These photos are from a 5-day ski mountaineering trip on the
Finch and Eagle glaciers in the Western Chugach / Chugach State Park. This exact Chugach
State Park trip has been done by a few other parties so logistics have been
dialed in which makes for easy planning. Basically, you charter an Alpine
helicopter drop to the Chugach State Park boundary (no landings allowed
in the park) on the Finch Glacier and then work your way back via the Finch /
Eagle col to MCA hut
on the Eagle
(Rosie’s Roost) and then out to Crow Pass via either Raven Headwall or Goat
Ridge. It is totally possible to walk in if you are so inclined – people have
certainly done variations of this trip without motorized support (notably the
first ascent of Far Out Peak and Pass Out Peak by Richard Baranow and Steve Gruhn where Richard and Steve walked
52 miles from Richards house
!). That said, the heli drop makes for a quick and
easy trip and you can easily climb and ski several peaks in 5 days if
conditions are right.
Alpine Air zipping away after the drop off. Some people will say that this is cheating but I don’t care. Riding in a helicopter is damn fun.
The crux of this trip is conditions (I had planned this
exact trip 3 seasons in a row before the conditions and schedules finally
aligned). This is one of those trips where you want the magic combination of
sun, snow and stability. It’s relatively easy to get 2 of the 3, but the magic
three requires that you follow the Girdwood area
avalanche report and observations
for several weeks to get an idea about
stability and be prepared to leave town at the start of a large high-pressure
system in the Western
Price William Sound zone
If your primary objective is ski mountaineering you’ll want
to do this trip before warm spring sun impacts southern slopes and before the
spring thaw turns Crow Pass into the usual wet slide death trap. In my
experience, there is often a window in early / mid-April where you can climb
and ski, however there are certainly years where the entire month of April is a
series of storms and instability. If you just want to climb you might consider waiting until after the spring cycle and consider a later trip (mid-May).
I would suggest 5 days with 2 nights on the Finch Glacier, 2
nights on the Eagle Glacier (or at Rosie’s Roost) and 1 day to get out. If you’re skiing getting to the Crow
Pass trailhead from Rosie’s only takes about 4 hours, however you should plan
for an entire day because you won’t know if you must leave at 4am due to an isothermal snowpack, or 12pm due to ice on Raven Headwall.
This is the easiest way to climb all the peaks in the far
southeast corner of Chugach State Park. From your camp on the Finch you can climb Finch, Bunting and
Whiteout. Once over the Finch/Eagle
col you can climb Roost and Golden Crown. These peaks can be skied if conditions
are right, however several involve mandatory bergschrund jumps and all of them
require negotiating crevasse fields and mitigating avalanche risk.
As for the climbing, Eric and I were dropped off on a
ridgeline around 3000′ on the Finch Glacier (about a mile outside the
park). We dropped down the glacier,
roped up and then tromped up the glacier to 4500′. We dropped our camping gear and skied to
the base of the base of the Northeast
Ridge of Finch Peak
. Once at
the base of the peak we traded the skis and poles for crampons and ice axe and
scrambled up the ridge.
Eric on the approach to Finch Peak.
“I think we go that way.”
Approaching the Northeast Ridge. We cached skis at this point and booted up the face / ridge above Eric’s head.
There is a
steep snow ramp on the North face proper, but it is guarded by a large crevasse
at the bottom and we weren’t sure of avalanche conditions so we opted for the
ridge. We kept the rope on and Eric
lead a short section of shallow snow over top of shattered rock. Above that we had a couple pitches of
upward traversing easy rock bands and a pitch of steep snow before reaching the
ridge proper. Gear consisted of
slung horns and a picket. At the
ridge, we dumped the rope and gear and proceeded to the summit.
Eric starting the route. We found shallow snow over rock at the start which made it a bit difficult.
Me approaching the notch which is about 2/3 of the way up the ridge (photo by Eric Parsons).
Me on the final snow ramp to the summit (photo by Eric Parsons).
Climbing was easy , however Eric veered too
far to the cornice and ended up falling through a snowbridge and into a chest deep moat. Eric
started calling this the “Choss, Moat, Cornice” game and it was a running joke
the rest of the trip.
Me looking down at the moat that Eric fell into (photo by Eric Parsons). Near misses are not uncommon in this game and oftentimes it becomes a little disconcerting how easily you can laugh off what could have very easily been a bad accident. That said… the rest of the trip we gave cornices a wide berth.
Summit, then 3rd classing down to the rope then
roped up and downclimbing with some gear back to the skis. And then unroped and skiing glorious
powder back to our gear which we reached just as the sun went behind the ridge.
We set up camp in the middle of the glacier and slept late into the next day.
Richard and his glacier nymphs left a note on the summit. I emailed this photo to Richard and one of the nymphs. They both got a kick out of it.
