Link to GPS Track for McHugh Peak
McHugh is one of the easiest 120 peaks to climb but it still has an amazing 360-degree view from the summit. There’s 2 different standard routes you can summit McHugh from. The easier starts from Bear Valley, at a small trailhead known as the Honey Bear Trailhead, and makes for a quick, 6 mile, partial day hike or trail run. This option starts you at around 2000 feet of elevation. Be warned that the parking for this trail head is essentially a small residential cul-de-sac. Please be respectful of the residents and only park in designated spots. Have a back up plan on a nice day as the limited parking may be taken.
The other route (not shown on the GPS track) starts at the McHugh Creek trailhead along Turnagain Arm; this route starts at nearly sea level and climbs every inch of the peak. To take this route, head left on the Turnagain Arm trail from the McHugh Parking lot. After a short time, a trail will shoot off to the right. Follow this trail uphill around the face of the mountain to a sadel. Then follow the ridgeline to your right to the summit.
You know when you are at the summit when you reach the large “cockscomb” boulder. It is a fun scramble up the final 30 feet to the top. Either route offers a great introduction into the Chugach.
+Water is not common along the trail though you should be able to carry enough needed for this half day outing
+Please be respectful of the residents if using the Honey Bear Trailhead.
Link to GPS link for Homicide Peak
Homicide Peak is a fun Front Range scramble accessed from either side of Powerline Pass trail, starting from either the Glen Alps Trailhead in Anchorage or the Indian Valley Trailhead along the Seward Highway. There is a little route finding involved in reaching the summit but nothing too involved-just keep moving up in the right general direction. The peak is best climbed mid-June through fall as some early season snow runouts can be a bit treacherous.
+If you’re feeling ambitious you can summit both Homicide and Avalanche Mountain in the same day
+Water is available on either approach
Koktoya and Tanaina Peaks
GPS link to Koktoya and Tanaina Peaks
North Fork Campbell Creek valley is one of my favorite areas in the Front Range. It sees far fewer people than some of the valleys to the south but it still offers easy travel and beautiful scenery. Koktoya lies at the head of the valley, making it the most isolated peak in the front range. Conveniently, it shares a ridgeline with East and West Tanaina Peaks so it’s worth doing them all together. East Tanaina is a 120 peak while West Tanaina is one of the 12 peaks in the front range over 5000’ which is also a worthwhile list to tackle.
For this route, we started at the Basher Trailhead. These peaks can also be approached by heading up and over Near Point from the Prospector Trailhead.
+My GPS track is for the descent. We hiked the valley in and took the ridgeline out. Doing it that way or vice versa is definitely the way to go.
+Ample water is available in the valley.
Link to GPS link for Nantina Peak
Nantina Point was a peak that always intrigued me- it is dwarfed by the 7000’+ monsters that surround it. Because of this, there is very little beta about the climb except for the stories of hellacious bushwhacking that is required to get into Icicle Valley.
Luckily, I had a partner that has mastered the art of route-finding utilizing both google earth and write-ups in the Mountaineering Club of Alaska’s magazine, Scree. He devised a flawless route starting from the Eagle River Nature Center that found a cut trail into Icicle Valley and delivered us to the summit with relative ease.Even though the bigger peaks were in the clouds, the summit views were outstanding. Nantina sits slightly south of its higher neighbors which allows it to tower over Eagle River valley and gives you views for miles and miles.
+In the spring this is a great snow climb, during the summer it would be all scree. This is a south facing route so beware of any potential spring wet slides.
+Wear a helmet year-round, crampons in the early season
+There is an incredible bivy rock in Icicle Valley with close access to water. The overhang is large enough to house 5-6 people!
Link to GPS track for Temptation Peak
Temptation is one of the more remote Front Range peaks- it is also the second highest peak in the Front Range, after Mt. Williwaw. One of the more remote Front Range peaks on the 120 list is Temptation Peak. To approach, you can either access it from the Basher Road trailhead or via Fort Richardson, from the trailhead on Arctic Valley Road (The GPS track shows the Arctic Valley Route). The Basher route is longer with more elevation gain but also bypasses some muddy sections that are on the Fort Rich approach. The trail can also get quite overgrown in the summer; I was happy with my choice of climbing it in the fall. The peak itself is pretty straightforward with minimal scrambling.
+The peak is on military land so a JBER recreation pass is required. They are $10 annually.
