Follow Dan as he bags all 120 of the Chugach State Park Peaks and all U.S. high points over 10,000'. Dan will be sending us his trip write ups, photos, and downloadable GPS tracks to help you along on your own journey! Follow him on Instagram @dang_ak for fantastic mountain photography. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about the routes.
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!!
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.
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.
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’.
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.
Link to GPS Track
Tetlin Peak is the high point of the Mentasta Range and one of 64 peaks in Alaska with over 5000’ of prominence. It is located approximately 35 miles down Nabesna Road in a rarely traveled and often overlooked area. To access the peak, park at the pullout on your left just after crossing the Lost Creek. There is no bridge over Lost Creek, just drive through it; a high clearance vehicle is recommended.
+We camped roughly 9 miles from the trailhead on an alpine bench between Peak 7040 and the valley that leads to Tetlin Peak. Water was nearby but we did have to drop down 400’ to access it. We completed this trip in a leisurely 3 days and included an ascent of nearby Peak 7040. Doing the whole trip in 2 days would be do-able.
+We climbed Tetlin in early August. At that point there was no snow on route and crampons/ice axes were not needed; earlier in the season they would have been needed. Trekking poles were beneficial as the majority of the climb was on loose rock/scree.
+The route highlighted on this GPS track was pleasant, though a long slog in rocks was involved. There are multiple ways this peak could be attained.