Indian summer had arrived. Weeks and weeks of overcast skies and continuous rain had put us in running for the rainiest 60 day span on record. But, as it often does, the weather finally broke in late September and we were treated to a long stretch of clear skies and crisp nights. The sunny weather got us itching to get out so Eric and I finally agreed to get out for a day and give Benign a try.
Benign Peak, at 7235′, is one of the 21 7,000′ summits in Chugach State Park. It was first climbed on August 5, 1965 by Vin Hoeman and Art Davidson. They ascended some route above the Eklutna Road to reach the NE ridge which they followed over and around towers to the summit. They descended via the SE gully which has become the standard route. Since then the SE gully has been approached via the Bellicose / Benign gully, which is a horrific loose dirt gully that should only be ascended in winter, and via the “Flatiron” variation which is ascends a scree gully just off the shoulder of the Eklutna glacier. The Flatiron variation would be fine in spring / early summer but once the gully melts out the descent off the Flatiron doesn’t look too fun. There are also a handful of technical routes on the West face including Malignant Gully (Mitchell-Sassara, 1987) and three John Kelley / Ben Trocki / Kevin Ditzler routes which were climbed in the winter of 2010 / 11.
This was my third attempt of Benign. In 2007 Yvonne, Steve Gruhn and I attempted the Serenity Falls gully approach variation but were turned back by rain. In 2013 Eric and I attempted the Flatiron approach but were turned back by a lack of desire to bivouac.
This time Eric Parsons and I were at the trailhead and biking in by 8:30am. At 10am we were approaching the end of the Eklutna Road when an earthquake measuring 6.1 centered 50 miles from us hit. Being on our bikes we didn’t feel the quake but we heard a roar and looked up to see rockfall tumbling down a gully adjacent to where we planned to go up. We sat in silence as the gully filled with dust and dirt and boulders bounced down. I mouthed the famous Edward Abbey quote, “Geologic Time Includes Now” as we ditched the bikes and started up the scree gullies that would take us to the SE gully.
|Morning commute.||Start of Chockstone / Dead Goat Gully.||Middle 1/3.|
The easiest way to the summit is via a gully adjacent to Serenity Falls which you can take to the SE gully. Bike around the lake, ditch you bike at the base of the large scree gully just N of Serenity Falls and thrash through the brush until you reach the scree. Once on the scree field head up for about 500′ keeping a sharp lookout for a narrow gully on climbers left that is mostly obscured by alder.
The narrow gully starts around 1800′ and ascends almost 1000′. The bottom 1/3 is steep and you’ll be thankful for the alders to aid your upward progress. The middle third is steep scree and the top 1/3 is a moderate 4th class chimney with a handful of steep steps you have to scramble up. The gully is defined by a large chockstone which you have to scramble under. JT Lindholm, who popularized this route with his detailed description on the now dead AMF forum calls this “Dead Goat Gully” because of his three attempts, he twice had to step over/around a goat carcass.
|Access point marked.||Top of the gully.||Above Serenity Falls.|
At the top of the gully down climb slightly (skiers) left and you’ll find a long 3rd class gully that will drop you down about 300′ to Serenity Falls. There is a rap anchor somewhere in this vicinity but if you have good dry conditions you can easily get by without a rope.
Once at Serenity Falls scramble across the creek and up to the ridge south of the creek. Continue up and across the basin aiming for one of the large gullies due S of Serenity Falls.
A 1500′ climb will finally dump you on the broad moraine bench that hangs between the Eklunta River (3000′ below you) and the summit of Benign (3000′ above you).
Traverse South across the bench aiming for the huge gully just past the summit. Take this monster gully up. By late summer it’s totally scree so if you’re climbing it in August or September be prepared for a slog!
|Eric heading up the SE Gully.||Top of the SE gully.||Final ridge to summit.|
Ascend 3000′ to the ridge, then hang a right and scramble about 300′ of 3rd class ledges to the summit.
Summit selfie! Directly over Eric’s head is Beelzebub!
To get down reverse the route. If you’re under 6′ tall the final Chockstone Gully down climb will take some creativity in trying to figure out how to get down the steeper steps – but it’s fairly easy and a fall probably wouldn’t kill you (but it would hurt).
|Eric descending from the summit.||Scree surfing.||Eric below his Chugach nemesis.|
A map embed with routes marked and Eric’s video are below for your enjoyment.