+There’s water access until the base of the peak
Link to GPS track for Mount Williwaw
Mount Williwaw is the tallest peak in the front range and offers amazing views of the surrounding area. There are multiple routes but the south west gully has been my route of choice both in the summer and winter. Williwaw can be climbed in a long day or you can choose to camp anywhere in the Middle Fork Campbell Creek Valley.
+Although most people choose not to, I’ve witnessed enough rockfall in the gully to recommend a helmet.
+If there is still snow in the gully (usually well into August) an ice ax and crampons are helpful.
+There’s plenty of water access until the base of the peak.
Camp Robber and Grey Jay Peaks
The summit views from Camp Robber and Grey Jay were two that I missed out on because of being socked in by clouds at the top. However, even catching glimpses of the Clear Glacier were quite special. These peaks make for a great day trip from the Crow Pass Trailhead as they offer both an easy approach and easy climbing while escaping the mass of people that frequent the Crow Pass Trail. There are plenty of camping and water fill up opportunities in the Clear Creek valley.
+Both peaks are class 2.
+Early season and Ice ax and crampons may prove necessary. Later in the year kahtoolas and tennis shoes would be fine.
Paradise and Delgga Peaks
Delgga and Paradise would make either a nice long day trip or great overnight trip-camping in Paradise Valley is fantastic. They can also be paired with larger objectives. Our plan was to hike Delgga & Paradise, camp at Grizzly Bear Lake, then traverse the Kinglet ridge over to Peak 4515 and exit out through Bird Valley. We easily gained the summits of Paradise and then Delgga and set up camp for the night. However, the next morning we awoke to low clouds and decided not to tackle the Kinglet ridge. Instead I climbed some less prominent peaks in the area then exited out the valley. This explains the GPS track when you open it.
Delgga and Paradise are straightforward and easy scrambles with great views as they lie in a remote and beautiful area of the park. Paradise valley offers amazing camping areas and plentiful water supply. Even if you’re not a peakbagger that valley is a must see!
To access these peaks, park at the Bird Valley Trailhead and follow the valley trail up. The Bird Valley Trail does allow bikes to speed up your approach time if you are planning to come back the way you came.
+Paradise Peak is a steep but straightforward class 2 walk to the summit from Paradise Valley
+Delgga has some Class 3 sections but is still pretty straightforward and easy. Might be worth bringing a helmet if you’re in a group.
Triangle Peak makes for a nice long day hike or an overnighter in a beautiful area of the park. There’s two different approaches that both start from the South Fork Eagle River Trailhead. The more traveled option is to take the valley trail to the Eagle and Symphony Lakes to then gain the ridge that lies to the south of Symphony Lake to the summit. The other, more ambitious option (and avoid most people) is to gain the ridge at Hunter Pass and follow that all the way to the summit. The route to Hunter Pass is marked along the Eagle and Symphony Lakes trail. Either way it’s a fun and easy climb.
+All Class 2, no helmet necessary
+Ample water on the valley trail almost the whole way, none on the ridge route unless there’s remaining snow patches
+GPS track begins at Symphony Lake and ends on the summit ridge. The true summit is another few hundred flat feet to the east.
+Eagle and Symphony Lakes offer great camping
Vista Peak, Mile Hi Peak, and Mt. Magnificent
GPS Track for Vista Peak
This is a fun Chugach ridgeline traverse that runs from the Baldy Mountain trailhead off of Skyline Road in Eagle River to the Mile Hi trailhead on Mile Hi Road. This straight forward traverse climbs three peaks and a few other points. Prepare for a long day and be aware that there is no water source on near the ridge unless there’s still some lingering snow in the early season.
If you’re not feeling the full traverse, either climbing Vista from the Baldy side or Mount Magnificent from the Mile Hi side makes for a good half day climb.
+This is a non technical climb and requires no specific gear
Peeking and Raina Peaks
Link to GPS Track for Peeking and Raina Peaks
Trekking up Peeking and Raina in a day is a great introduction for anyone who is wanting to venture deeper into Chugach State Park. The route up to the peaks is almost completely class 2 with a hort and protected sections of class 3 bands near the summits. Depending on your hiking speed the peaks can be climbed in a 6-10 hour day. From the summits you’ll be able to see into the heart of the park and the addiction will begin!
The GPS tracks start from The Ram Valley Trailhead. To reach this small trailhead on Miriah Drive, off of Prudhoe Bay Ave from Eagle River Road.
