North America, Canada—Coast Range, "Chutine Peak," Owens Peak, and Other Peaks of the Stikine Region

Publication Year: 1981.

“Chutine Peak”, Owens Peak, and Other Peaks of the Stikine Region. When an anticipated trip to Mount Logan fell through at the last moment I began scrambling to rescue something from the summer season. Two years previously my wife Betty and I and three friends had explored a portion of the northern Stikine Icecap from a base camp on Chutine Lake, B.C. (Canadian Alpine Journal, 1979, p. 36). We thoroughly enjoyed the area and knew that it still offered many worthy climbing objectives. We were able to recruit two of the previous trip members, Geoff Faraghan and John Hoiberg, and friends Nathan Hoover, Jason Winnett, Les Wilson and his son Chris. On June 27 we were back in our old Base Camp at Chutine Lake (950 feet). Poor coastal weather had ruled out the airdrop we wished to do on the icecap. For five days we worked on re-establishing our route to the icecap, making several first ascents of bordering peaks along the way. Finally the weather cleared and the plane returned to the airdrop. Food and fuel sufficient for ten days were dropped on the edge of the icecap at 6600 feet. We left Base Camp and reached the airdrop twenty-four hours later. After picking up the supplies, we set off on skis for a 40-mile loop east of the international boundary. Much of the time glacial fog swirled around us and we were forced to navigate by compass. Along the way we stopped to climb Boundary Peak 75 (7776 feet), Boundary Peak 76 (7442 feet), and Owens Peak (8100 feet), all first ascents. Peak 75 was climbed via a glacier on the southwestern (Alaska) side. Peak 76 was climbed via the long, sharp class 4 east ridge in an abominable mixture of rain, sleet, snow, and nearly zero visibility. Ten hours were required just for the round trip between the false and true summits, and we were forced to bivouac for the brief night. Owens Peak, on the other hand, was climbed via the southeast glacier in spectacularly clear weather. Both summits were visited, the northeast proving to be slightly higher. After our return to Chutine Lake we set our sights on the highest peak in the area, 9633- foot “Chutine Peak”. So named by the first climbing party to visit the area in 1973 (C.A.J., 1974, p. 19), it rises spectacularly right out of the eastern shore of the lake. Two attempts made on the peak in 1973 were unsuccessful, due at least in part to poor weather. Four days remained before the plane was to return, just enough time for a light, fast assault. Les and Chris Wilson, Geoff Faraghan, and I made a nerve-wracking crossing of the icy lake in our flimsy four-man raft. We chose to tackle the peak along a prominent south-projecting rib. Each successive thousand feet on the first day alone produced a radically different terrain—a miserable, unstable sandy slide; sound granite ledges and slabs; an incredible, jumbled deadfall; and a packed sand slope covered with low spruce. At timberline (5300 feet) we found a convenient heather carpeted camp spot and two tiny snow patches. This spot was one of the few respites in the unrelenting 45° slope and the snow was the first source of water on the otherwise dry rib. The next morning we traversed west into a deep gully to avoid gendarmes at the head of the rib. The gully was ascended to a large snowfield and thence to a prominent saddle southeast of the peak. We were now in the clouds and would, in fact, never see more than small parts of the upper mountain. From the saddle our route up the southern slopes of the southeast ridge was a seemingly interminable maze of rotten, rocky gullies. When we finally reached the foot of the summit glacier we were faced with a treacherous granular ice slope. Once over this the final 500 feet to the summit was a snow slog, enlivened only by the ever present danger of pitching over the precipitous northeast face in the near zero visibility conditions. An ice bollard was used to get off the summit glacier and great care was taken in working back down the rocky maze. However, on reaching the saddle it miraculously cleared and we were back at our comfortable camp spot by ten P.M. The following day we made a leisurely return to Base Camp one day ahead of schedule. The weather was beautiful and we foolishly gorged ourselves on most of our remaining food. Then, the night before we were to be picked up, the weather suddenly turned bad. For two extra days we waited impatiently in the rain. But as quickly as it had come on, the bad weather abated, and on July 21 we were treated to a spectacular flight back across the icecap to Juneau.

Paul Tamm