Mendenhall Towers Solva Buttress Trip Report and Route Description

Mendenhall Towers Solva Buttress Trip Report and Route Description

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 58.52759°N / 134.47643°W
Additional Information Route Type: Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Summer
Additional Information Time Required: One to two days
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.8 (YDS)
Additional Information Number of Pitches: 11
Sign the Climber's Log


We flew into the base of the 4th tower in the evening. Woke up early and started climbing, flew out off the summit later that day.

Getting There

Helicopter flight is the easy way, cant tell you much about the hard way except you will need alot of glacier gear, gotta go 10 miles up the mendenhall glacier, then you have to get off the glacier to the base of the tower (looks like the most trechorous part). Gnarly cravass snowfield.

Route Description

On July 2nd 2009 three weeks of rainy weather broke, and the sun came out. Jill Carliel and I took the opportunity and hopped on a helicopter at Northstar Trekking around 6:30 pm. Christian Cabinella the pilot dropped us of at the base of the Mendenhall towers at about 6:45 PM. We set up camp made some burritos for dinner. Jill climbed this route when she was 14 with her dad and there was a large bergshrund at the base of the rappel, so before we went to bed She belayed me as I hiked up the snow to the base of the rappel (lookers left of the beginning of the climb). The bergshrund was nothing to worry about. We left a snow picket there so when we came down we could set a belay back to camp.

At 9 PM we organized all of our climbing gear for the next day. There was a small backpack with food, water, one bivy, down coats, cell phones, first aid, and sunscreen. After everything was set for the next day we set an alarm at went to sleep.

3 AM, the phone alarm goes off. Jill didn’t hear it so I woke her and we packed up our sleeping bags, pads, and the tent. We made some breakfast (Burritos Again!) and took down camp. Jill used the anchor we made the night before (Deadmans with a snow picket) to belay me to the bergshrund. I then set a deadmans as Jill dug up her anchor. Jill hiked to me, then she continued along the bergshrund to the base of the climb. Easy walking through the snow but there were some sketchy crevasses we had to weave through.
Snow Bridge

I dug out my deadmans and followed to the base of the climb.

5:20 AM. I begin lead on the first pitch. We have a hand drawn topo map. The topo says this pitch is a 5.7. Very easy to stay on route, and a great belay ledge. I set an anchor by tying a girth hitch around a huge boulder with a cordalette.
First Pitch

Jill then began lead on the second pitch. We were unsure weather to go to climbers left and then up or up and to climbers right. We chose to go to the right. WRONG DECISION, STAY LEFT. The second pitch was supposed to be a 5.2 but Jill was climbing what she said felt like a 5.9. She placed two pieces and took a 20 foot lead fall. The number 1 cam held strong. She hit her ankle and head. I was very concerned and thought our climb might be over. Jill claimed she was fine. She climbed back up the clean her protection and then down climbed back to the belay ledge. I told Jill to chill for a few minutes and let the adrenalin wear off to make sure she was actually okay. I offered to take lead again but Jill continued but this time went to climbers left and then up.
Jill s foot

We still ended up off route. After going about 15-20 feet from the belay ledge there is a long sustained slope, STAY LEFT. It seems natural to go straight up the slope which is easy 5.2 climbing as the topo says but ends in about 20 vertical feet of 5.7-5.8 climbing up what the topo describes as the “shinning diamond”. Take the path of least resistance to the left of this.
Shining Diamond

The picture shows the way we went. It does not show the way Jill went earlier when she took her lead fall, that is below where the picture is taken. This way is doable but slower and seemed like it would be scary on lead.

The third pitch
3rd pitch

was supposed to be a 5.2 according the the topo. I lead this pitch still off route, need to stay to climbers left. I climbed to the left but not enough. It was no problem, probably 5.2 – 5.4 for the first 120-140 feet followed by 20-40 feet of 5.5 - 5.6. Easy Belay ledge right below a large arête. The forth pitch
4th pitch

goes up the left side of the arête and ends on a ledge about it. This pitch is supposed to be a 5.6, long, fun pitch. Once on the belay edge, walk to climbers right to begin the 5th pitch.

