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I’ve been here over 20 years but I had never taken the time to walk from the South Fork Eagle River to Glen Alps. This September I packed an overnight bag and trekked to Glen Alps via a route past Concerto / Tailfeater / The Sail / Ship Pass. Six months later I skied from South Fork to Hilltop via Hunter Pass / Williwaw-Koktoya Col / Middle Fork. Two great trips. Photos and descriptions below.
South Fork > Glen Alps via Concerto / Tailfeather / The Sail / Ship Pass
The beautiful tarn below point 4605′ Cantata, Calliope and Triangle at the head of the valley.
One early September evening I packed up an overnight bag, grabbed the dog and drove to the South Fork trail head with the intention of hiking from South Fork to Glen Alps via the peaks and passes in the N Fork of Ship Creek. I left the car at 12pm and started up South Fork and past Eagle and Symphony lakes and then down the trail south of Symphony Lake until cutting off on the trail that leads to the ridge between point 4605 and 4710. Then a side-hill traverse around the SE side of 4710′ until finding a gully that dropped me down to the magnificent valley surrounded by the steep walls of Triangle, Calliope, Ewe and Concerto.
Eagle Lake and Eagle Peak. Not much ice in the notch this summer.
N Face of Calliope. In September 2000 I climbed a line on climbers right of this face and it was ice top to bottom. Sadly it’s no longer there. : (
Koven digging the mountains.
Side hilling across the W face of Point 4710′. North face of Concerto in center photo.
I then took a sheep trail up a nice grassy ramp to a point on the E ridge of Concerto (around 5000′) which I reached at 7pm. I dropped my pack and scrambled up the final 500′ to the summit, snapped a couple of photos and then scrambled down and ran down the S slopes to beautiful valley which I reached right at dark.
Koven near the summit in the evening light.
Concerto casting a large shadow in the setting sun. Time to head down!
The final summit pyramid. Take the 3rd class ramp center left of the photo.
Looking down at the entrance of the N couloir of Concerto. A wild ski objective if you can get there.
Concerto valley camp. Early September and the sun is setting at 9pm. Good bye summer.
Tent, dinner, sleeping bag and passed out by 10 – and then up at 7:30 and hiking again by 9. This time down the valley S of Concerto to the North Fork of Ship Creek. I found the Ship Creek trail, followed it for about 1/2 mile and then turned off, forded the creek and bushwhacked up the valley NE of the Tailfeather / Sail col and then up to the actual col.
Looking down at Ship Creek. I’m aiming for the brushy valley in the center of the photo.
Across Ship Creek. Koven was loving this!
Looking back at Concerto from the tarn near the col.
At the Tailfeather / Sail col I dropped my pack and scrambled up the scree slope to the N ridge of Tailfeather and then up to the summit. Back down and across the col and up the S ridge of The Sail to the summit and finally back to the col.
Koven on the summit of Tailfeather checking out the N fork of Ship Creek.
Looking NE at Concerto. I had camped in the beautiful valley at the base of the E ridge.
Koven on the SE ridge of The Sail. Above Koven is the Williwaw / Koktoya Col. 6 months later we skied to this col from South Fork trail head.
Richard’s entry in The Sail register. Chugach history!
Looking back at Tailfeather. The dog route goes up the scree slope to the obvious col and then takes the ridge to the summit.
Cooling off after a hot climb!
Grass in the valley was 2′ taller than me.
Arctic to Indian summer trail bushwhack!
And then head down for the final plod home. Down the valley S of The Sail (which turned out to be a poor choice), across to the Arctic / Indian trail (which doesn’t exist in the summer) and bushwhacking through thick alder and beaver ponds until finally reaching the Ship Pass / Indian trail. Then up Ship Pass (which always goes on forever) and down the trail to Powerline until finally reaching Glen Alps at 8:30pm.
This was a wonderful summer traverse that both trail runners and hikers would love. Total distance was about 32 miles and total elevation gain (including the three peaks I climbed) was around 11,000′. Trail runners could easily do the entire route in a day. Climbers and backpackers who would like to take 2-5 days could do a variation of this route. A few notes:
Accessing thevalley N of Concerto isn’t easy. I side-hilled across the point W of Triangle. Lee climbed Triangle and then descended the gully below the Triangle / Calliope col. Lee’s route looks more interesting – but requires a lot more elevation gain / loss.
The standard route up Concerto is the E ridge. Scramble up the ridge to the point east of the summit, then descend a dirt gully to the base of the summit pyramid. At this point you’ll note a 3rd class fully that slopes up and right towards the summit. It looks steep, exposed and loose but is actually very straightforward. My dog was able to scramble up and down it without any issues – but my dog is pretty good at chossy Chugach rock so be warned.
