American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The Throne, Swisser than Swiss Chocolate; Royal Tower, Got Lucky to Summit Slopes

Alaska, Denali National Park

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year: 2007
  • Publication Year: 2008

Where in Alaska would two Swiss go to climb but Little Switzerland? On May 16 Lucas Iten and I landed on the Pika Glacier and quickly got to work. Most of the rock was still covered in snow, but we warmed up by repeating The Lost Marsupials (10 pitches, ca 5.8) on The Throne (7,390') in alpine boots. A few days later we donned our climbing shoes and climbed The Throne again, this time via an excellent 12-pitch route, which at the time we believed to be new but later learned had previously been climbed. The route, mostly 5.9-10, with one 5.10+ crux (FA unknown) starts near the right side of the South Face Gully, just left of the noticeable orange-stained rock.

American Jack Sasser, who would join us later in the trip, had been a volunteer ranger on the Pika the previous summer with NPS ranger Gordy Kito, and they had drawn up a list of the most attractive unclimbed lines in the area. Three days after our previous Throne outing we climbed a new route, Swisser than Swiss Chocolate (10 pitches, 5.11+), on the steep west face of The Throne just right of a massive rock scar and left of a giant roof. Pitch after pitch of 5.10-ish climbing over slabs, up offwidths, and past heavenly cracks led straight to the summit snow slopes. Lucas onsighted the crux pitch at 7a (approximately 5.11d). Since we had already been on the summit twice, we then rappelled a neighboring route.

On May 25 Jack arrived, and we immediately got drunk with the Alaskans camped next to us. The next day we didn’t leave camp until noon for one of our main objectives: the giant unclimbed pillar on the south side of Royal Tower (8,130'). Unlike most routes on the Tower, which start from the Pika, this route begins from the Crown Glacier. Despite our wicked hangovers, we experienced one of our most enjoyable days of climbing ever. We picked a route up the lowest rock band and climbed straight toward the pillar, finding pitch after pitch of perfect granite. Most pitches were in the 5.9-5.10 range with two 5.11 cruxes, one a slightly overhanging offwidth and the second a barely protectable stretch of face-climbing. After ending at the unstable summit snow slopes, we began rappelling Got Lucky (14 pitches, 5.11) at midnight, and arrived back at camp in time for another round of partying with our Alaskan campmates.

With terrible weather, we spent the next week and a half playing botchy ball, drinking Appenzeller (Swiss version of Jaegermeister), and trying to avoid the black bear that kept wandering through camp. We did make two unsuccessful attempts on unclimbed faces, one on Italy’s Boot (ca 7,700') and another on Your Highness (ca 7,800').

Martin Gutmann, Swiss Alpine Club

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