In May 1962 a company of 113 Fort Richardson soldiers were airlifted into the headwaters of Ship Creek where they planned to traverse over a pass and exit out to Campbell Airstrip. The afternoon after being dropped off, they began trekking up and over a pass with the intention of a bivouac in a small valley in the vicinity of what is today Mt. Williwaw. Around 5pm a storm rolled in and grew in ferocity over the course of an hour. By 6pm the entire company had crossed over the pass but the intensity of the wind increased to an estimated 50 knots, whipping along a heavy snowfall that lowered visibility to about 100 yards. The storm raged and the soldiers fought their way to a bivouac site where they dug trenches for shelter – but sometime during the excavation three men collapsed; Jacob Henry, John Lemist and Peter Robinson were placed in their bags while unconscious and died sometime later that night. You can read the full Anchorage Times story here.
But that was 50 years ago. As anyone in Anchorage can tell you, snow storms and chinooks are a thing of the past this summer. The sun dominated the June sky for 32 days straight and temps climbed into the 80s. Fire danger is sky high and the high temperatures have been responsible for mini GLOFs right outside of Anchorage.
And so with sun and high temps in mind Jake and I set out to try the NW Ridge of Williwaw. We tromped up and over the Ballfield, dropped down next to Williwaw Lake and then trudged up the scree pile that is at the base of the NW Ridge. Then up the steep and exposed NW ridge to the summit of Williwaw.
At the top the sun shown bright and with solstice just around the corner and not a cloud in sight we opted to keep going across the ridge to the Ramp. So down the South ridge to the wonderful 3rd class ledges that form the ridgeline between the two peaks. We tromped on and on… and eventually ran out of water on the 4000′ ridgeline with water glistening 2000′ below us. But we kept going, slower and slower, hotter and thirstier until we began to wonder if we might be the first people to ever collapse and die of heat stroke in the Chugach.
Jake near the top.
Memories of old dogs.
Eventually steep rock on the ridge proper forced us to drop to the east and we traversed about two miles of sidehill scree before finally coming across a tiny trickle of water. Then it was another 1/2 mile of sidehill travel until we reached Ship Lake Pass — and from there an easy 6 mile walk back to the car.
16 miles, 5500′ of elevation gain and loss and about 12 hours of heat exhaustion. A perfect way to forget about winter chinook winds and skiing.
Williwaw – Northwest Ridge – 4th class
This is a great route just out the back door. You can get the to base of the ridge proper from Glen Alps in approximately 3 hours if conditions are ripe. The fastest way is via the Ballfield to Black Lake to Williwaw Lake. Once you’re at the base of Williwaw tromp up the scree slopes to the bump that’s at the base of the NW ridge. A mellow ridge connects to the NW ridge proper and once across that all you have to do is go up.
This is pure Chugach 4th class… meaning stay on the ridge and you’ll have kind-of-solid 4th class rock with mega exposure. However – if you drop the the south of the ridge you’ll find 3rd class gullies and ledges that allow you to bypass the steeper gendarmes that guard the ridge. It’s also pure Chugach 4th class in that no Chugach climber would ever suggest that you carry a rope (actually most would even say you don’t need a helmet). We carried 30m of rope and a few medium cams. This allowed us to stick to the ridge for fun climbing without having to drop down into the chossy 3rd class ledges below. The rope felt good and I was glad I had it – but we really only belayed about 400′. If you’re comfortable on loose rotten 4th class then you can get by without the rope – but a fall means you die. A rope also allows you to stick to the spine of the ridge which is steep fun climbing. Dropping down to the gullies might be faster but it’s manky and not as aesthetic. As for that helmet – climbing loose Chugach crud without one is sheer lunacy.
W Face of Williwaw. NW Ridge can be seen clearly left of summit. Giraldo & Phay’s route “A Great Training Climb” ascends the W buttress to the pleateau which connects to the NW Ridge. You can easily bypass the 5.8 climbing on the W buttress by ascending the scree slope. Descent is either via the obvious SW couloir (climbers) right of summit or via 3rd class ledges (climbers) right of the SW couloir.
Williwaw to Ramp – 3rd class
This ridge is 3rd class fun. It’s similar but steeper than the Peak 3 to Flaketop ridge. Stick to the ridge and when it gets steep drop to the east and sidehill across the Ship Lake Pass. Not really dog friendly but I know people who have taken their dog on it. This is a good ridge to explore if you’re thinking about the Front Range 5000′ peaks in a day. You can hit the Ramp, Williwaw and then drop down the NE ridge of Williwaw to Koktoya. Talk to one of the mountain running guys for beta on how to link them up. JT Lindholm holds the link-up record of 22 hours, 40 minutes which is damn fast.