Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Eagle River to Eklutna Backpack - September 2018

We spent a marathon Monday in the kitchen processing three caribou and chatting about ideas for the following weekend. Tony suggested Ram Valley to Eklutna; what a perfect backyard idea connecting so many favorite places! Saturday morning found us hiking up the familiar trail to Falling Water valley.

In the unusually hot September sun we treadmilled up the scree pass between Peking and Peak 5320. Behind Alyse is one of Raina's long coolies that link up well with so many other lines in the area.

At the pass, it was ginger chicken wraps for lunch with a view of Foraker for dessert.

From there we descended briefly to head for the low ridge that we'd take to Peters Creek. In the background are Thunderbird and Bees Heaven peaks with the evening's campsite just hidden below.

Gaining the descent ridge to Peters Creek, Peking and its X Couloir towered above.

Directly ahead was the north face of Rumble with its giant couloir. What a king line!

As Alyse turned towards the Wall Street Glacier, she was dwarfed by the huge west face of Benign. Its Malignant Gully is near the top of the hit list.

Following the ridge to the creek was painless and brush free. Along the way we passed countless bear excavation projects, blood red tundra, and a bag of peanuts that probably came from the Debarr Costco.

At the creek we vacuumed water to make up for the single liter that I had foolishly suggested starting the day with. The low fall flows made the crossing fast and easy. From the other side, our views swiveled to the south fork of Peters Creek guarded by Icicle, East Kiliak, and West Kiliak:

Icicle Peak:

Crossing the valley floor hardly counted as bushwhacking and we were soon gaining elevation on old lateral moraines along the valley wall. Rumble kept looking bigger and badder.

Below, a group of moose hunters quietly made their way home through the bright fall colors. The romantic scene almost made me want a horse. Almost.

Above the brushline, we turned into the basin draining the west sides of Thunderbird and Bees Heaven.

Constrained by the preference for a camp with a water supply, we followed the creek upwards towards its source in the rock glaciers and moraines above. As the creek dwindled towards a trickle, we found a campsite in the fiery tundra.

From our dinner table, Peking was framed in the evening light by the valley walls.

Breakfast was interrupted the next morning by Alyse pointing to a large brown bear running full speed towards us. It seemed to just be chasing ground squirrels, but even from 1500 yards its raw power was obvious.

30 seconds later the freight train was 500 yards away and still barreling full steam towards us. I started to wonder if he was having us for breakfast instead of the ground squirrels.

By 250 yards the shimmering mass of muscle was rapidly becoming unacceptably close. We yelled and the startled bear turned tail and ran, thank goodness it didn't know we're just frail yuppies.

Meanwhile, high on the hillside above the bear a flock of sheep were obliviously and blissfully grazing.

We broke camp and climbed the piles of blobby moraine towards a ridge to Bees Heaven. The ridge had a nice sheep trail that we could follow to the summit. The Korohusk pinners are along the skyline somewhere back there.

Looking south, I drooled at the hanging glacier hidden between Mount Pleasant's twin peaks and reminisced about a great ski tour there with Ethan and Alex. This aesthetic line is not particularly steep and is one that a lot of people would really enjoy.

To the east there was more drooling be done over the Kiliaks. I keep thinking about Shasta's suggestion of skiing off the top of West Kiliak.

From our ridge we looked down on a hunter's tent dwarfed by the relief of Peters Creek.

On the other side of the ridge a group of sheep cautiously peered around the corner at us. Were we the hunters from the tent?

Above, a curious young ram peered down at the weird two legged sheep slowing huffing up the ridge in their synthetic wool layers.

He continued to pose on the ridge as we climbed past.

From the top I couldn't stop looking at Bellicose and the Shroud.

Thinking about the Shroud always leads down the wormhole of monster Peters Creek ski slog dreams.

To the north, Bashful seemed almost close enough to touch. Behind it Marcus Baker was actually looking white, not its usually shiny-icy-blue look. Maybe snow actually sticks up there in late summer?

So many memories were visible from Bees Heaven; on the skyline past the Matanuska River valley was the Sheep Glacier. Such cool terrain, shame the snowpack is so bad up there.

Immediately north was the ridge that we'd follow to Thunderbird Peak. The descent north off of Bees Heaven looked more suitable for sheep than humans with backpacks and without ropes. So, we descended to the northeast, then wrapped back to our ridge.

The sheep had the same idea:

Back on the ridge to Thunderbird, we looked at the Bees Heaven rock glacier and its piles of moraines.

Connecting to Thunderbird proved to be more tedious than the expected ridge cruise. By the time we were bushwhacking out to Eklutna Lake in the dark I was wishing we'd budgeted more for this segment.

At the intersection with Thunderbird Ridge we left our packs and ran the out and back to the peak.

There's not much exposed ice left on the Thunderbird Glacier, but the flow lobes tell of fatter days and the ice still hidden under the blanket of stone.

With one last long sip of the Peters Creek skyline it was time to begin the descent towards Eklutna.

Several hundred feet of scree deposited us on the perfect sheep highways of Thunderbird Ridge.

The ridge was cruiser and incredibly beautiful, complete with so many adventure ideas, and adventure memories.

With a never ending view of Twin Peaks we followed the ridge towards the outlet of the lake. There are so many cool lines on the twins, how have we still not skied those?

Once above the spillway we began the final descent towards the car. Linking meadows we looked for the elusive and infamous trail. Around nightfall we ran out of meadows and ran into the bushwhacking.

Needless to say, we never found that trail. But, thrashing through the dark sure was memorable.


  1. Sam Volk and I ran a variation of this yesterday and had a similar experience dropping down to the lake at the end of the day! We kept finding little trails but they all ended up being game trails rather than human trails.

    1. What a great day for it Lars! I still haven't heard any reports of an "easy" way down to the lake.

  2. We hope to hike from Eklutna this weekend. We have a GPS for *part* of this ascent through the trees. We hope to have a better GPS track afterwards