North America, United States, Alaska, Coast Mountains, West Mendenhall Tower, Great White Conqueror
West Mendenhall Tower, Great White Conqueror. In March, with the help of a Mugs Stump Award, my new friend Sam Magro and I went looking for steep ice and mixed lines on the north side of the Mendenhall Towers. After we arrived the weather fell apart, and for two weeks we endured the most extreme storm either of us had known. We had to abandon terrestrial life and spend five days in a snow cave, leaving only occasionally to relieve ourselves. After dropping 20'+ of snow, the storm left to make someone else’s life miserable. So we were left with this 2,500' unclimbed north face of the West Tower and blue skies.
The first day out, we started up the face to the left of the central gully, but it didn’t have much ice on it. I took a little whipper [40-footer—Ed.], and we called it a day. We returned the next morning, and, after some pick-dulling frustration, we gave up on that objective and around noon started up the central gully. It was perfect 80° névé, overhanging at times and with lots of sustained steep mixed climbing. We found a cozy little bivy, crawled into our sleeping bag, and caught a few hours of shuteye. The next morning we got a reasonable start and began the upper headwall. It seemed like every pitch had massive chockstones, but just when the climbing started to feel a little dicey, you would swing into bomber névé. We punched our way to the top just before sunset and enjoyed a 100-mile view in every direction. A two-hour descent down the west ridge, with a single rappel, had us back on the glacier on March 28.
The Great White Conqueror (2,500', V M5 AI4 A1) was the first ascent of the north face of the West Mendenhall Tower.
Ryan Johnson, AAC