Mendenhall Towers Free Ascent

Posted on: July 15, 2011

The Direct South Buttress of the Main Tower (5.11a, circa 2000 feet), in the Mendenhal Towers, Juneau AK. [Photo] Ryan Johnson & Gabe Hayden


On July 11 Juneau locals Ryan Johnson and Gabe Hayden made the first free ascent of the South Buttress Direct on the Main Tower of the Mendenhall Towers outside Juneau, Alaska. The climb is graded 5.11a, ascends over 2000 feet.

The South Buttress Direct was first climbed in 1973 by John Svenson and Mike Clark; this recent climb was likely the second ascent of the line. After speaking with Svenson about the line, Johnson went up to the towers in March with friend Jason Nelson climbing a nearby pillar in order to scope out the line and "just looking at those crack systems bumped it to the top of the list." Johnson and Hayden found three old 1/4 SMC bolts on the route placed by the first ascentionists.

Ryan Johnson on the crux of the route. [Photo] Ryan Johnson & Gabe Hayden

Johnson says he hadn't had climbing shoes on since January, but they seized the opportunity of a brief weather window that was likely to only last for the one climb. Leaving camp at five in the morning, they started up the rock at six. "Right from the start we were blown away by both the aesthetic nature of the line and immaculate quality of the granite." Beginning with two pitches of moderate slabs, the climb steepened and they "entered a series of amazing cracks that took us some 800ft to the moderate summit pitches." An hour before nightfall, they made it back to camp after descending the Mountaineers route. They returned home the following day.

Gabe Hayden on the summit of the Main Tower. [Photo] Ryan Johnson & Gabe Hayden

Ryan high on the climb. [Photo] Ryan Johnson & Gabe Hayden

Source: Ryan Johnson

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Ryan J

Jacek, Ed and I tried a line on that side in 2009 but ended up running out of time, still some really cool cracks on that side. Gabe and I just climbed Positive Vibes on the Hulk and it was quite a bit harder than our line, at least more sustained. Lots of low end 5.10, but a really well defined crux.

2011-09-25 07:39:43

Ryan, Good for you - I'm glad you're still getting after it! Congrats on a nice line. Steve Cashen and I free climbed the headwall to the right side of the south buttress. It joins the south buttress on that cool airy catwalk before you get on the easy upper slabs. Sounds like your route might be a bit harder too. Jacek

2011-09-05 22:42:39

Keep it on the DL Schoon, we don't need all those Patagonia washouts coming to climb our shit:). I guess there's no scene or Chalten hang so no worries there I suppose. Nice work Gabe and Ryan, keep it up AK style!

2011-07-19 16:47:14

Patagonia del Norte

2011-07-19 14:04:31
Ryan J

What's the matter Clint? You have a problem with me wanting to feel pretty while I'm climbing? Thanks! You guys need to make a trip down from South Central, there is a lot to do down here. Nice job this spring, hope you are having a good summer.

2011-07-19 01:59:26

Hey isn't Ryan wearing a girl's helmet in that last shot?

Just teasing. Great work guys! That granite looks immaculate!

2011-07-15 02:56:21
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