American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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The Western Chugach Range, Alaska

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  • Publication Year: 1966

The Western Chugach Range, Alaska

J. Vincent Hoeman

The eastern boundary of the Chugach Range has not yet been properly defined, but the western limit is definite, and at this extremity the city of Anchorage flourishes between the arms of Cook Inlet. This proximity has caused the "Western Chugach” to become the most intensely utilized mountain area in Alaska. For convenience the Western Chugach is defined as that part of the Chugach Range south of the Knik River and west of 148°30', which meridian passes through Lake George, the self-emptying lake that periodically backs up behind Knik Glacier.

When the U.S.G.S. geologist, W. C. Mendenhall, crossed Crow Pass in 1898, he found that a party of prospectors had preceeded him to what they called Raven Creek, a tributary of the Yukla (Eagle) River. Until 1915 this Eagle River Trail was the route of travel by land from the port of Seward to the interior, and in 1910 the Parker-Browne Party dog-sledded this way en route to Mount McKinley. In 1915 a railroad was built around the mountains to connect Seward with Fairbanks, and Anchorage came into being as a construction camp. As Anchorage grew to become the largest American city of its latitude, the Glenn Highway was pushed north along the mountains to the Matanuska Valley and the Seward Highway provided access to the range from the south. Spur roads were built up several of the intersected drainages, the most valuable of these being the Eklutna Road completed to the snout of Eklutna Glacier in 1961.

Recreational mountaineering has only come to the Western Chugach in the last 20 years partly because no one peak was dominant enough to attract early climbers’ attention. Indeed 17 peaks exceed 7000 feet in elevation, but the highest, Bashful Peak, is only 8005 feet. Also, much of the rock is very unstable and the muskeg, brush, insects, and threat of bad weather were more of a deterrent until the recent extension of roads along and into the range. Mostly, however, it has only been within the past two decades that Anchorage has become such a hub from which people radiate in search of beauty and sport. All wild mountains are beautiful, and sport is as variable as its media.

The Mountains and Those Who Climbed Them

Pioneer Peak, 6398. The closest mountain of its height to the edge of the Western Chugach. One might say that it overlooks the northern end of the Pacific Ocean, but it is more of a landmark to the people of Palmer and the Matanuska Valley. Thus it was natural that men from "The Colony” in Matanuska Valley made the first ascent, and also to their credit that this was the first recorded mountain ascent in the Western Chugach.

1. Vernon Haik, John Wolffe, Joe ?, Central Gully to West Gully on Northwest Face, June 1936; 2. Paul Crews (Sr.), Warren Crosby, Harry Pursell, North Gully, August 16, 1953; 3. Laurie Anderson, Robert La- Follette, July 11, 1954; 4. Gordon Gastil, John Reed, West Ridge, September 18, 1955; 5. Edward Clark, Gordon Hills, West Ridge, July 4, 1956; 6. Karl Wurlitzer, Central Gully, August 4, 1957; 7. Gene Cox, West Ridge, July 15, 1961; 8. Vincent Hoeman (four others to "Counterpoint”), North Gully, July 29, 1962; 9. Clifford Ells, Central Gully to West Gully on Northwest Face, September 1962.

Among many unsuccessful attempts on Pioneer Peak, five parties have reached the 6350 "Counterpoint” on the northeast ridge without crossing the final exposed 150 yards to the true summit, and at least two parties have climbed the 6350-foot "South Peak” half a mile away. "Marys Mountain”, 4895, on the West Ridge of Pioneer Peak was climbed nine times in the years 1949-61 by parties led by Joe Pichler. Four miles southwest of Pioneer are East and West Twin Peaks, each climbed several times from southern approaches, and "Goat Rock,” 5250, immediately west of West Twin, presumably unclimbed.

Bold Peak, 7522. The first of a series of "B Peaks” named by the Mountaineering Club of Alaska in the Eklutna area, Bold Peak rises nearly 7000 feet in less than two miles from Eklutna Lake. Eklutna power projects built a road as far as Eklutna Lake about 1940.

1. Gene Brady, Jack Easley, Robert Henderson, Charles Hightower, Wayne Jacobs, July 20, 1947; 2. Doug Calef, Robert Goodwin, Tim Grogan, Bob Stephen, Northeast Ridge, August 6, 1950; 3. Helga Bading, Crews (Sr.), John Johnston, Hans Metz, Northeast Ridge, September 14, 1958; 4. Harry Wagner, June I960; 5. Bertold Puchtier, Larry Smith, Northwest Ridge and West Face, August 21, I960; 6. John Bousman, Phil Colbert, Gregg Erickson, Northeast Ridge, July 21, 1963; 7. Hoeman, Northeast Ridge, September 12, 1965; 8. Harry Wolfe (companion to 7000), Northeast Ridge, September 12, 1965.

Bashful Peak, 8005. The highest mountain in the Western Chugach was so named by the third ascent party on Bold Peak because it hides behind Bold on the only practical route of approach, the Eklutna Road.

