Beelzebub (Northeast Ridge)

Dropping down to Blue Eyed Lake.

We got there easy enough: 7 hours to our base camp at Blue Eyed Lake through devils club, cow parsnip and fireweed that towered over the head, muddy steep alder tunnels and up and down 2000′ of scree and snow to a secluded lake where we got some much needed sleep. Then up and over Inferno Pass which lies tucked into the shadow of Devils Mistress, down the West Fork of the Eklutna, curling around to a final glacier headwall full of crevasses that we kept punching though, up a steep loose rock gully that shed torso size boulders with little effort, and up steep scree until we were finally standing on a platform looking at a buttress of rock that was not going to let us easily pass.

High above Eagle River.

Moss Campion.

JT is 6’4″. The cow parsnip is taller.

Beelzebub was first climbed on August 22,1965 by the old school all-star team of Art Davidson, David Meyers, Nick Parker, and Mike Judd. The foursome had an impressive Chugach first ascent resume that included Williwaw, Rumble, Korohusk and Baleful as well as an even more impressive greater Alaska resume with first ascents from the Kichantna Spires to Denali to Mt. Hunter to the Wrangells. On Beelzebub they ascended the East ridge – a route that has several hundred feet of steep and exposed choss. The second ascent wasn’t until 11 years later when Brian Okonek and Dick Griffith ascended the West Ridge. Okonek wrote in the September 1976 Scree that they belayed 5 pitches of easy rock on “portable holds”. The Northeast Ridge – which has become the standard route – was first ascended in 1986 by Todd Miner and Pam Kirk.

The SW face of Beelzebub. The NE Ridge takes the left skyline. The technical climbing starts at the small notch a couple hundred feet below the 3 obvious gendarmes.

Another notable ascent was in June 1996 when Richard Baranow and Wendy Sanem traversed the peak starting from Blue Eyed Lake where they went up and over Devil’s Mistress and across to the West Ridge of the Beelzebub to the summit and then descended the NE ridge for a complete traverse.

Upper lobe of the West Fork of the Eklutna. S face of Peril in the background. Take note of the glacier for the approach.

Note our poor approach choice. We blindly followed someone else’s tracks instead of taking the time to think.

Accessing the approach gully.

I was with JT Lindholm. JT is on a mission to climb all 120 peaks of Chugach State Park. He had climbed 115 and so when he asked if I was interested in an attempt of Mount Beelzebub I jumped at the opportunity to be guided up choss that normally scares the devil out of me. He pieced together the bushwhack and navigated us to the base of the route by 10am we were at the base of the NE Ridge.

The crux of Beelzebub’s NE Ridge is right at the start. 200′ of steep shattered rock guards the rest of the ridge which consists of classic Chugach rotten and exposed 3rd / 4th class ledges. JT stared at the rock pitch and abruptly handed the rope to me. So much for the free ride.

Start of the rock.

I tied in and delicately set off. The first pitch was easy 5th class rock. I climbed just left of the ridge line and found reasonably solid hand and foot holds. Gently stepping over loose boulders and around precariously balanced fins of rock I pushed out about 100′ and soon found myself wedged into a comfortable stance next to a fixed anchor at the base of the second (and largest) gendarme with one leg hanging over the north face and one leg handing over a huge steep gully on the SW face. JT joined me shortly afterwards and we studied the next pitch.

High on the NE Ridge. Directly above JT is Bold Peak, in the upper right is Bashful.

The second pitch is the crux of the route. A 100′ gendarme of steep and terribly loose rock stands guard and you have to get to the top of the pinnacle in order to access the rest of the route. I have heard of people climbing this pitch directly (5.6) but the rock is horrid, protection is nonexistent and a fall would certainly be fatal. I studied it for a while and then set off. Once again I chose to ascend on the climbers left side of the rock buttress. I was able to traverse about 50′ of sidewalk to a ramp that would take me to the top of the pitch. Where the sidewalk ended I was forced to climb about 20′ of easy 5th class rock (at most 5.4) but the rock was absolutely horrid. I had zero protection in and was looking at 100′ fall so slipping was not an option. Above the steeper moved I was able to get in a small TCU (that might have help body weight) which was in turn followed by a move that required full Chugach technique – meaning belly, knees, elbow, hands and feet were all smeared in order to distribute weight as much as possible in order to gain the ledge system that allowed me to easily scramble to the next fixed anchor.

JT following the awful loose crux 2nd pitch.

Easy but loose and exposed gullies after pitch 3.

Happy to be nearing the end of the difficulties!

