Indianhouse – Northwest Ridge

Up late on a lazy Sunday. Coffee at 11am, breakfast at noon. Then finally decided to do something with the day and set off for Fall’s Creek with the dogs. Started up the trail around 1pm thinking I’d just go a little way – but the day was perfect and travel was fast so 4 hours later I found my self standing on top of South Suicide after a long slog through waist deep rotten snow in the flats.

The dogs were hot and tired and we sat around on the top in shorts and sneakers looking at various peaks and valleys. Indianhouse caught my eye. I’d only been up it once (compared to a half dozen times up South Suicide) and the Northwest Ridge glistened in the afternoon sun.

But it’s no route for a dog so back we went; running gleefully down steep snow in sneakers with 2 blissful dogs who rolled in snow and waded in water all the way to the car.

In town the usual round of phone calls net one eager participant. Dan didn’t know anything about the Northwest Ridge of Indianhouse but he knows that when I say, “Bring harness, helmet, ice axe and crampons” he’s up for an adventure. He showed up around 9 and by 10:30am I was once again hiking up Falls Creek.

We ascended the trail quickly – breaking out above treeline an hour after starting and then up the long ridge between South Suicide and Indianhouse and reaching the top of the bump at noon.

Then the fun started.

Unsure of what to expect, Dan and I had packed 100′ of rope, a couple cams and a couple nuts. I knew the snow was rotten and I also knew tha st most of the route had a bit of snow on it – so prudence was exercised as wet set off across the ridge.

The first portion of the route went smoothly. We were able to traverse the ridge in the rocks just climbers left of the rotten snow and carefully made our way across the exposed rocky bumps and mossy sidewalks on the ridge crest.

A few hundred feet after starting we reached the first crux: an exposed gendarme that required about 50′ of downclimbing on 5th class rock. In the summer you could bypass this by downclimbing a southern facing the couloir and then back up again – but our snow was rotten and recent avalanche activity had been noted so we opted to stick to the rock. We poked around – and finally slung a horn and rapped off the gendarme proper. A 50′ rap down a steep mossy chimney that would suck to ascend and then back to the ridge crest for another few hundred feet of sidewalks and boulder problems and steep exposed rotten snow.

And then the second crux: a 25′ rock step down to a col. Once again we broke out the rope. This time we slung a chockstone and quickly dropped safely down to the col and then set off again on easier ground.

Shortly afterwards we reached the third crux: a 75′ pitch of mellow rock that was soaking wet from the melting snowfield just right of the exposed rock. Dan led the pitch and even found a couple pieces of gear that might have held body weight. I followed and we simul-climbed for a while thinking we’d encounter more technical ground. But after a few hundred feet of exposed but mellow climbing we deemed the rope unnecessary and packed it away.

After a few more hundred feet of boulder problems, sidewalks and snow arêtes we finally joined the Indianhouse massif proper. On the way up we had been concerned about the top portion of the route – but we found excellent rock (by Chugach standards) and quickly pushed our way up the exposed rock to a final slope that popped us out us right on the summit.

We sat around enjoying the perfect day, then descended the ridge towards the east couloir which we quickly downclimbed. Once out of the couloir we curved right to the sheep trails and then down the wonderful grassy meadow that drops you all the way back down the old Johnson trail. Then back to the car with tired legs and parched mouths.

Route Information

Indianhouse Mountain (4435′) – Northwest Ridge – Exposed 4th Class / Easy 5th

This route is one of the more enjoyable climbs I’ve done in the Front Range. Sticking to the ridge proper requires some technical climbing and route finding skills – but it is never overtly difficult. Both gendarmes can be rapped with good anchors and if you want a rope for the exposed pitches decent protection can be found. The rock is quite compact and (kind of) similar to Sunshine Ridge and once you leave the ridge the climbing eases up making for an easy stroll to the summit followed by a mellow downclimb. As a bonus the view of Turnagain Arm from the summit is one of the best around. Sitting on the summit watching the ebb and flow of the waters one cannot help but think of Lieutenant James King’s epic boat ride through the turbid waters on June 1st, 1778.

Approach: Park at the Falls Creek trail and hike 2.5 miles till had the base of Point 3920′.

Route: The Northwest Ridge of Indianhouse is reached by first ascending Point 3920′ – which is the bump on the ridge south of South Suicide. You then take an immediate right and traverse a little less than ½ mile of rocky gendarmes and grassy sidewalks before the ridge finally joins the Indianhouse massif proper. The short portion beyond the ridge is easy but exposed 4th class up pretty good rock to the summit. The route has been done in late summer sans rope by downclimbing off the ridge to the south to bypass the gendarmes, but it is a very exposed downclimb. We stuck to the ridge proper and had to rap twice. We also had a section of steep but easy rock (75′) and one short (10′) section of exposed but easy 5th(ish) class rock that we had to downclimb. To downclimb the peak head south on the ridge to the obvious East Face couloir notch. Descend the couloir until you see a sheep trail leading across the East face at the point where the couloir begins to widen. After you exit the couloir (on skiers right) follow sheep trails all the way back to a long grassy meadow which leads back to the highway.

Gear: If you want to climb the steeper parts of the route I would suggest 100′ of rope and some medium pro. You can avoid all the steep stuff by veering left or right however you’ll still need rope for the second rap. We left cord at each rap station; if you want to repeat the route I would suggest bringing a couple rap rings so the cord can continue to be reused.

Time: It took us 9 hours car to car in perfect weather with lots of breaks to enjoy the view. However there was lots of snow on the route so we took  5 1/2 hours to get to the summit. It took around 3 hours to get down. Round trip (NW Ridge to East Face) the route is only around 6 miles and 4500′ of elevation gain / loss, however the NW ridge is pretty intricate so count on going a but slower on the ridge.