1. Bading, Crews (Sr.), Erickson, J. Johnston, Rodman Wilson (A.A.J., I960, 12:1, p. 108), West Ridge, July 18, 1959; 2. Arthur Davidson, Yoshiaki Nakamura, North Face to West Ridge, July 30 or 31, 1965.

Baleful Peak, 7950. This second highest mountain in the Western Chugach is such a gruesome-looking pile of bad rock that it was not attempted till April 1965, and that party failed in bad weather.

1. Davidson, Hoeman, Southwest Ridge, August 8, 1965.

Across the head of an unnamed tributary of Hunter Creek east of the Bold-Bashful-Baleful group are two 7400 or 7500-foot peaks which have never been approached. Neither have Mount Palmer, 6940, or Peak 7240 between Hunter Creek Glacier and The Gorge where Lake George breaks out.

The Mitre, 6650, southeast of the snout of Eklutna Glacier, has been attempted to the 4150 col northeast of its north summit, but it remains unclimbed. Farther south on the same ridge, "White Lice Mountain”, 6650, has been climbed three times since 1961 by its southeast ridge and descended once by the west face. Pichler Perch, a Mountaineering Club of Alaska A-frame hut, was completed on the northeastern slope of this mountain at 4500 feet elevation in 1964. "Pellet Peak”, 5665, two miles south of White Lice was first climbed in 1965.

"Mount Insignificant”, 7005, would be otherwise if it were not buried to its neck in an unnamed glacier that connects to both Eagle and Eklutna Glaciers but drains toward Lake George.

1. J. Bousman, Larry Underwood (A.A.J., 1965, 14:2, p. 403), northwest ridge, June 4, 1963.

White out Peak, 7135, between the unnamed glacier and Eagle Glacier enshrouds itself in the opaque condition for which it was named whenever approached and is presumed unclimbed.

Peril Peak, 7040. Between the branches of Eklutna Glacier is a sharp ridge two summits of which have definite mammariform appearance from down-glacier. Each of the sergeants in charge of troops who first opened up this area as a mountain-training site in 1961 dubbed them after his favorite movie star and the real peril was that they would walk dreamily into a crevasse while studying them. Two attempts were made on Peril Peak before a fly-in party found the easy route in good weather.

1. Erickson, Bading, Jim Frazer, Hans Van der Laan, from the south, May 23, 1964.

Mount Beelzebub, 7280. This mountain looked like more of a devil when it was named than it turned out to be by the first-ascent route. It is located at the head of the West Branch of Eklutna Glacier.

1. Davidson, Michael Judd, David Myers, Nicholas Parker, East Face, August 22, 1965.

Bellicose Peak, 7640. Rising precipitously from Eklutna Glacier as the highest mountain west of that drainage, Bellicose Peak has a bulging crest of hanging glacier northwest of its blocky top.

1. J. Bousman, William Bousman, (A.A.J., 1964, 14:1, p. 166) Southwest Ridge, August 20, 1963.

Benign Peak, 7250. Although close to Bellicose near the snout of the Eklutna Glacier, this mountain was much friendlier toward its first-ascent party; the rock was not too rotten and the weather was not too bad.

1. Davidson, Hoeman, up East Face, down South Gully, August 2, 1965. "Benign Point”, 7050, a gendarme on the southwest ridge of Benign Peak is unclimbed.

Peak 7530, at the head of Peters Creek is unclimbed and constantly roars with rockfall, but will yield to a determined attack on its southwest face.

Peak 7450, between Peters Creek and Eagle River is unclimbed, though Art Davidson reached Point 7030 in a solo attempt on its northwestern ridge on September 1, 1965.

Mount Yukla, 7535, the highest point in the Eagle River drainage. Yukla is the name given by Mendenhall in 1898 as the Indian name for that river. He also noted and described this mountain.

1. J. Bousman, Davidson (mistakenly "Kuluk” in A.A.J., 1965, 14:2, p. 403), East Face and Northeast Ridge, July 15, 1964.

”Mount Soggy,” 7190, a mile east of Yukla, commemorates a frequent condition of things in these coastal mountains.

1. J. Bousman, Davidson (A.A.J., 1965, 14:2, p. 403), Southwest Ridge, July 16, 1964.

Peak 7460, at the heads of the Lake George, Stairway, and Surprise Glaciers is the remaining high peak of the Western Chugach and its remote location may keep it virgin for some time.

Mount Eklutna, 4110, Mount Magnificent, 4285, and Mount Gordon Lyon, 4150 near the ends of their respective ridges south of Eklutna are frequently and easily climbed. "Rendezvous Peak”, 4050, above Fort Richardson’s Ski Bowl is an easy ski ascent. Organ Mountain, 6980, the highest of a sharp group of peaks at the head of the South Fork of Eagle River was climbed in 1965, but 6955 Polar Bear Mountain and other high, sharp peaks of this group are unascended. "Mount Pleasant”, 6425, north of Eagle River was climbed by an M.C.A. party June 12, I960, but Peak 6795 near it is probably still virgin. Closest to Anchorage, the first peak on the ridge south of Ship Creek is Temptation Peak, 5350, attempted, probably climbed, but no record. "Tanaina Peak”, 5350, marks the junction of the next western spur with the main ridge and is similarly without record, though a 5150-foot subsummit on this spur ridge was reached in 1965.

