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May
07
2013
Icicle Peak - East Face
Trip Date: 05/07/13 - 09/10/13   Posted in Chugach Range & Mountaineering Tags: 7000-footers, eklutna  

First a little history: Due to the prominence rule, Icicle Peak was left off the actual list of Chugach high-points... yet it still made the list of 7,000' peaks . The prominence rule states that a peak isn't a true peak unless more than 500' of prominence separates the peak from surrounding peaks. Apparently you couldn't just claim everything was a summit - because that would mean no one would ever get anywhere. So the 500' rule was put into place and the 120 summits designated as the true list of Chugach State Park peaks. But because some of the early pioneers had already taken the trouble to climb random peaks (like Icicle) another list was created with the rules slightly edited to comply with the pioneers.

History is noted because Eric and I set out for a few days in the West Fork of the Eklutna with our goals being the 7000' peaks in that area. To get there we first loaded up the fat bikes and pedaled across Eklutna lake escaping just as the sun began to turn the crust into slush. We pushed the bikes in muck for a while, then cached the bikes in the woods and began skiing up the road. An hour later we were at the glacier toe strapping on harness, crampons and ice tools and then a short ice step later we were back and skis and tromping uphill to Pichler's Perch. 8 hours after leaving the car and spring temps we were pushing inside the hut to escape dropping temps and increasing winds.


If you need to haul loads of gear on a bike go with the owner of Revelate.

Isothermal muck.

Heading towards the Eklutna. The beautiful Freer's Tears high above.

Ice arch at the glacier toe. This collapsed the summer of 2011.

A solid night's sleep and then up again early and out the door strapping on skis and rope and drifting down glacier to the West Fork of the Eklutna. Our original goal was the South face of Peril, but soft snow made us think twice about avalanche danger, so we turned our attention to the East Face of Icicle.


Eric on the West Fork of the Eklutna on a perfect day.

Embracing spring sunshine on the W Fork.

Icicle was at one time was referred to as the "North Summit of Mount Soggy". Since then it's been renamed and climbed from all directions. The first ascent was on July 19th 1987 by Jim Sayler, Karen Cafmeyer, John Cafmeyer and Sylvia Lane via west slopes from the Icicle Glacier. Other routes include the complicated North face (climbed by Roy Smith, Jim Sayler and Bertrand Poinsonnet in July 1993), the East Face and the South Ridge (which connects to Mount Soggy).

The West face is a snow climb; ascend the Icicle glacier from Icicle Creek (or descend the glacier from Twincicle Pass) and then climb the West facing snow slopes. Note that this route has the complications of glacier travel and avalanche danger. A friend of mine attempted this route some years back and took an unroped crevasse fall into a pool of water. She escaped unhurt but was not happy.

The North face was described as having 50 degree snow, crevasses and a gendarme and required at least 3 belayed pitches of climbing (11/93 Scree). It has changed a fair amount since 1993, but if you climb it early enough you will have snow most of the way.


Yvonne below the N face of Icicle Peak on the Raisin Glacier. Photo taken August 2011.

Eric nearing the summit of Mount Soggy. The S ridge of Icicle is seen middle left. This was taken July 2015.

The South Ridge is a simple snow-climb / ridge-walk with a short 4th class chimney that must down-climbed when descending the Mount Soggy Ridge. The beauty of the South ridge is that you must first climb the South ridge of Mount Soggy which is one of the best snow climbs in the park. I know people who have combined Yukla, Mount Soggy and Icicle in a day from Twincicle Pass. Combining all three peaks would be a a great early summer objective. Total distance / elevation gain (from the Yukla Twin Falls camp) is around 8 miles / 7000'. Kathy Zukor and Kathy Still enchained these three peaks sometime back and described it as a "really long day".

East Face of Icicle.
Eric heading up an interesting snow slope to the start of the route.

When Eric gets into these situations I wait below to see if he'll fall or not. If he doesn't fall I give it a try.

The East Face is accessed via the West Fork of the Eklutna. Eric and I skied up-glacier and took a snow ramp that deposited us on a rocky perch a few hundred feet below the summit. We then pieced together ramps, gullies and rock steps before popping out on the summit ridge a few feet shy of the summit. It should be noted that from afar this route looks complex, but it's actually quite moderate. If you do find yourself approaching anything steep, just traverse up and (climbers) left and you'll find a series of gullies that bypass most of the steeper rock.


Eric on the summit. S face of Rumble to his right.


Heading down. You can see the complete S ridge in this photo.


A sea of ice and mountains. Eagle Glacier is center left; the beautiful and fun N ridge of Vertigo is on the right. The complicated glaciated peak top right is the N side of Rook.

To descend we descended further down the ridge until we reached an exposed slope that allowed us to down-climb moderate snow slopes back to our perch where we had cached our skis. This slope was over a nice cliff band and required a somewhat - spicy rock slab down-climb - but with good snow stability it was easy enough.

