Last March on my way up Avalanche I snapped a photo of the North face of North Suicide. It was a bluebird day and I pretty much had my finger on the camera all day snapping photos of faces and couloirs that I’d like to explore. Back home editing through the photos a feature on North Suicide caught my eye: a big NE facing couloir dropping from right below the summit rock step and into a hanging valley in-between Homicide and North Suicide.
A few months later I scrambled up North Suicide one afternoon. Just below the rock step I peered down the couloir and tentatively down climbed a couple hundred feet to see if it would go. Steep dark rocky Chugach chutes in September can be rather spooky; pretty much everything moves when you step on it and if you sit and listen for more than 5 minutes you can hear rocks bouncing down the chute below you. Needless to say I didn’t get very far before deciding that it was very steep and scary.
Several months later, after the steep dark avalanche chutes solidified but just before everything melted down to rock, I got the itch to go explore the couloir. I sold the idea to Matt Hickey whom I had just met on a Redoubt attempt back in April. Matt is an officer in the Northern Warfare Division, he’s insanely fit and training for a US Army Denali attempt later this month. In other words, the perfect trail breaker for a 1800′ couloir. I had also thought we might carry a rope and was prepared to tell him he should be carrying the bundle of gear and rope in preparation for Denali. He was game, so on Sunday morning we set out from the Indian trailhead at 8am. At the last minute we opted to ditch the rope and carried trekking poles, ice axe, ice tool, crampons and mountain boots (opting to approach in sneakers).
|Handing valley at base of N. Suicide.||Matt starting up the route.||NE Couloir of N Suicide.|
So up the Indian / Powerline trail towards the hanging valley that doesn’t have a trail. We hiked past the valley floor and followed the trail towards the eastern slopes of Homicide until around 2500′. We were then able to side-hill with minimal bushwhacking (aside from a detour due to an open bear den) all the the way to the hanging valley and tarn at the base of the north face.
It took us 3 hours to reach the base of the route where we ate a quick snack, transitioned from sneakers to mountain boots and then began kicking steps up the route. The bottom was knee deep soft snow but after a few hundred feet it solidified to boot deep and we made quick progress up the route.
The first 600′ or so was easy step kicking. The couloir was wide and we were able to stay left to avoid the runnels that appeared to be more rock than snow. About 1/3 of the way up the route the couloir narrowed and were began having to climb over large boulders and through short rock bands where the snow had melted out. About 1/2 way up we reached the first of two rock steps where a large chockstone had wedged it way into the couloir requiring you to scramble around to the right via a few rock / mixed moves.
|Rock steps 1/3 way up the route.||Steep snow between rock steps||Approaching the chockstone step.|
I downclimbed and hid behind a rock buttress to avoid rock fall while Matt scrambled up. The rock moved required a couple of easy pulls on the usual loose handhold. After Matt was safely up I followed. Falling would have meant a long tumble down an icy snowy chute, so I took it slow and carefully. A well place tool into a crack beside the chockstone enabled me to pull up and soon I was up beside Matt.
|Choss.||Chugach self portrait.||Good snow up high.|
The chockstone pitch was followed by a narrow band of snow that steepened until being blocked by a short section of ice and another rock step. We were able to traverse out right and climb about 50′ of easy loose rock until once again we were back on good snow.
The final portion of the route was 45 degree snow that was perfect for step kicking and tool placement. Matt lead up and I followed his excellent boot-pack and we were standing at the top of the route 90 minutes after starting.
We ate lunch, drank the rest of our water, dropped out packs and scrambled up the regular route to the top of North Suicide. We then reversed the route back to our packs and then dropped down 1000′ to Windy Gap and slogged up the scree to the top of South Suicide.
|Down to Windy Gap.||Looking down the route from the hikers trail.||South Suicide scree slog.|
And then down the regular South Suicide route to Falls Creek and down and out the Falls Creek trail that goes on forever.
Eight hours later we emerged onto the highway where we walked for about a mile with out thumbs out until finally someone kindly picked us up and dropped us off at the road leading to the Indian trailhead. And then the final mile up the Indian trailhead where we piled into the truck hot and exhausted-
This is a steep dark chute that is only accessible after an hour plus detour from the closest trail. While climbing I was surprised to find so much rock in the chute. I know that couloirs are riddled with rocks during the melt / freeze transition cycle but for some reason this chute seemed to have more choss than usual. The large boulders blocking the chute had obviously at one point rolled down from higher up and the chockstone section and skinny ice runnel / rock step appear as if they quickly melt out. Once past the skinny section the couloir broadened and was good climbing and I didn’t feel like I was in a bowling alley – but for several hundred feet you’re in a bad rock fall zone. To make things worse – the skinny section is where the harder climbing is so you’re forced to go slower in the worse zone.
Another thing I noted was that once up on the main route you’re looking straight down at the couloir and the route is exposed to hiker rockfall in a couple spots. Topping out on a well traveled route and discovering that you’ve just traveled up a route exposed to rockfall from careless hikers spooks me a bit (think Pete Absolon in the Wind Rivers). Thus for those reasons I can’t really recommend the route. The tour up and over the Suicides is aesthetic but a better route would be the North Ridge which connects to the Homicide ridge. The North Ridge is supposedly mostly 3rd class with a bit of exposed 4th.
That said… touring up and over the Suicides makes from a great day. The total distance is about 10 miles with roughly 6500′ of elevation gain / loss and takes around 8 hours total. The couloir itself, aside from the high risk of rockfall, is an intriguing spring route for those who enjoy routes like this. If you do opt to climb it then consider going on a cold spring day before the melt / freeze cycle begins. If you choose to climb it earlier the rockfall risk will be much lower and chances are there won’t be any hikers on the route above you.
Edit January 2019: In the January 2019 Scree Azriel Sellers wrote up a report of skiing this route solo on April 28th, 2015. It’s a good read – check it out.