+There is a creek in the beginning of Ram Valley but after that there is no water supply
+Bring a helmet along for some of the scrambling near the summits
+The trail to Ram Valley passes through private property so please be respectful
Mount Significant & Peak 5320
Mount Significant can be climbed by a few different routes. The GPS tracks start from The Ram Valley Trailhead. To reach this small trailhead on Miriah Drive, off of Prudhoe Bay Ave from Eagle River Road. Climbing Significant and/or Peak 5320 from that trailhead is a perfect fall or early winter hike before there’s any avalanche danger. You can also access Significant from the Mile Hi Trailhead but it adds quite a few miles. Traversing the two trailheads would be a good option and add variety to the trip.
+Both peaks are class 2, no technical gear required
+No water access unless there are snow patches around
+The trail from Ram Valley crosses private property so please be respectful
Link to GPS Track for Hardygurdy Peak
For a good intermediate day hike, Hurdygurdy is a perfect choice. It offers a taste of what the tougher Chugach peaks require; a long approach, some class 3 scrambling and scree but without much exposure. The summit views are worth the trek as you’ll get up close views of some of the more challenging peaks that await you.
Parking is either at the South Fork Eagle River Trailhead or at the End of Hiland Road as shown in the GPS track.
+Bring a helmet
+On the east side of Eagle Lake you’ll have to cross a braided river several times. It’s worth brining water shoes or sandals for these crossings.
+Note on the GPS track that I climbed Hurdygurdy in the winter, giving me the ability to walk across the lake. In the summer the south side of the lake offers the easiest travel even if it’s a bit more out of the way.
Link to GPS track for Benign Peak
Climbing Benign Peak is a solid contender for the title of “best experience in the Chugach”. The peak is situated near the toe of the Eklutna Glacier and provides excellent views of the glacier and lake on a nice day. Acces starts from the Eklutna Lakeside Trailhead. Unfortunately for us we were clouded in on the top half of the mountain. That said even the lower views prove to be spectacular.
Like Bold Peak, Benign is also quite a slog. Chockstone Gully is steep and composed of very, very loose scree making rockfall is a major issue. Once above Chockstone downclimb some exposed class 3 towards Serenity Falls. The nice thing about this peak is the crux is early on the route and once you cross the creek that hardest part is over. The rest of the route is a long sidehill followed by either a scree or snow filled gully climb depending on the season.
+ Helmet required. Trekking poles were also very helpful for the scree climb.
+ To avoid the exposed class 3 scramble, rappelling is also an option for the downclimb towards Serenity Falls and Chockstone Gully.
+ Early season climbing will require an ice ax and crampons.
+ This can be done as a long day hike or overnight at one of the campsites or the Serenity Falls Hut (reservation required).
+ Depending on the season the creek above Serenity Falls may be your only water supply. In late July we were able to collect a few drops near the summit but don’t count on that
Link to GPS track for Harp Mountain
For anyone who has not eclipsed the 5000’ mark in the Chugach, Harp Mountain is a perfect starting hike. Harp offers easy class 2 travel with phenomenal views of the big Chugach peaks that you will later climb!
This is a relatively short hike. Park at the end of Hiland Road in Eagle River. Follow the apparent ridge up to the top!
+Harp can be climbed all year but if you go in the winter be sure you’re aware of the current avalanche conditions.
+A helmet is not required for this hike. (but it never hurts to have one!)
Link to GPS track for Bold Peak
Many hikers put Bold Peak in the running for the title of “the easiest peak in the Chugach”. Based on my experience, I disagree, giving that title to Korohusk Peak. While Bold is not technical, it is a long slog on loose scree and rock. The peak is also becoming increasingly popular; Stivers Gully can be quite dangerous if there’s a party above you dislodging rocks. Regardless of these new obstacles, it is still a reasonable climb for anyone wanting to experience life in the Chugach at 7500’. The hike starts from the Eklutna Lakeside Trailhead
+Bring a helmet, especially for the fixed rope section.
+Be aware of other parties on the mountain. Keep ample space between them so there is no rockfall danger.
+You can climb Bold either in a long day or camp at the end of Eklutna Lake. There is also a good camping spot just above the fixed ropes if you’re willing to carry gear that far.
Link to GPS Track for Korohusk Peak
Once early June rolled around I was ready to tackle my first 7000’ peak in the Chugach. Korohusk is better as an early season climb while there’s still snow in the gullies.