Eric on the summit.
The North Face of Whitecrown. Whitecrown has only seen four recorded ascents: Wayne Todd, Carrie Wang, Richard Baranow and Ross Noffsinger. Pretty sure it’s never been skied… that needs to change. If you don’t have a friend with a Super Cub then Alpine Air can drop you at the base.
Eric heading down.
Looking down at the Finch Glacier.
The next morning, we skied to the Finch / Eagle col, dropped
our camping gear and then skied over the base of the North Face of Bunting Peak
. From the col to the summit it’s all of
500′ up a 40-degree snow slope – but the base of the summit slope has a classic
terrain trap feature and we still didn’t fully trust the snow enough to carry
skis to the summit. So, we cached
skis and ropes and booted up shallow snow on the northeast side of the
face. About halfway we determined
the snowpack was stable and veered out onto the face to finish the climb with about 400′ of booting in shin deep snow. We enjoyed the summit but were bummed we left the skis.
Megamid camping is awesome when there is zero chance of inclement weather!
Eric looking up at the North face of Bunting. We didn’t like the wind slabs so we left the skis and stuck closer to the rocks.
Last bit of snow to the summit. The snow was perfect and we were bummed to not have skis.
Another view of Whitecrown. Looking at the Northwest face. The summit of this peak lies a mere 100′ outside of the park boundary… yet for some reason the Chugach Overlords determined that it is not one of the Chugach State Park highpoints. I propose we amend the list and include it!
And another view… this peak is absolutely stunning.
Then down and back to the packs. At the col, we discussed options and
finally decided to drop back down the glacier and ski up the Whiteout / Rosie
col to access Whiteout Peak. Down the
glacier, gear dropped at the base of the pass and then up a pass that turned
out to be easier than expected. Then onto the Whiteout Glacier and eventually straight up the South face of Whiteout Peak.
Heading towards the Finch / Whiteout col (the notch at the top of the snowy face above and right of Eric).
Eric heading towards the pass. Bunting and our tracks can be seen in the background.
The South face of Whiteout.
face of Whiteout is a 1200′ ramp that starts gradually and ramps up the summit
with a short section of 40ish degree snow just below the summit. If ave conditions are solid you can boot right up the face, if conditions are suspect
there is a mellow route on the north side. We determined conditions to be solid so we stayed roped for the lower
half of the route until we crossed the obvious crevasse bridges, then packed away
the rope for the final bit to the summit.
Eric on the summit of Whiteout at 6pm. Behind Eric is Bellicose Peak which Eric finally climbed this spring on his third attempt.
Summit at 6pm with glorious views of the Chugach and then
perfect turns down the south face at 6:30pm in mid-April – a treat you don’t
get very often. We then skied back
to the col and descended 500′ of solid ice back to our camp for another perfect
night of camping in the snow.
Me down the South face of Whiteout Peak. In the background you can see our ski tracks leading the the Whiteout / Finch col. This is a magnificent line. If conditions allow it then go for it! Photo by Eric Parsons.
The next morning, we skied back to the Finch / Eagle col
where we had to ski a short pitch of refrozen mank until finally reaching the
soft glacier snow. Then a perfect
ramp of shin deep powder to the base of the Roost Peak.
Eric dropping down to the base of Roost Peak.
Heading up the glaciated Northwest face.
We cached the camping gear and then set out to climb the North Ridge of Roost Peak.
is accessed via ski tour up the glaciated north side of the
peak. The skiing is mellow and you
can always find an easy way around the crevasses until you eventually reach a
large crevasse that forces you to traverse towards the ridge. As you approach the ridge you have a
choice: traverse beneath the ridge
on snow slopes until eventually reaching the West face. Once on the West face you can continue
on a shelf towards a Southwest facing rib of rock that will allow you to reach
the summit via a 50 degree snow climb. This route forces you to negotiate a
bergschrund which may or may not be easily crossed. OR you could climb the North Ridge – a
spectacular ridge that involves steep snow, a narrow-corniced ridge and several
wide snow benches where skis are useful.
Eric above the notch and skinning up the ridge. Can you say perfect conditions???
Eric and I took the ridge and we had spectacular conditions:
shin deep snow over a nice supportable base yet melted out rock along the ridge
where we could tiptoe to avoid the ever-present moat and cornice. We alternated between booting and skiing
and soon were on the summit looking down glacier at Eagle River and beyond.
From boots to skis to boots to skis.
We looked down below and spied two skiers! Turns out they were Rob Whitney and Bob Messing – local Anchorage / Girdwood friends!
Me topping out near the summit. Photo by Eric Parsons.
Summit self portrait on Eric’s glasses.
