Mendenhall Towers, Juneau Icefield

July, 2005

My long-time friend and climbing partner, Colin Shanley, joined Caroline and I in Juneau for a climbing trip. I feel a bit guilty admitting it, but we caught a flight with one of those pesky helicopters to the hanging glacier below the Mendenhall Towers. The short chopper ride was very affordable and we were well-provisioned with lots of food and gear. The next morning we climbed the Mountaineer’s Route on the first Tower. The weather closed in and we reached the top in the rain. The rain persisted long after we rappelled down and we soon realized that our tent “Mega-light Mid” wasn’t totally waterproof. We spent a lot time in there listening to the marine radio with trash bags over our sleeping bags.

One day the weather broke in the afternoon and we started climbing the Silva Buttress, a nice route that was still wet but otherwise fun. We didn’t finish the climb, instead turned back in the middle of the night. Our descent seemed to drag on forever and one of our ropes got a core shot from rockfall. At 3 am, Colin started down what we thought would be the last rappel. Caroline and I hung from the wall with sore feet in the cold. The towers were all that stood above the sea of clouds now dimly lit in the night. We couldn’t see Colin, but we figured he would reach the glacier soon. Time passed and still the ropes remained taut. After what seemed like forever, we deciphered that he was prussiking back up the ropes. The glacier had pulled away from the wall, forming a giant moat. He was down there, swinging in mid-air, trying to pendulum over to the ice. Finally, we saw his headlamp appear as he worked his way to the side and back down, placing gear as he went.

We later moved camp around to the north side of the towers, which turned into quite an episode of rappelling down a rock face with all our gear and skis. Looking back, we laughed at what a poor choice we had made going off of an old photo of the now-receded glacier.  On the north side, we climbed a route that went directly up to the Rabbit Ears, a prominent rock feature. The climbing was mixed—some fun, moderate pitches toward the bottom, a clean 5.10ish bear-hug climb up some dihedrals, and lots of loose, rotten rock mixed in. Possibly a first ascent? The next day we climbed a route on the Rabbit Ears, which was fantastic.

Finally, after nearly 3 weeks on the icefield, we skied and walked out the Mendenhall Glacier to Juneau hauling way too much gear. By the time we’d finished climbing, all three of our ropes had been cut. We all felt the trip had a disproportionate number of weather days, which of course is to be expected in this region.

Check out more photos from this trip (courtesy of Colin Shanley) here

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