I started from the Eagle River Nature Center around 7 am and was soon bushwhacking my way up the Dishwater Creek drainage. After a miserable few hundred feet of bushwhacking I found the trail. It was in great shape and quickly got me above treeline. From the hanging valley I climbed the south gully of Korohusk. I was extremely happy to find a small waterfall around 5000’ where I was able to fill up my water bottle. Just above the waterfall I strapped on my crampons and climbed the final 2000’ in the softening snow. In my opinion (based off of the conditions I experienced) Korohusk is the easiest 7000’Chugach peak.
+Early season gear I’d recommend bringing a helmet, ice ax, and crampons. Later in the year you can do it with a helmet and sneakers but it’d be a slog.
+Part of my posted GPS track is a bushwhack. Rather than cut up at the Perch like I did, continue past it another quarter mile and hike up a draw. You’d intersect back with my track around 1500’.
Mount Eklutna, Peak 1222, Peak 5505
Link to GPS Track for Mount Eklutna, Peak 1222, and Peak 5505
The ridge that connects Mount Eklutna and Peak 5505 offers easy travel and awesome views. For this trip, the helmets can stay home but be sure to pack plenty of water as there is no where to fill up on the ridge itself.
The ridge hits numerous points and peaks starting from Bear Mountain to Peak 5505. If you’re not feeling a 20 mile ridge hike, Mount Eklutna and Peak 1222 make perfect shorter day trips with good trails and nice views.
+To access the trailhead, take the Peter's Creek exit off the Glenn Highway. Turn right on Ski Rd, right on Whaley, left on Kullberg, right on Sullins, and finally right on Malcom Dr. The trail begins at the end of the road.
Link to GPS Track for Emerald Peak
Just when I thought tagging new peaks in the Chugach was over, I received a tip that Emerald Peak was still in good condition. I had to burn off Thanksgiving dinner so this trip seemed like a great idea.
Hiking Emerald Peak in a day is not a short one. Starting at the Eagle River Nature Center, the approach alone is 10 miles on the Crow Pass Trail, followed by a 4000’ climb on a trail cut through alder patches. The hike is it is non-technical, requires minimal scrambling, and the payoff view is amazing. Even though Emerald stands at 5185’, its centralized location offers incredible 360-degree views.
+On this trip I did use crampons although they weren’t completely necessary. An ice ax was also useful.
+From Crow Pass Trail, there is a trail on the right just before Thunder Gorge. It is well flagged through most sections. We lost it initially around 1300’ and found it again a couple hundred yards later. From there we were able to stay on it until we got above brush line.
+If you don’t want to climb Emerald in a day there are ample camping opportunities along the Crow Pass trail the entire way.
Pepper Peak, Salt Peak, Peak 5285, Yudikench Peak
Link to GPS Track for Pepper Peak, Salt Peak, Peak 5285, and Yudikench Peak
Traversing the ridge from Pepper Peak to Pioneer Ridge is one of my favorite hikes in the park. It offers easy (but long) travel loaded with a variety of jaw dropping views. This route also climbs 4 of the 120 peaks: Pepper, Salt, Peak 5285 and Yudikench.
Shuttle a vehicle to the Pioneer Peak trailhead and then head to the Eklutna Lake Trailhead, or vice versa. If you start at the Eklutna Lake Trailhead, head up the Twin Peak Trail. Traverse miles of pleasant and scenic ridgeline.
+Be prepared for a long day. The route spans 18.4 miles and gains over 8200’. The nice part however is that minimal scrambling and route finding are required.
+Finding water can also be an issue. In August we were elated to find a small snowmelt puddle towards the end of the ridge where we could replenish our supply. Otherwise there were no other places to fill up.
+A helmet is not required.
I’m sure everyone is aware that the success and enjoyment of hikes is very based on conditions. Pleasant Mountain was a peak that intimidated me because I heard that the climb did not live up to its name. A friend suggested climbing it early in the season while there was good snowpack; rumor was this would make the trip more “pleasant”.
I started the climb very early in the morning in hopes of beating any snow softening or wet slides; I was glad I did. Starting at the South Fork Eagle River Trailhead, head up the trail and climb the massive south gully that dumps into Ram Valley. At this time of day, the snow was still rock hard so I put on crampons and kicked steps rather quickly. A couple hundred feet from the top I took a smaller gully the angled left. This gully deposited me on the summit block. Once at the summit block, I traversed climbers left and found a lower angle ramp that took me directly to the summit.