The 5th pitch
5th pitch

looked intimidating from the bottom. I asked Jill to take a look at the topo, according to the map it should be a 5.6. I began lead and to my pleasant surprise it was very fun and felt like a 5.6 as the topo said. Very short pitch. I continued on to combine the 5th and 6th pitch as a single pitch. For the sake of the topo map I will continue on the trip report as two separate pitches. The 6th pitch was a short fun 5.7. Jill followed and we took a bagel and water break. I took of my shoes for a while, my toes were killing me. Jill could not take off the shoe because she was afraid with her swollen ankle that she would not be able to put it back on again.

After our short rest it was back to business. Jill lead the 7th pitch (5.7)

which may have included the end of the 6th pitch. Jill claimed it was her favorite lead. Slightly to the left of the arête. Good protection and a roof section which provided a good pull.

The 8th pitch was a 5.4 according to the topo map. Neither Jill or I remember much about it; short, easy, not super exciting I suppose. Nice ledge, I believe the topo refers to it as a knob. The 9th pitch was a 5.8.

8th and 9th
9th pitch

Looking up it stair steps. I took lead because Jill was worried about her ankle on the hardest pitch. I twisted up my ropes and had absolutely horrible rope drag. The trick here is to climb to the right over the HUGE exposure. Hands down best part of the entire Solva Buttress. The climbing is easy, jugs everywhere, vertical, and exposed. I tossed a rock from here and it bounced twice before it hit the glacier. Protection is good as well. Unfortunately due to my piss poor rope management I had a lot of rope drag and had to set up anchor a little early. This is what it looks like from my anchor. Jill was able to clean protection and stay on route (I climbed too far climbers left).

Two easy pitches left. Jill lead the 10th pitch, fun easy 5.5. While following I pulled out a microwave sized chunk of rock which caused me to fall. Very glad I was not leading, would have really hurt. The rock did not fall, just moved about eight inches. At the top of the tenth pitch we could look over the ridge to the north side of the towers. We stopped for sun screen, water, and bagels. The last pitch was a 5.3 traverse with some large exposure on the North side. The Picture below shows the beggining.

I was 30 feet short of the summit when I reached the end of the rope, so I set an anchor and had Jill follow. When she got to me we tied a knot in the middle of the rope and clipped it to the anchor and just walked up to the summit. The time was about 3:30. After taking lots of pictures, a few hugs, and a snack we had to make a plan for decent. We were hoping to catch a flight out a 6:45PM but that was unrealistic. There was no way we could get down in three hours. I was surprised to find we had cell reception at the top. I called mom and dad to tell them where I was. Then I made a call to a close friend to tell him I would not be down tonight. If you don’t know July 3rd is the biggest party of the year in Juneau. He was very disappointed I wouldn’t make it but understood. Then called NorthStar to ask about our possibilities for flying out. They put on the lead pilot, Jason. He was not excited about the idea of hanging around late to charter a flight out later that night. Jason suggested plucking us from the summit but did not want to deprive us of our rappel. Jill and I were not excited about the rappel and told Jason that if he could find a way to pick us up we would be thrilled. 30 minutes later Jason flew by with a group of tourists to check out a potential LZ (Landing Zone).
Toped out

Jason decided to fly up with the door open and toe in. The left skid was in the air (the side we got in on), so we had to weight the helicopter slowly in order for Jason to counteract with the joystick. 15 seconds later we were at the bottom of the climb and by 10 PM I made an unexpected appearance at the party. What a day!

Essential Gear

Full set of stoppers and full set of BD cams (no 5s or 6s) doubleled up on .5, .75, 1, 2, 3. Rappel anchors (webbing)

External Links