Hero shot! And my Craigslist skis weigh nothing!! Photo by Eric Parsons.
Hero shot. Eric was pumped to climb this peak. Turns out he had wanted to climb it for years.
Then down. The
west face beckoned yet we were wary of the bergschrund. Neither Eric nor I had ever actually
jumped a bergschrund on skis – but Eric announced, “They do it in the movies all the time so how
hard can it be?” With that said he dropped off the West face and ran it out
onto the flats below. I followed
and the mandatory bergschrund hop ended up easier than expected.
Eric shredding off the top. You know you’re in for a good time when Eric decides it is prudent to snowboard with his ice axe.
Bergschrunds & sluff! Photo by Eric Parsons.
Perfect line & perfect conditions. Photo by Eric Parsons.
Eric across the ramp heading back to our uptrack.
Me dropping the lower apron in perfect shin deep powder. Photo by Eric Parsons.
knuckle whippet dragging down the glacier.
After that it was perfect turns down the
glaciated face all the way to the valley floor. Then we grabbed our stuff and skied
across the glacier and up to Rosies Roost for a night.
We ran into Rob Whitney on the Eagle Glacier. His wife is having twins and she told him he could go skiing if he carried this book and promised to read it. All the dads in the hut told him he would never ski again.
The rare Glacier Pomeranian. This breed can only be found in the Western Chugach town of Girdwood.
A night at the hut with friends and then up again the next
day and across the glacier to Golden Crown. We scoped the north ridge (normal route)
but avalanche conditions did not look so good on the sun baked approach so we
settled for the South Ridge of Golden Crown
We skied to a col just north of point 6392′ on the ridge
south of the peak, cached our skis and then started booting along the
ridge. Reaching the base of the
ridge was easy enough – but once we reached the actual start of the route we
found soft snow and rotten rock towers blocking the way. We roped up and then Eric lead the route
which consisted of 1000′ of short shattered rock steps, dicey rotten snow aretes and teetering towers that we gingerly stepped
around. The angle finally eased off
a few hundred feet below the summit so we packed away the rope and scrambled up the final bit to the summit.
Me approaching the South Ridge. Photo by Eric Parsons.
Me giving Eric a belay off a nice chunk of choss. Photo by Eric Parsons.
Eric was running it out so I said, “Place some pro”. He looped a rock horn and kept climbing… after a while the cord lifted into the air and hung suspended between us. I pointed it out to him and said, “WTF is that?” He responded: “AIR PRO!”
Eric on one of the rock steps. Eric started to loop the rock horn in this photo and I told him to just throw the rope behind it. Bomber right? On the way down I leaned out and pushed on the horn gently. It exploded off the mountain and caused a significant point release avalanche.
One of the airy snow traverses on the route. Eric placed a picket thinking it would make me feel better. It didn’t work. Photo by Eric Parsons.
Eric on the summit with a 1000 yard stare.
Eric heading down. Endless mountains to explore lie in the distance.
Above the Sparrow glacier. The ridge drops sharply just under Eric and we roped again just below him. Sparrow Peak in the top right. Looks fun!
A short breather and snack and then a reverse of the route –
the highlight being me kicking off a huge rockslide after easily pushing off a
refrigerator sized tower that we had considered belaying off on the way
up. But we made it down without incident, tromped back to the skis and then enjoyed a 2000′ / 3 mile descent back to the hut.
Rosie’s Roost… the best mountain hut in the Municipality of Anchorage! Roost Peak and Golden Crown above the hut.
One satisfied customer. 10/10 – would do it again.
A leisurely morning the next day in the hopes that Raven
headwall would soften, and then finally up to the Raven col by early
afternoon. We found solid ice and
had a challenging and spooky 1000′ decent down solid ice with large packs to
the valley floor. And then perfect
snow down Raven glacier and finally good turns down Crow Pass all the way to
No Eagle Glacier photo album is complete without a photo of someone suffering down Raven Headwall. I slideslipped the entire thing… it was a sheet of ice! A few weeks later a friend skied into the bergshrund. Whoops! Photo by Eric Parsons.
And no Crow Pass ski trip is complete without photos of someone suffering in the alders while trying to get back to beers in the car.
thanks to Eric for cutting out on work when the weather window opened. And for the wonderful photos. More of Eric’s photos are here
Finch Glacier Routes
To summarize, you can easily climb 5 Chugach State Park
peaks in this general vicinity. Get
to the Finch Glacier by either helicopter (easy) by ski (harder) or foot
(harder) via Raven Headwall or Goat Ridge. Once on the Finch you have easy access to 3 peaks.
