East Kiliak (N Face)

As if by magic the rains lifted and the sun rose. We threw our stuff together haphazardly and called around till a dog sitter was found… then jumped in the car and by 8am were hiking up Ram Valley underneath baby blue sky.

The objective was East Kiliak – a seldom visited peak that lies at the head of the Raisin Glacier – a seldom visited glacier that lies at the head of Peter’s Creek. Since we had heard the peak was semi-technical we packed a light alpine rack, a basic glacier touring setup and overnight gear. Needless to say our packs were ridiculously heavy.

We left the trailhead at 8am… and since the forecast gave us exactly 1 day of sun we were gunning to hike in, drop the overnight gear, climb the peak and be back at the tent before the rains started.

Two hours later we reached Bombardment Pass and then proceeded to slowly downclimb the jumbled chaos of loose rock over ice that is Bombardment Pass. Heading down sucked… the pack was heavy – the rock was loose. I looked around and imagined walking back up. For climbers, hell is a rock glacier that you are forced to haul overnight gear up every morning – and down every evening. And here we were… walking down only to be forced to return to this very spot the next morning.

Six hours after starting (2pm) we were down off the rock glacier and skipping through the tall grass and sheep trails that drop down into Upper Peter’s Creek. From the hanging valley below Bombardment to the base of Rumble there is a sheep highway that would make Eisenhower proud – two sheep wide with passing lanes and a smooth gravel base that makes for quick travel. If the State of Alaska really wanted to save money they’d hire sheep to map out our scenic byways… but I digress… we were on hour 6 and the sun was shining brightly and East Kiliak was still miles away.

After dropping down the sheep highway, we worked our way up the benches south of Peter’s Creek to a grassy knoll just past the valley that leads to Rumble. We continued up until hour 8 where we dropped our packs and set up the tent on a ridiculously leaning ledge of grass because we were too tired to carry the gear higher to where there may or may not have been a flat spot.

Then, with lighter packs and a spring in our step we began the hike to the base of the route. Starting your climb at 4pm isn’t really possible anywhere except in Alaska (and perhaps Antarctica) – and the sun was still shining brightly so we were happy to keep going.

We headed up valley and were on the glacier by 6pm – 10 hours after starting. By now legs were getting tired and we started to slow down, and to top it off the snow was soft so we had to start kicking steps up boot deep snow. An hour later we reached the col and started up the North Ridge, which is what we thought was the route. There was an obvious snow tongue just right of the summit – but the snow varied between hard ice and deep mush and the runout below the steep part was a 1500′ tumble down 30-40 degree slopes – so we opted to climb the crummy broken rock that makes up the North ridge.

We scrambled up about 400′ of Class 3 choss, then broke out the rope for a 1/2 pitch of steep rock covered in rotten snow. This deposited us on the ridge and we were able to scramble around a couple gendarmes to access a gully which took us up to a highpoint.

By now it was hour 12 – 8pm – the day of sun promised us was coming to an end and our visibility had disappeared and clouds were moving in fast. We looked around for a register but never found one – and we looked around for a higher point but the clouds were thick and soupy so we dropped back down the gully, coiled the rope and began downclimbing the E ridge looking for an easier descent.

The clouds continued to move in and soon the ridge became a sea of vapor and we picked our way down carefully unable to see much further than 200′ in any direction. Finally we came across a snow gully which dropped down to the glacier below. We quickly booted down, breaking out the rope one final time for a quick belay across the bergschrund, and by hour 13 were back on the glacier. The clouds once again rose and we were greeted with the setting sun bathing the Chugach in all her splendor.

We descended back to the tent in awe of the sunset and fog drifting into Peter’s Creek. Back at the tent we ate a quick meal and then passed out tired and happy.

The next day isn’t worth mentioning. We awoke to rain as we knew we would. It rained all summer so it isn’t worth mentioning that I was cold and tired of being wet… but I digress we were on hour 0 and the sun was enveloped in clouds and the car was still miles away.

Route Information

East Kiilak is best climbed from the Raisin Glacier. Getting to the Raisin Glacier takes the better part of a day so the climb is best done as an overnight, or better yet, as a 3-4 day trip where you can explore other peaks in the area. Once you’re on the Raisin Glacier curve south (stay climbers’ left to avoid the crevasses but not too far climbers’ left because the route far left is threatened by icefall) and once you reach the top of the glacier curve west towards the peak. Now you have 2 choices: the NE Couloir / E Ridge or the NW Face. The NE Couloir / E Ridge is ascended via an obvious climbers’ right pointed arrow shaped couloir that is left of the summit. There is a bergschrund at the bottom of this couloir so be aware. After ascending the couloir head W along the ridge dropping to south to bypass numerous gendarmes. The summit is the highest point along the ridge and it can be tough to figure out which is the highest point. The NW Face is reached by heading to a col N of the peak and then traversing up and right until you reach a headwall that deposits you on the ridge W of the summit. If you elect to climb the route earlier in the year there is a snow gully that takes you all the way from a valley below Raisin Glacier to the upper North Face. This route has been skied and if you’re looking for a big descent it looks amazing.

Gear: Earlier in the year you could probably get away with ice axe and crampons. We carried a 1/2 rope, 3 small / medium cams and a couple nuts. We used the cams on the final gully but didn’t really need them. We wanted the rope while downclimbing over the bergschrund.

Time: As mentioned above – this peak is a good weekend or longer objective. It took us 8 hours to reach our camp at the headwaters of Peter’s Creek. It took us 6 hours RT from camp to camp. Thus a day from car to summit to camp is very doable if the weather is solid – but it would be much more fun to hike in the day before and then spend a leisurely day climbing and exploring the area.