat.

Instead, we turned our attention to the 2km-long northwest ridge of Zeus. We left base camp on the Zeus-Pegasus col early on the morning of August 7, crossed the glacier, and front- pointed up a short snow slope to the foot of the ridge. The route followed corners and chimneys, interspersed by smoother slabs (5.7 to 5.8), and although the climbing was technically not too testing, the rock was loose in places and covered in black lichen. Once we reached the narrow ridge leading up to the West Summit, the quality of the rock improved, and the climbing became increasingly exposed. The crest was clear of snow, and we were able to continue in our rock shoes, even though steep, mixed icy faces fell away just below. When we reached the unclimbed West Summit, we saw the Waddington group for the first time, gleaming white with fresh snow.

The character of the ridge changed abruptly at this point, as it widened to a 1m-wide gangway of perfectly flat rock, which led over a series of subsummits toward a snowy col. The continuation ridge above the col was deceptively difficult, narrowing to a series of steep towers. Fortunately they were bathed in the setting sun, and we climbed a series of absorbing pitches, some up to 5.9, to reach the summit slopes just as night fell. We bivouacked in a hollow of boulders approximately where the Northwest Face route (de Saussure-Firey-Knudson-Renz- Rose-Schurr, 1980) reaches the summit slopes.

We talked, dozed, joked and shivered our way through the night, and were away at first light up boulder fields and snow. We arrived on the summit at 6 a.m. on August 8. It was a magical morning with the surrounding peaks tinged by the red of dawn. We plunged down the southern slopes that narrowed into a hanging glacial valley, below Kali Peak, that led down to the glacier leading up to the Zeus-Manitou col, and made a long abseil down a cliff onto the Zeus Glacier. What we saw descending from the col was evidence of rapid glacial recession in the area. The first party to climb Zeus in 1966 commented on snow slopes reaching to the col but made no mention of the rock wall below.

From the Zeus Glacier it was a long slog back up moraines to our base camp. We arrived tired but happy late in the afternoon, having completed a satisfying alpine route (550m, TD 5.9) and traverse of the peak. The weather stayed settled, so a few days later we crossed the Ragnarok Glacier and made the second ascent of the superb Northwest Ridge of Mt. Fenris (450m, AD, de Saussure-Schurr, 1981).

Simon Richardson, Scotland, AAC

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