Mid June and the forecast called for 2 days of perfect weather so Eric and I planned a business retreat and headed out to climb Vertigo and Soggy and talk about website redesign. We left town mid morning, were at Twin Falls by 3 and finally at the 3500′ rock campsite at the base of Yukla’s south face by 6pm.
|Eric swimming up the overgrown trail on a hot day.||Rock camp. Photo by Eric Parsons.|
Surrounded by a cluster of 6000′ and 7000′ peaks Vertigo Peak is easily overlooked by climbers who have their sights set on the higher and harder peaks. From Blue Eyes Lake to summit the route up the northwest face rises a mere 1500′ and surrounded by the likes of Devil’s Mistress and Beelzebub the peak hardly stands out. That said – it is the perfect late evening or early morning objective when you only have a few hours.
Eric and I cached our gear at the rock camp and at 7pm began slogging up the 2000′ pass that leads to Blue Eyed Lake. 1 1/2 hours later we were at the base of the northwest face.
|At the top of the pass. Devil’s Mistress & Beelzebub in the distance.||Eric dropping down towards the NW face.||Halfway up the NW face. A frozen Blue Eyed Lake below.|
The route itself begins with an upward sloping traverse that cuts across a slight bench beneath the northwest facing snow slopes that rise all the way to the summit. The bench angle is all over 20 degrees but there is quite a bit of snow above you so choose your day and time wisely as point releases routinely rip off the upper slopes. (Note that if the snow is suspect you can drop all the way to the valley floor and then scramble up the north ridge proper to avoid most of the snow slopes.) Our route traversed the bench and then took a gully to gain the North ridge.
At roughly 5200′ we gained a flat spot on the north ridge proper that was blocked by a short rock band. At was at this point where we got our first look down the east face that plummets 3000′ down to Thunder Gorge. I don’t know how Vertigo got her name – but my theory is that the name comes from the feeling you get when you traverse from the moderate NW face over to the ridge and then look down the dizzing drop to the valley below.
|Me scrambling up the rock step. Photo by Eric Parsons.||Eric nearing the summit.|
The rock band is easy but exposed. We balanced up about 30′ of 3rd class rock and then once again we were on a ridge and alternating between rock and snow. Above the band we had a couple other short sections of easy scrambling – and finally an easy hike to the summit.
We topped out just after 9:30pm and sat around for almost 45 minutes on a perfect near solstice evening. Then we reversed the route, carefully downclimbing the rock steps and jogging down the snow slopes before slogging back up and over the pass and finally reaching camp at 11pm. Dinner was inhaled and we finally passed out just after midnight; the perfect way to spend a sunny mid June day.
|Heading down…||Down the rock step.||Looking down the east face.|
Exhausted from tromping around till midnight we slept in and got a late start the next morning. The Southwest ridge is the standard route up Mount Soggy and is best approached via the pocket glacier that lies on the southern between Yukla and Soggy. You ascend a steep scree slope and then enter into a tight hanging valley before finally reaching the glacier. I had been on the glacier once before in July 2003 and remembered that it was rather broken up by crevasses – but we figured that given it was still early summer it should be easy of enough.
|Approaching the glacier.||Started to feel concerned about rockfall…|
Coming around a corner and looking up at the bare ice we realized we were wrong. A low snow year and extremely warm spring had exposed about 500′ of ice and fresh rock fall littered the tight valley from rim to rim. We put our heads down and moved as fast as we could to minimize exposure – but once on the ice our progress slowed as we carefully worked our way up bare ice and gravel in sneakers and microspikes. Sneakers, microspikes and 40 degree glacier ice aren’t really a pleasant combination – but going up wasn’t too bad and we were soon tromping our way up snow slopes towards Twinsicle Pass.
|Glacier ice and frozen gravel in sneakers and aluminum crampons.||Are we having fun yet?|
Once at Twinsicle Pass (the pass between Yukla and Soggy) we took a right and scrambled up the long ridge. The ridge, which is easy walking most of the way, is one of the most beautiful ridge climbs in Chugach State Park. From Twinsicle Pass (6200′) you ascend 1000′ over 2 1/2 miles. Much of that walking is on a pronounced ridge-line with the Icicle glacier 2000′ below to your left and the West Fork of the Ekultna 2000′ below on your right. From the pass to summit took approximately 2 hours with lots of pauses for photos and gawking.
|Me coming across the ridge. Yukla in the background. Photo by Eric Parsons.||Eric nearing the summit.|
|The SW Ridge of Peril.||The route up Devil’s Mistress. Ascend steep snow and scree slopes to the ridge on right.|
Summit register note signed by Colby & Travis Strawn. Rest in peace brothers.
We then reversed the route – getting from summit to the top of the glacier ice took a little over an hour. At which point things slowed to a crawl. Apparently while ascending glacier ice in sneakers and microspikes is tough… descending is downright petrifying. We each carefully downclimbed until realizing that the warm temps were causing too much rock fall – so Eric paused on a crevasse lip while I chopped my way down 500 of melting glacier ice covered in gravel. Every 5 minutes of so a rock would dislodge and Eric would shout pointers as to which way I should traverse to avoid getting pelted.
It was agonizingly slow but apart from a leg through a crevasse bridge just when I thought I was home free, I made it down without any mishaps. I then cowered behind a large boulder (that had recently bounced down the snow slope) and shouted encouragement (and rock fall warnings) to Eric as he slowly down-climbed.
And then we were down… and then down the trail and then back at the river where we blew up our packrafts and floated out Eagle River in the evening light reaching the trailhead at 10:30pm exhausted and happy.
Both of these peaks are wonderful climbs. I thought the SW ridge of Soggy was one of the more beautiful snow ridges I’ve ever climbed. With the combination of moderate exposure and beautiful views, Chugach State Park climbers should place it high on their list. Likewise Vertigo was surprisingly fun. You can easily climb both as an overnight trip – or you could spend a week up there exploring all the surrounding peaks.
Season: Vertigo could be climbed all spring and summer. Early summer would give you good snow to aid in progress – late summer would mean more rock. Either would be fun. The SW Ridge of Soggy is best as a late spring / early summer route. If you can climb it in mid/late May you’ll have little trouble with the glacier – but wait till later and you’ll be faced with steep ice and rockfall danger. I think the magic window would be the last week of May / first week of June. This should give you adequate snow coverage on the glacier and some melted out rock on the ridge. Go earlier and you’ll wallow in deep snow – go later and the glacier gets worse and worse.
Time: If you camp at the rock camp at the top of the Twin Falls trail you can climb Vertigo roundtrip in about 4 hours. Soggy took us 7 hours but we literally spent an hour on the summit. If you have decent conditions you could do it in 5.
Gear:You can easily scramble up Vertigo in nothing but sneakers if conditions are right. Earlier in the year you’ll want an axe – later in the year you won’t need it. For Soggy I would recommend a good axe, some heavier boots and real crampons. Our sneakers and microspikes enabled us to move comfortably – especially on the approach – but they were not the right tools for bare glacier ice. We were dumb – don’t repeat our mistake.