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North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Denali National Park, Surprise Glacier Peaks

Surprise Glacier peaks. On May 26 Steve Mock and I flew into the upper end of the southern lobe of the Surprise Glacier, a remote and lower-elevation area (Talkeetna C-5 quad map) in the southwest portion of the Alaska Range, located between Mt. Dall and Mt. Russell. We placed our base camp in the middle of the glacier at about 5,200', and during the brief weather windows we were afforded good views as far as the distant Kichatna Spires, Mt. Dall, and Mt. Russell.

We initially had good weather and bagged a couple of nice peaks via snow couloirs and ridges. (None of the peaks in the area have established names.) Due west of our base camp we climbed a northeast couloir of Peak 6,500' (located at UTM 5 539110E 6948891N). South of base camp, at the very head of the southern lobe of the Surprise Glacier, we climbed the west ridge of Peak 6,000', passing a small rock tower along the way that looked very much like a chortenæhence “Chorten Peak” (UTM 5 539618E 6946748N).

Then the weather took a turn for the worse. Very high winds (inverted tent and broken poles), sleet, rain, and snow plagued us for the balance of our trip. During a brief respite from the bad weather, we attempted Peak 6,302' via its east ridge (from the pass at UTM 5 540827E 6947835N) but were thwarted by horrendously loose rock. This peak is south of the impressive west face of what we were calling the “Little Eiger” (Peak 7,200').

Then we ran out of beer. In 17 days we had five days of fair weather, and, needless to say, our mood was subdued. This area seemed good for solitude, ski touring, and easy peak bagging, with difficult ascent possibilities in colder temperatures. (We found unconsolidated snow and crumbly rock.) In searching AAJs and the libraries at AMH and the Talkeetna Ranger Station, and in speaking with several long-time Alaska Range climbers, including Roger Robinson and Brian Okonek, I didn’t learn of anyone who’d previously been in this area.

Missing our original pickup date of June 6, we finally flew out on the 11th, in blustery weather, with many thanks to the persistent efforts of McKinley Air.

Brian Cabe, AAC