When completed, this will be the first complete guide for peakbagging all 120 recognized peaks in the Chugach State Park. This resource includes route descriptions, notes, and GPS tracks.
Alaska Peakbagger Dan Glatz is collaborating with SBR by 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 email@example.com with questions about the routes.
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.
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)
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.
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.