+The access to Ram Valley crosses private property. I have personally never had any issues taking this route but be sure to respect those owners who let us use it. People own the land, the land doesn’t own you.
+If you climb the route the route later in the summer I’ve heard it can be quite miserable with the scree. In mid-May the snow made travel much easier, just be sure to bring crampons, a helmet and ice ax.
+There’s some debate as to which is the true summit. I’m convinced the true summit is the west summit. There is also a FILGO summit register there. (See GPS track)
Bees Heaven Peak, Peak 5537, Thunderbird Peak
Link to GPS Track for Bees Heaven Peak, Peak 5537, and Thunderbird Peak
This trip turned out to be one of the few times that plotting a course on a topo map worked to perfection. By the end of the day we summited 3 of the 120 peaks: Bees Heaven, Peak 5538 and Thunderbird Peak.
Start at the Eklutna Lake Trailhead and take the lakeside trail for 9 miles. At that point, cross the Eklutna River and hike a faint trail to the east side of a drainage between the Watchman and Thunderbird Peak. The trail tops out in a hanging valley and the view of Bees Heaven comes into sight. The travel up to Bees Heaven straight forward; from the summit the rest of your objectives will come into view. The distance may seem a bit overwhelming but this route took what would normally be 3 day trips and condensed it into 1 very long day. From Bees Heaven, drop down the west ridge and climb up the grassy slope that leads to the ridgeline for Peak 5538. From that summit of Peak 5538, take the obvious ridgeline over to Thunderbird Peak. After summiting Thunderbird, drop down the scree slopes to the hanging valley below and retrace your steps back to the main trail. 30 miles and 10,000’ elevation gain later you’ve got three remote peaks!
+Biking out the first 9 miles will expedite the trip.
+The only water on this route is the drainage between Thunderbird and the Watchmen or at the valley floor where you drop off of the west ridge of Bees Heaven.
+I don’t believe any of these peaks exceed class 2 climbing. We did not bring helmets and had no regrets about that.
+Thunderbird is yet another Chugach Peak with a disputed “true” summit. You’ll see on my gps track that we climbed both summits. It’s not much extra work to hit both so you might as well go for the sure thing.
+See GPS track for the faint trail that leads to the hanging valley between the Watchman and Bees Heaven. This trail is a hidden gem that can be used for multiple peak approaches in that area (the Watchmen, Mount Rumble, Bellicose, and the peaks covered in this writeup)
Link to GPS track for Nest Peak
Nest Peak was a pleasant day trip. By Chugach standards it’s a pretty easy climb and offers a good view, beaten out only by its higher neighbor, Bird Peak.
Start at the Bird Valley Trailhead and take that trail just over a mile until you cross a bridge. After this bridge, hang a right and follow the trail for another 3 miles. Eventually the trail leads to a grassy meadow and swings uphill where it grows faint. Travel is easy and you just make up way to the ridgeline above you.
From the top of the ridge it’s just a matter of picking your way around rock outcroppings and making your way towards the summit. It never gets very exposed and travel is pretty easy. This was definitely one of my more pleasant and mellow experiences in Bird country!
+I was able to bike about 3 miles of the approach trail (Bird Valley Trail then a right on Penguin Creek Trail just after the bridge). It saved a bunch of time and made the trip out much faster.
+If you’re a Chugach peakbagger, I highly recommend combining this peak with Bird Peak; it’s worth the added effort. (Bring a helmet for Bird)
Link to GPS track for Bird Peak
Before I even started my Bird Peak attempt, I knew that I had made a mistake. I had elected not to climb it on my trip up Nest Peak last fall. The bushwhacking portion of Bird Peak can be avoided by taking the trail up Nest Peak and staying high as you traverse over to Bird. While this route would be a long day, it is worth it to avoid the bushwhack.
I began the hike at the Bird Valley Trailhead. I biked in the first three miles on the Bird Valley Trail; I hung right after the bridge onto Penguin Creek Trail before dropping my bike about 3 miles in to start my ascent. Despite my beta on the peak, the lazy part of me still elected to stay low. As soon as I cut off the main trail, I struck gold and found a faint, human cut trail that lead through the alders. Sadly, it only lasted half a mile before I lost it and started picking my way though grass fields and alder patches. Travel was slow and tiring.