Apart from the above routes there is a reference in the Mount Soggy register of the Strawn brothers attempting to traverse the West ridge to East Kiliack - but I am unsure whether they made it or not. There is also a beautiful northwest aspect couloir that drops down to the hanging glacier in-between Icicle and Sunlight. It would be a fantastic ski.

But to get back to history... Climbing the Chugach is mostly recent history - many of the peaks were first ascended at the earliest in the late 50s. Many more, especially bumps and points and key ridges, weren't ascended until the late 80s and early 90s. The pioneers who first climbed these routes are for the most part still out there in the Chugach and sooner or later you'll run into them.

Icicle is the perfect example; first climbed in 1987 by four locals, the team included a young woman by the name of Sylvia Jean Lane . A strong athlete, Sylvia was well known within the mountaineering community and had joined locals for numerous climbs in the Chugach as well as attempts in the Alaska range of Denali and Gerdine. In December 1987 (just a few months after the first ascent of Icicle) she and 3 others skied up the Matanuska glacier for a mid-winter attempt of Marcus Baker. A storm blew in while she was alone at base camp and she died from exposure during a storm. Below is the report published in the 1988 Accidents in North American Mountaineering.

On December 28, 1987, Sylvia Lane (28), Frank Jenkins (38) (see ANAM, 1988, p. 19), and John Cafmeyer (32) left Chugiak for a winter ascent of Mount Marcus Baker, a massive 4500 meter peak in the Talkeetna Range. Sylvia had originally planned the trip with other people. She had wanted to fly into the Knik Glacier and approach the peak from the other side. When the people she was going with backed out, Sylvia recruited John (friend) and Frank and changed her approach to save money. They were all experienced, having done many winter and summer ascents throughout Alaska.

They drove up the Glenn Highway to the Matanuska Glacier Lodge. From there they skied up the Glacier for four days to the base of the peak. After establishing a base camp, they were to summit then return via the same route to Chugiak.

They left Matanuska Lodge heavily loaded with gear and provisions for three weeks. They carried heavy packs and pulled sleds. Sylvia left a diary which mentioned the five day journey to basecamp was very tiring. (This glacier is very broken up at its terminus and heavily crevassed in areas.) Frank, since he seemed to have a sixth sense in finding routes through crevasses, led most of the way. The trip was not without incidents. At one point they thought they'd reached their base camp area only to wake the next morning to find they had taken a wrong turn on the glacier. Temperatures were cold (-20 to -30 degrees C and a steady wind). They reached their basecamp area on January 2 and settled in. The next morning weather was good, so they were going to attempt to summit. Sylvia, after some indecision, decided to remain in camp, saying she was too tired to try that day. John and Frank decided to go ahead. They left Sylvia with most of the supplies and headed up. After climbing all day, they made a snow cave, then began again the next morning. They reached the summit at noon and began their trip down. John's wife flew over and spotted them. She, however, could not get close because of wind currents and poor visibility to see basecamp. Later that day a storm blew up. Frank and John holed up for the remainder of the day and all of the next, until the morning of January 6 when they could continue down. Upon reaching Basecamp that afternoon, they found the tent blown down and covered with 40 to 50 centimeters of blown snow filling the shelter walls built around it. Sylvia was about 50 meters slightly downhill from the tent, frozen to death. (Source: Tom Lane, brother of victim)

Analysis

Sylvia was known in the Anchorage climbing area by many people as a strong, very careful, and thorough climber. The news of her death in such circumstances was of great surprise. No one knows what happened during the time Frank and John were gone. Several items I think, though, are important:

  1. Her diary entries stop the day they reached basecamp for some reason. From what she did write, it seemed the mountain and area surrounding was intimidating to her.
  2. Sylvia had been weathered in for several days on a previous climb, but never by herself.
  3. The autopsy revealed a higher than normal level of carbon monoxide in her blood. Enough, a doctor friend/climber said, to perhaps cause mental impairment at altitude.
  4. Sylvia was found dressed in clothing appropriate to be out brushing snow off the tent, but not to be outside for an extended amount of time.
  5. Sylvia was very nearsighted (20/400). She was found without her glasses or contacts on. They were stowed in the tent.
  6. Sylvia was not well acquainted with her climbing partners. She was close friends with John's wife, but didn't know John or Frank very well.

I think the storm that blew up was being experienced at Sylvia's elevation for a much longer time (high winds and blowing snow, anyway). Sylvia may have been struggling to keep blowing snow from drifting and collapsing the tent for some time. Exhausted and perhaps mentally impaired by the carbon monoxide level in her system, she may have fallen asleep and awakened suffocating under the blown-down tent. Panicking, perhaps without her glasses, at night, and not dressed to be out very long in that weather, she could have succumbed quickly to hypothermia. There will always be that question, though: Sylvia had the necessary equipment and experience, but why didn't she use it? (Source: Tom Lane, brother of victim)

Skiing back to the hut Eric and I were lucky enough to spy a wolverine running across the glacier. Drifting quietly downhill we watched as the wolverine loped along causally looking over his shoulder at us as we approached closer and closer. We skied silently with the mountains looming over our heads and the ghosts of those who once traveled the mountains in our hearts and minds.




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