Alaska has been called the Great White North and the Last Frontier, a land where tough, cold peaks are scaled by gruff, bold climbers. So why was I a thousand feet up a new route sweating through my T-shirt? Sun-burned eyes squinted through the white glare that reflected off glaciers, granite, and my shirtless partner. A thousand feet up a new route in the Mendenhall Towers, we couldn’t believe it. Welcome to southeast Alaska!
In mid-July Jason Nelson, from Ouray, CO, joined me on a two-week trip to the Mendenhall and Taku Towers, 30km north of Juneau. We opted for the helicopter approach to the south side of the Mendenhalls on July 9 and began climbing on the 10th. In record-breaking heat we crossed the edge of the glacier, jumped the rapidly melting moat, and headed up the previously climbed Southeast Buttress of the Main Mendenhall Tower (IV 5.10), finding a potentially new 5.10+ splitter headwall pitch to the north of the buttress crest. If this route were located anywhere accessible, it would have frequent traffic.
The morning of the 11th we began climbing “the Curtain,” a previously untouched wall that spans the gap between the Main Tower and Tower 4, to the east. The Curtain is the longest, steepest section along the south face of the towers. After eight pitches of clean white granite on the left side of the Curtain, we topped out the wall and turned left. From here we followed vertical cracks and steps for five more pitches to the summit, establishing the Iron Curtain (IV+ 5.12a). Jason’s crux lead pulled a thin-hands roof—something straight out of Indian Creek.
After and day of recon, we used consecutive periods of 20-hour daylight to establish two more routes. Resisting A Rest (IV 5.10+) follows a long corner system farther right on the Curtain, crosses a vertical chasm between two towers (one rappel), and finishes with three pitches on the west ridge of Tower 4. We dubbed our final climb the Resignation Arête in honor of Ms. Palin’s sudden departure from the governor’s mansion. It follows the distinct south arête of Tower 4 for 12 pitches, with a 5.11+ crux on the peak’s headwall.
Two days of walking, skiing, rappelling, crevasse jumping, bushwhacking, and hitchhiking brought us back to the stormy Alaskan capital, where we accepted the generous hospitality of our friend Ryan Johnson. This trip would not have been possible without help from the AAC's Mountain Fellowship Grant.
Blake Herrington, AAC