Once on the ridge for Bird, the route is pretty straight forward, though a slog. Fresh snow made my travel slow; I would imagine it would not be as bad in spring snow or during the summer. A close look at my GPS track will reveal one route finding error I made towards the top. I climbed a steep snow gully that topped out just to the east of the summit. It may go in the summer but between the fresh snow and exposure, climbing the summit block from the side was not a risk I was willing to take. The route I did take did involve one 4th class step but again would probably be avoidable in the spring or summer.
The summit views are magnificent and the fresh snow capped peaks around made me happy I chose a late fall summit even with the added work.
+Even in early fall I used my crampons, ice axe, and whippet while climbing the snow gully. You could also take the ridge the whole way which may avoid the snow. Summer would require only a helmet.
+Even though I post a GPS track, do not think it's the easiest route. My route up was quite frustrating and was marred by route finding mistake after mistake.
+On my GPS track directly below Nest Peak you see a difference in my up and down routes. If you elect to go directly for Bird, I highly recommend the up route in that section. It'll save you some rough alder bushwhacking which is worth it even though you gain and lose more elevation.
Bright Peak & Bleak Peak
Link to GPS Track for Bright Peak & Bleak Peak
I chose to save Bright and Bleak Peaks for the fall when the colors would be in full swing. As anticipated, the colors did not disappoint! The trip itself is not technical, just long. Start at the Eklutna Lake Trailkead and bike down the Eklutna Lake Trail to the Bold Ridge Trail then hike up to about 3400’. At that point, cut across the valley and climb the ridge to the north. This ridge is quite scenic as it passes by Bold Peak and Hunter Creek Valley before depositing on the narrow ridge that makes up the summit of Bright Peak.
The ridge between Bright and Bleak has a few gendarmes on it. Rather than attempt to hike around them we opted to drop down a scree chute into a hanging valley between the two peaks and climb up Bleak from there. This decision was probably for the best; we were saved the frustration of traversing the gendarmes. This summit lives up to its name; there really wasn’t anything that special about it and with the low clouds hanging by the summit the atmosphere was quite… bleak. Rather than take the ridgeline back we opted to head straight for Bold Ridge via the south ridge of Bleak. This involved crossing two different creek valleys and some bushwhacking but I’m sure it saved us a bit of time.
Link to GPS track for Pioneer Peak
Pioneer Peak is a peak I’ve long wanted to summit. Living in the Mat-Su Valley, it calls out daily to be climbed. Prior to 2017 the south peak to north peak linkup seemed to get little action; the summer of 2017 saw quite a few summits and plenty of beta was available. The route to the south summit is pretty well worn and obvious. Getting from the south summit to north summit is not at all, hence it being the route less traveled.
The trick is finding the correct gully to ascend. Unfortunately for me, once in the saddle between the two peaks I ended up dropping way too low searching for the correct gully to climb (you’ll see this mistake on the gps track). I backtracked and found what I thought was the correct gully only to have it top out in a very exposed area. I was eventually able to find the correct gully using some beta from a friend (I was quite at a loss of which way to go at that point). The gully is not obvious; just know that it angles up towards the summit and NOT directly towards the ridgeline. Once topped out you can see the summit and it’s just a matter of connecting scree fields and rock bands to get there.
+The gully I had trouble finding is described as class 4 by some accounts; I thought it was more high class 3. It looks more intimidating than it actually is.
+The traverse between the two peaks takes quite a while. Allow time for route-finding; once you’re in the saddle it becomes a maze.
+No technical gear was used but a helmet is recommended as always.
Link to GPS Track for Magpie Peak
Magpie Peak entails a straight forward approach with one of my sketchiest scrambles to date. Start at Crow Pass trailhead, hike in about a mile before cutting down the hill to your left. Cross a snow bridge across the creek there. Once you have crossed the creek, sidehill a grassy hillside and make your way to a pocket glacier directly below Magpie’s intimidating southeast face. From this pocket glacier, I picked a gully that looked like it would top out just to the right of the summit; my buddy elected to stay behind. The gully proved itself to be steep with unstable rock. About halfway up, I encountered snow that required kahtoolas and an ice ax to ascend. I found the whole gully quite miserable; the top was definitely the crux. The rock at the top was wet and slick and I had to shimmy roughly 15-20’ up between a boulder and a rock wall with some decent exposure.