After that the route got progressively easier. I led another pitch of mellow rock and then JT took over and pieced together ledges and gullies all the way to a the gendarme just below the summit snow slopes. I led a 50′ final snow / rock pitch that took us to a stance below the summit snow slopes and then JT wallowed up thigh deep snow to the summit.

Rock pitches done… time for snow!

JT onward to the top.

Le cime!

On the summit of Beelzebub.

On the summit we dug out the register (which still has the original 1965 note from Davidson, Meyers, Parker and Judd) and then reversed the route. To our surprise the route reversed much easier than we were expecting. We were able to piece together the upper gullies and ledges easily and the lower rock buttresses (that we had broken into 3 pitches) were bypassed via one long rope stretching rappel.

The original 1965 summit register.

At the base of the rappel we were able to scramble up on the initial 3rd class scree slope where we had originally roped up.

Heading down.

Big exposure on loose sidewalks.

Controlled falls!

And then we turned tail and fled. Beelzebub had proved to be much more malicious than we had hoped and we descended back to the Eklutna glacier and to Blue Eyed lake where we crashed. The next day we woke up and reversed our bushwhack back to Eagle River and then slogged out the 9 miles to the Nature Center and then home to rest with dreams of future visits.

Polemonium boreale.

Upper Eklutna glacier in July.

Down the “trail”.

Heading down the W. Fork.

Mount Beelzebub Northeast Ridge

Approach: Reach Beelzebub via either Pichler’s Perch or Blue Eyed Lake. If you plan to attempt the route in spring (April, May or early June) the easiest approach is via the Eklutna Glacier / Pichler’s Perch. If you’re planning on a summer ascent then access the Eklutna Glacier via Blue Eyed Lake / Inferno Pass. Inferno Pass is easy – getting to Blue Eyed Lakes requires medium fortitude for devils club and alder bashing. There is a trail – but it hasn’t been brushed out for over a decade.

Once you’re on the glacier you want to get to the high point glacier that is at the base of the North face. From there you want to access the NE ridge via a 500′ gully. The gully in late summer is quite loose so go one at a time and beware. Likewise the glacier is pretty cracked up so rope up. Note that the NE ridge is more North trending than NE trending but everyone calls it the NE ridge so that’s what I’m using. Likewise there is a glacial lobe that drops down the true N ridge of Beelzebub that some have used to access the route but in recent years it has melted out the point where I wouldn’t recommend it.

Route: Once on the NE ridge you’ll encounter steep scree slopes up to almost 7000′. This is where you will be blocked by a series of gendarmes. The steep scree slopes take you to a stance where you will down climb 15′ to a gully where you can then scramble to a fixed anchor in-between two gendarmes (there is also a good spot for a belay at the top of the scree slopes if you choose to belay this).

From the first fixed anchor you’re looking at the crux gendarme. The easiest way to climb it is via ledges on climbers left – but be warned that this is seriously exposed and rotten rock with zero protection and a leader fall would certainly be fatal. This pitch ends at another stance in-between two gendarmes. After that you have at least 3 more smaller gendarmes you need to cross – but there are easy ledges on climbers left of the ridge. After that you have 300′ of easy snow to the summit.

To descend reverse your route. If you have a 60m rope you can rap from the 2nd fixed anchor (as of 2014 it was a long piece of blue and orange webbing with a rap ring) all the way to the gully where you can easily scramble up to the scree slopes.

Gear:  60m rope, cordelette / slings for protection. Obviously you’ll want glacier gear and crampons for the approach. On the route we carried a number of long slings and 3 cams. I find that smaller cams are better in fractured Chugach rock so I’d say carry sizes 0.3 – 0.75 camalots. Don’t bother with nuts. If you’re climbing earlier in the year and have a hammer then a selection of pins would work great but I wouldn’t bother carrying a hammer in the summer.

Distance/Time:  From Blue-Eyed Lake to the summit is roughly 8 miles / 3,500′. It took us 13 round trip hours from camp to camp. We were on route for about 8 hours. However – we had perfect weather and took our time. Some climbers have been able to climb Beelzebub and follow it up with Peril in a day, but I’ve also heard it’s one of those “I was hallucinating at the top of Peril” kind of days. If you’re used to climbing Chugach choss and willing to climb a bit of the route unroped then I’d say expect an average time of 6 hours round trip from the top of the glacier. If you’re belaying everything then expect it to be more like 9 hours.

Season: Best done mid to late summer after all the snow has melted off the ridge.

My shoes after the trip. Time for a new pair!