American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Polar Bear Peak, Northwest Face, Chugach Mountains

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987

Polar Bear Peak, Northwest Face, Chugach Mountains. During beautiful weather and suprisingly mild temperatures, Charlie Sassara and I climbed Polar Bear Peak (6619 feet) during February 15 to 17. Believed to be only the third ascent of the mountain, this climb produced the first one in winter and the first ascent of its spectacular northwest face. Leaving the Eagle River Vistor Center at dawn, we hiked up the historic Iditarod Trail for six miles before crossing the open river to begin our bushwhack. We followed the drainage into a beautiful cirque where we were surrounded by impressive peaks and pocket glaciers. A nine-hour day left us on top of a steep snow slope below the rock shoulder of the northwest face with 3500 feet to go. We found an ideal bivouac site in a hollow formed by the wind. The following morning we climbed unroped with a full compliment of rock-and-ice hardware up the shoulder, following a series of snow ramps connected by verglased rock. This shoulder proved to be the key to the hanging glacier on the upper face. Once on the glacier, we climbed up to 55° snow to the summit pyramid. A pitch of verglas followed by a challenging chimney led us to the sharp summit four hours after starting. The view from the top was unbelievable with not a cloud seen over all of Alaska. We were able to see the long snow gully on the south side that led to the two prior ascents. After a rappel of the chimney, we down-climbed the rest of the pyramid and enjoyed a quick glissade down the glacier. Down-climbing the shoulder was no problem in our euphoric state. Following a second bivouac we descended the drainage following Heritage Creek to the river. We reached the visitor center in six hours.

Steve Davis

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