Once I topped out, the scramble to the summit was relatively easy. The adrenaline was going strong so I decided to find another way down the southeast ridge. After traversing down on exposed sidewalks and cliff bands with rotten rock I came to realize this route would not go. I backtracked and tried the northeast ridge heading toward Crow Glacier. This route was also incredibly exposed; the fall zone was a 2000’ cliff. Each handhold and foothold had to be weighted to ensure its stability. I was finally able to connect to a mellow ridge that led safely down to the pocket glacier. Boy was I ever happy to see my friend after that ordeal!
+Climbing the gully would have been easier in drier conditions and later in the season (After July) It is debatable whether the climb would have been easier in the winter under snow cover.
+ It may be easier to climb via the northeast ridge by mimicking my down route. Please note that route was also filled with crumbling rock and exposure.
+Wear a helmet!!
Organ Mountain and Synthesizer Peak
Link to GPS track for Organ Mountain and Synthesizer Peak
Climbing Organ and Synthesizer on a nice day will probably be one of your greatest Chugach memories. Sitting at 6980’, Organ Mountain is the tallest peak south of Eagle River. The approach is long and seems to drag on; to reach these peaks you travel through numerous valleys, up and over passes and over glacial moraine. While the trudge is long, the scenery makes up for it. Organ can be done in a day. Doing it as an overnight trip let me climb Synthesizer in the same trip.
Start at the Crow Pass trailhead in Girdwood. Head up the trail and up and over the pass. One over Crow Pass, travel west down Ship Creek valley. Then, hang a right into the hanging valley between Organ/Synthesizer. We camped at 4000’ by a small tarn. This was the highest you could travel up that valley and still have a water supply nearby.
The peaks themselves require some basic route finding. In the summer, Synthesizer is a class 2 climb and Organ is a class 3. Since this was a fall trip, the snow forced us to do a couple short 4th class steps on Organ and a couple steep snow side hills. Don’t let the class ratings deter you from this fantastic climb; it is not as bad as it sounds. The route can be difficult to hold at times; click here for a photo of your route. There are gendarmes on the ridge that you may have to traverse climber’s left to get around.
+If there is a possibility of snow on Organ, bring crampons and an ice ax. At the time of my summit in October, there was snow above 5500’; we would not have made the summit without them.
+ A helmet is necessary no matter what time of year you attempt this summit; there were numerous small rocks falling down the gully.
+Organ tends to hold snow pretty far into the summer months.
Bird's Eye and The Beak
GPS Track for Bird's Eye and the Beak
In my Esbay Peak write-up I mentioned how it was more or less a check off the list and not necessarily a peak I looked forward to submitting. I don’t believe it’s the mountains themselves that cause that feeling so much as the conditions you endure while climbing. Fast forward only two days and I’m biking down the same approach trail under blue bird skies and the promise of a perfect fall day.
Birds Eye Peak was a climb I had been saving for a sunny day. It’s 2000’+ of prominence promised to lead to spectacular views. So many of my summer 2017 climbs were fogged in with subpar weather detracting from the experience; I was unwilling to risk that happening on this peak.
To access the peak, start at the Bird Valley Trail Head. Hike, bike, or 4 wheel in on the main trail for just over 4 miles to a gate. At this point, drop the bike or 4 wheeler at the gate and began hiking. After a couple miles you’ll see a creek crossing with a fixed rope to your left. After the crossing, continue on the trail for another few miles. You will eventually see the hanging valley between Birds Eye and the Beak. Bushwhack up into the valley until you see a massive gully on the south side of Bird’s Eye. Take this gully up until you are about 100’ from the top. At this point, angle left. Cross several scree chutes until you top out on the summit.
After Birds Eye I made my way over to the Beak. Proceed down to the hanging valley the way you came. You’ll pass by a tarn and see a gully off of the Beak directly above it. Climb the gully and stay in it as it angles to the left. Towards the summit ridge it does get a little steep and exposed but offers good foot and hand holds. Once you’re on the summit ridge there are two bumps. The one to my right appeared to be higher but I climbed them both to be sure.
+The crux of this climb was probably crossing Bird Creek. The water was about thigh deep when I was there.
+The bushwhack was tolerable; vegetation in mid fall is fairly tame.
+Helmets highly recommended!!!
Link to GPS Track for Esbay Peak
If you’re trying to climb all 120 peaks in Chugach State Park, sooner or later you will come to realize that sometimes the biggest reward is the checkmark next to the name. Esbay Peak may fall under that category for many. Waiting out a rainstorm at the trailhead and enduring the muddy slog added to this feeling. Sometimes when peakbagging, you just gotta get it done in the time you have. At 4000’ it is one of the less impressive peaks in the park; as a consolation, it does sit at a centralized location that provides good views of Bird Valley.