The standard route up Tailfeather is via a scree gully that is on the South side of the Tailfeather / Sail col. From the col follow a series of sheep trails to the southeast that lead towards the chossy col N of the summit. From the col pick your way up the ridge to the summit.
The standard route up The Sail is the S ridge. Just hike up the ridge staying to the southern side at the only point where it gets rocky.
The best route from The Sail to Ship Pass is to go over the pass E of Shaman Dome and then take the valley S of Shaman Dome down to the Arctic / Indian trail. If you go down the valley between Shaman Dome and The Sail you will experience heavy brush, deep beaver ponds and angry moose. Don’t do it.
South Fork > Hilltop via Hunter Pass / Williwaw-Koktoya Col / Middle Fork / Hilltop
Lee cresting Hunter Pass.
Fast-forward 6 months to the novelty of snow in Anchorage. Fat bikes were placed in storage and people were rediscovering the joys of skiing in the backyard. I spent a wonderful day traversing from Arctic to Glen Alps via Ship Pass and apparently my excitement rubbed off on Todd Kelsey who invited me to join him, Lee Helzer and Scott Fennell for a ski from South Fork to Glen Alps via the Williwaw / Koktoya col. So 6 months after my first South Fork to Glen Alps traverse I found myself back at the South Fork trail head with but with skis and avalanche beacon instead of shorts and dog.
Dropping down the slopes below N Bowl.
Scott starting the brush descent to the creek.
Lee into the woods.
Skins on at the parking lot we set off and climbed up the Hunter Pass directly above the parking lot and down from the pass to soft powder in the trees 1000′ feet above Ship Creek. We then side hilled across the meadows until finally dropping into the trees and bushwhack skiing the final drop down to Ship Creek.
Lee on the standard Arctic to Indian trail which was in bomb shape this year.
The super secret spot that rumor has it is always contains deep stable powder.
Random sign in the middle of nowhere. Placed when CSP had funding to to actually maintain trails.
Then 7 miles on the standard Arctic / Indian trail – which this year was a highway of ice on Ship Creek – until finally turning off at slopes below the Williwaw / Koktoya col. Scott Fennell broke trail up the East facing slopes until the snow ran out and we transitioned from skins to boots. Then Lee took over and post-holed a path to the col.
Todd heading to the Koktoya / Williwaw Col. I like this photo because it shows all the places I trekked through back in September.
At the col. Summit of Koktoya in the background.
Looking at the Concerto cirque. Note the NW face of Ewe. And note the N Buttress of Concerto.
From the col we strapped on the skis and skied blissful powder down to the base of Williwaw Pass, then up and over the pass and down to Williwaw Lake and out to Middle Fork. And finally back to Prospect and down the gasline for a final after dark run down Hilltop.
Scott leading the way towards Williwaw Pass.
Todd and Scott below the N face of Williwaw.
My tracks are the huge kick turns. Apparently I need Dynafit heels if I want to ski downhill.
Looking up at the NW ridge of Williwaw. Hard to believe I once almost got heat stroke up there.
Ramp couloir. Last time I was here I had an epic day.
Down from Williwaw Lake.
Getting ready to shred Hilltop.
Winter Route Notes
Another wonderful traverse that skiers will love. I’ve done Arctic to Indian and Arctic to Glen Alps and found them enjoyable, but the added excitement of Hunter Pass, the Williwaw / Koktoya col and Williwaw Pass made for a very memorable day. Some notes:
This route ventures through a fair amount of avalanche prone areas. Carry ave gear (beacon / shovel / probe) and climbing skins. Ski choice is a personal decision, but I will add that I was the only one in my party that didn’t have a full Dynafit setup (my skis only had Dynafit toes) and while I made do, I had a couple spectacular wrecks and would have had more fun if I had been able to lock my heels.
The route to the Williwaw / Koktoya col is a 2500′ climb. It starts with meadows that you can easily skin up and eventually transitions to a rocky rib that you’ll need to bootpack. The lower slopes are avalanche prone and we had a significant collapse when we broke trail onto the leeward slide of the slope. Be ave aware and choose your day and route wisely.
Leave your skins on and scope your descent down into Long Lake valley before committing. The terrain up there is complicated and if you take the time to study your route you won’t have to do things like run through a terrain trap underneath a sketchy 30 degree slope.
Once over Williwaw Pass you’re home free and you can drift downhill all the way to Campbell Creek where a short uphill puts you at Prospect. That said, don’t park at Prospect. Drop the Gasline trail to the lower Llama trail (at the lower STA sign), take Llama to Spencer loop, then turn off Spencer Loop back onto Llama and finally take the cutoff that dumps you out at the top of Hilltop. Carve sick turns down Hilltop (or practice your table top skills in the terrain park) all the way back to the car.