Ram to Eklunta

On Thunderbird Ridge

These are old pictures from a trip that Yvonne, Eric and I did on September 11-12, 2010. Since it’s been an Eklutna summer I decided to go through them and post some of the better ones. If you look closely at the pictures you’ll note that Yvonne’s backpack is beyond enormous. This was the first overnight trip she had done since recovering from frostbite and she packed enough clothes to survive a blizzard much to everyone’s amusement.

Headed up 5320′.

N. couloir of Rumble.

Down Peeking NW Ridge.

We spent a wonderful fall weekend traversing from Ram Valley to Eklutna Lake. Our route started at the Ram Valley trailhead and we traveled up Falling Water creek to the col between Significant and Peak 5320′. We then dropped east down the tundra slopes to a hanging valley and then climbed 800′ back up to the 4600′ bump north west of Peeking (which is where you’ll end up after skiing the X). Then down the Northeast ridge down to Peters Creek. Once across Peters Creek we traversed to the West Ridge of Bees Heaven where we camped for the night.

Looking up Peters Creek and towards Wall Street glacier.

If Bees Heaven is your goal then getting to Peters Creek via Peak 5320′ is a good deal shorter than going over Bombardment Pass – however there is significantly more elevation gain and loss. Some people opt for a sheep trail just south of Pleasant (and thus avoid the talus bash down Bombardment) and there appears to be a route down between Raina and Pleasant, but if you don’t mind the up and down, going over 5320′ is a great hike.

The X and The Peking King in September.

After a great night out we headed up the West Ridge of Bees Heaven where we ran into friends Steve and Abbey. We hung out on the summit for a while and then traversed over to Thunderbird Peak and followed the East Ridge all the way to the Eklutna Lake spillway (9 miles of glorious ridge walking).

Typical walking on Thunderbird Ridge.

Heading to the E summit of Thunderbird Peak.

Great view of Foraker.

Getting up Bees Heaven is a stroll. To traverse from Bees Heaven to Thunderbird you can either take the North ridge of Bees Heaven to the Thunderbird ridge (which is exposed 3rd class Chugach crud gravel) or take the mellow Northeast ridge to a basin and traverse back to Thunderbird. Once on Thunderbird you’ll have about 1.5 miles of 3rd class hiking until the summit where you’ll find easy scree slope walking for the rest of the way.


Above Eklutna Lake.

Eric looking across at Bashful.

Getting down from the ridge to the Eklutna spillway requires about an hour of solid bushwhacking until you’re finally in the clear.

The total distance for this traverse about 21 miles; total vert is around 12K. A wonderful trip – especially in early fall after the brush starts to die off and before the snow flies.

View of Bellicose and The Shroud from Bees Heaven.

View of the high Chugach from Bees Heaven.

The crux of this trip is getting into Ram Valley. Ram Valley has had access issues for going on 30 years now yet the State of Alaska is in no hurry to resolve these issues. About 5 years ago legal access was secured via a trail that Ram Valley land owner Dave Brailey, provided an easement for. The trail cuts through the woods above the old road that people used to use for access. However since that easement went into place, another land owner blocked access via the old road that people used to hike to reach the new trail. This in turn lead to construction of a trail that follows a utility easement which in turn is used to reach the trail. That said – it should be noted that public access to the utility easement exists in a legal gray area; according to the (draft) Chugach State Park Access Plan, “Legal review of the section line easement is being pursued and the section line, if valid, will be evaluated for trail potential.”

What does this mean? Essentially it means that no one has challenged land owners for legitimate access. Precedent has been set elsewhere in Alaska that grants public access if historical use can be proved – and there are detailed records of climbers and hikers accessing Ram Valley going back to the 60s – but until either the state or an individual challenges land owners, the land owner will challenge your right to be on the trail.

All that said legal access doesn’t resolve the two big issues with access: trespassing and parking. Hikers routinely trespass on private land to reach the re-routed trail. If you’re headed to Ram Valley stick to the utility easement. Do not walk up the old road. The second issue is parking; there are currently 3-4 parking spots at the trailhead and locals are not supportive of an expanded parking area. There is little you can do about this other than car-pooling and/or parking further down Mariah Drive and walking up the road.

So in short: (1) car pool and be prepared to hike an extra mile if the parking area is full, (2) stick to the utility easement and the re-routed trail and (3) call or email Chugach State Park and your elected representative and demand that the the State come up with a solution for accessing Ram Valley. If the state can blow $9 million on tennis courts and $10 million on Glen Alps road improvements then certainly money can be set aside for a few parking spots.

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