Esbay is attainable as a day hike. To access the peak, start at the Bird Valley Trail Head. Hike, bike, or 4 wheel in on the main trail for just over 4 miles to a gate. At this point, drop the bike or 4 wheeler at the gate and began hiking. After a couple miles you’ll see a creek crossing with a fixed rope to your left. Do not cross the creek. Instead, start picking your way upstream through a maze of faint trails. Soon you’ll cross a small (but raging) creek. Once across the creek, you can see the west ridge of Esbay. Begin your bushwhak toward the ridge. Faint trails will come and go but nothing is consistent. The lovely Chugach bushwhack lasts until about 2800’ where the views finally open up and reward you for your efforts. Follow the ridge up to the peak.
+In a rainy year, the trail will probably be horribly muddy on the approach. Bring your waterproof layers!
+The approach trail is shared with bikers and 4 wheelers.
Mount Yukla, "The Eagle"
Link to GPS Track for Mount Yukla
Mount Yukla is the fourth largest peak inside of Chugach State Park; at 7535’ it’s the highest peak in the Eagle River Valley. While its northwest face has claimed lives and will intimidate even the most seasoned climbers, like many other Chugach peaks it has a backdoor which makes a potential summit more attainable. That said, for a summit this great, you must put in the work. On a good day summiting Mount Yukla may prove to be your single best experience in Chugach State Park!
The journey starts with an 8 mile trek down Crow Pass Trail from the Eagle River Nature Center. If you are lucky enough to find it, there is a steep, overgrown trail that gains 2000’ up to the start of the steep scramble up a pocket glacier (Twincicle) that will eventually top out at a saddle around 6000’. The last 1500’ is gained by climbing 3rd class rock bands and snow chutes. How much of this will be rock and how much will be snow depends on the time of year.
+Finding the trail from Twin Falls is critical. A bushwhack through that area would be horrid. To find it, hike to the pond just before twin falls creek. Backtrack roughly 100 yards to a small creek and follow it upstream. As the creek narrows look to the right on the side canyon wall. There is a downed tree trunk several feet from the valley floor; the trail starts directly across. The trail is faint and will come and go but is a lifesaver. For all of us who have used it, we must offer our gratitude to local mountaineers David Hart and Ben Still who went through and cut alder tunnels a few years ago.
+We camped in a hanging valley at around 3500’. As you get above treeline and enter the valley you’ll see a massive boulder in the middle of the valley. Near this rock you’ll find great camping and ample water.
+We climbed Twincicle Glacier just to the left of center. In mid-June there was still plenty of snow covering the ice but crevasses were exposed to our right as we climbed. We climbed it unroped; unless you’re comfortable on steep snow/glacier I would recommend roping it with a partner. Crampons and ice axes are must have’s when there’s still snow coverage. Climbing this route later in the summer without snow coverage would most certainly require ice climbing gear. Twincicle tops out on a saddle between both Yukla and Mount Soggy providing access to both peaks
+Once you top out on Twincicle you must traverse northwest and either scramble up the northeast face via scree gullies and snow chutes (depending on time of year) or the northeast ridge. If you climb the east ridge you will get cliffed out at 7000’.
Penguin Peak (+ Ridge Traverse)
Link to GPS Track for Penguin Peak
The Penguin Peak + Ridge Traverse is a must do for any Alaskan hiker. Wait for a beautiful day and you’ll experience one of the most scenic ridgelines in the entire state. The ridge walk spans roughly 16 miles while gaining over 7500’. You’ll need two vehicles for the traverse. We parked one car at the California Creek Trailhead in Girdwood and started from the Bird Valley Trailhead. About a mile up the main trail, there is a marked trail on the right for Penguin Peak. Follow this trail up the gully and to the visible peak. After summiting, continue on along the nearly 10 mile ridgeline to Girdwood. Make sure you bring a camera (or phone)!
+There is little to no water available on the ridge.
+Not much else to say about the route, once you get on top of Penguin Peak the route is quite apparent. There are a couple short scramble sections on the ridge but nothing worse than class 3.
+My GPS died on the final downhill section but not before it’ll lead you to the trail down which is quite critical during the summer months while the hillside is grown in.
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