Finch Peak (6100′) – Northeast Ridge:
Access the ridge via the lowest point northeast of the
summit. At the start you will be forced to climb out onto the North face and ascend steep snow for a
few hundred feet through a rock band. Above this you will regain the ridge but soon you will once again be
forced back onto the North face to avoid the rock towers. Eventually you will find yourself below
a notch in the ridge with an obvious ramp leading to the ridge. Take this ramp to the ridge where you’ll
find easy travel to the summit. Reverse the route. If conditions are good the entire Northwest Ridge
would be a spicy route where you would be forced to traverse many cornices
along the way. Likewise if conditions are good skiing
from the notch would be a good descent (40ish degrees) – just beware of the
gaping crevasses at the base. We roped up on both the ascent and
descent for the lower part of the route and placed pickets and looped rock horns in the shallow snow over rock. We unroped after reaching the notch.
North Face of Finch Peak. The Northeast is the left skyline. Note the notch on the ridge about 2/3 of the way up (just prior to where the giant cornices start).
Bunting Peak (6585′) – North
An easy 500′ ramp from the col North of the peak. If ave conditions are solid then take skis, just be aware of the terrain trap at the
bottom of the route. If the face slides the snow is going to pile up at the base
of the rock outcrop at the base of the route and your partner is going to have
to shovel 10′ of snow to find you. We did not rope up for this climb.
North Face of Bunting Peak as seen from the Finch Glacier. The tracks on climbers left are our up and down tracks.
Whiteout Peak (7135′) – South
You can easily climb Whiteout from Han’s Hut, but from the
Eagle / Finch Col you can head West and go over a pass between the Finch and
Whiteout where you’ll find yourself on the glacier between Rosy Point and
Whiteout Peak. From the col drop down glacier and then aim for the South
face. The south face is prime
avalanche angle and has a couple of obvious gaping crevasses, but if conditions
are good it makes for a fun ascent and superb descent. If conditions are not good then tour
around the to the north side of the peak where you’ll find an easy ramp to the
summit. We roped up for the crevasses on the way up but then unroped after passing over the final crevasse. We did not rope up on the descent.
South Face of Whiteout Peak. Pick your way up through the crevasses while aiming for the Southwest facing ridge. Both the aspect and the angle make this route prime for avalanches so choose your day wisely.
Eagle Glacier Routes
On the Eagle Glacier, you have access to 2 Chugach State
Park peaks. You can stay in the Mountaineering
Club of Alaska hut (Rosie’s Roost – named for Rosalie Shohl,
an active club member in the 60s) or you can camp. The hut is nice – but it’s several miles away from the peaks.
Roost Peak (6617′) – North Ridge:
This route is the prize of the Eagle Glacier and one of the
better routes I have climbed in the Chugach. Access the route via the glaciated
slopes on the North side of the peak. You will have zig zag around several large crevasses while aiming for a
notch between the rocky bump north of the summit and the steep rocky ridge
leading to the summit. As you
approach the north ridge you’ll note a sizable ramp in-between the summit headwall
and the large crevasses – this is the ramp you will exit if you choose to ski
the West face. Once you reach the
notch you’ll have to carry the skis and ascend 200′ of steep snow to reach the
ridge proper. Once on the ridge
you’ll alternate between scrambling along the rocks and on snow. We carried skis and switched back and
forth between skis and boots several times. The moat is sizable so consider staying
roped up. If you opt to ski the west face you can drop right off the summit and
descend the steep headwall (45ish degrees) to the ramp below. There is a mandatory bergschrund hop
that may or may not be easy. Once
across the bergschrund descend the ramp between the headwall and crevasses
until you reach your up track. You
can then ski down your up track. We roped up for the entire ascent and placed a couple pickets on the
steep snow and ridge. We did not rope up any portion of the ski descent.
Roost Peak from above. The North Ridge is the left skyline. Access the route at notch in the lowest point in this photo. Also note the crevasses on the West Face.
Golden Crown (6617′) – South Ridge:
This is a long chossy ridge that I
really can’t recommend. We
basically got on the ridge at the lowest point and then went up. We roped up for most of the route and
encountered really crummy chossy rock and poor snow conditions. Once
on the summit we looked down the Northeast Face and saw that there was a
wonderful ski ascent / descent route which would be much more enjoyable. Thus I’d
recommend the Northeast Face
. To get there you must access the Sparrow
Glacier. There are two ways to do
this: you can boot up the steep
west facing slopes in-between Golden Crown and Roost, or you can go over point
6375′ that is east of Roost. Access
point 6375′ by first skiing to the col between Roost and 6375′ and then booting
up and over the point to reach the Sparrow Glacier. Once on the Sparrow I would recommend
skiing to the Northeast face where you should find better snow and lower angles
The South Ridge of Golden Crown. Eric is descending from the easiest spot to reach the col (which is quite a ways from the route). This route is probably casual after the snow melts but I would not recommend a ski boot ascent.