Mount Williwaw, 5445, is the highest point on Anchorage’s skyline ridge and is named for the type of spring storm in which three soldiers died near its slopes in 1961.

1. David Judd, M. Judd, Myers, Parker, South Ridge, June 11, 1965.

”Mount Elliot”, 4710, a mile and a half northwest of Williwaw on a disconnected ridge is named for A.F. Sgt. Bob Elliot who climbed Mount McKinley in 1958 and was killed there in a rescue operation in I960. John Dillman made the first ascent July 1, 1961. At the western end of the same ridge is Wolverine Peak, 4455, frequently climbed, as is "O’Malley Peak”, 5150 on the next ridge south. Peak 5240 where this ridge joins the main ridge was first climbed in 1964. "Powerline Pass” is a low point in the main ridge at the head of the South Fork of Campbell Creek. All the summits on the next western spur ridge to the south have been climbed; the end one, Flattop Mountain, 3530 is probably the most climbed roadless, trailless mountain in Alaska.

Suicide Peak is a name originally attached in railroad construction days to something indefinable close to their Turnagain Arm right-of-way, and recently shifted to Peak 5005, but locally the name "Suicide Peaks” refers to this peak and Peak 5065 a mile northeast of it, as the two are landmarks from either Rabbit or Indian Creek. The two are frequently climbed by several routes, including a direct line up the west ridge of the 5065 peak by Bading, Crews (Jr.), and Dillman on September 9, in 1962. McHugh Peak, 4301, between Rabbit and McHugh Creeks is an easy walkup. Indianhouse Mountain, 4350, has a rather steep, notched rock summit which has made its ascent infrequent.

1. J. Hill, Metz, Joseph Pichler, Norman Pichler, Southeast Gully, June 19, 1959; 2. Hoeman, David Johnston, Peter H. Robinson, South Ridge, May 26, 1963.

"Birdseye Ridge”, 3505, east of Indian Creek has been used by runners practicing for the Mountain Marathon Race at Seward each fourth of July. If the 4305 highpoint of the long "Penguin Ridge” has been climbed, the fact is yet unrecorded.

Bird Peak, 5505, is the highest point encircled by Bird Creek and very spectacular.

1. Ells, Hoeman, D. Johnston (4th climber to Point 4840), Southwest Ridge, June 9, 1963.

The group of named summits south and east of Crow Pass, Ragged- top, 5215, Barnes, 3820, Jewell, 4850, Summit, 5350, and Goat, 6450, Mountains were probably all climbed by prospectors in this early mining area, but no definite records were found by M.C.A. parties who made their ascents in the years 1958-62. Camprobber Peak, 5855, west of Clear Glacier is probably unclimbed and was named after the local gray jay. The "Raven Peaks” at the head of Raven Glacier reach 6650 and were first climbed in 1959, while "Rook Mountain”, 6685, across Raven Glacier from Crow Pass, was first climbed in 1963. The Mountaineering Club of Alaska maintains an old mine cabin called Crows Nest on the southeast side of Crow Pass. Skiers climb Mount Alyeska, 3939, and Max’s Mountain, 3302, usually with the aid of the chairlift, and occasionally Peak 4435 behind. Peak 4710 was a spectacular climb from Winner Creek in 1960. Blueberry Hill, 4550, is close enough to the Seward Highway that it has probably been climbed by hunters and berry pickers. Peak 4545 was climbed from the end of the Portage Glacier Road in 1963.

Mention should also be made of the mountain traverses as the Western Chugach have been crossed afoot by several outstanding routes. A common one-day traverse is up Indian Creek, through Powerline Pass, 3550, and down Campbell Creek; two days — up Indian Creek, over Indian

Creek Pass, 2350, and out Ship Creek; three days — from Eagle River over Crow Pass, 3550, and out to Girdwood. These three are easiest done in winter on skis or snowshoes as brush, water, and insects are less of a problem. Longer traverses are usually done in the summer. One is up over the head of the West Branch of Eklutna Glacier, 5350, across Eagle River, up Camp Creek to Moraine Pass, 3950, and out Ship Creek, four or five days by the military with limited air supply. Another is a high-level traverse of Eklutna, Eagle, and Raven Glaciers coming out over Crow Pass to Girdwood and can be done in four or five days if the weather permits. The civilian Mountain Training Instructor for the Army, Hans Wagner, has pioneered some of these traverses and has also led the longest one ever done in the Western Chugach when he gurded 17 soldiers from Eklutna Glacier down to Lake George, up the Lake George Glacier to the 4650 pass at its head and out the Twentymile Glacier and River to Portage in August 1963.

Many peaks and routes await discovery and exploration.

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