Organ Mountain (South Face) & Synthesizer Peak (North Ridge)

These photos are from two trips a year apart, however given the proximity of the peaks I feel it makes sense to present both peaks together. Yvonne and I climbed Organ in July 2016 (on our 10th wedding anniversary!) and I climbed Synthesizer with Todd Kelsey in July 2017.

Last year Yvonne and I scored 3 days of kid care so we set out for Grizzly Bear lake around 7pm on Friday night via Crow Pass. We sidehilled across the slopes between Clear Creek and Paradise Creek (go high and you’ll find a decent sheep trail) and found ourselves at the top of Paradise Pass at 11pm. We dropped down the loose dirt and rock, hopped across the (endless) talus fields and Moraine Pass and by midnight had set up the tent next to the small tarn that is a couple hundred feet above and east of Grizzly Lake.

Yvonne across Clear Creek. On top of Paradise Pass at 11pm (Paradise Peak in the background).

Dropping down the manky north side of Paradise at sunset (11:15pm) with the sun setting behind Pyramid Point.

The next morning, we set off for the Southeast Face of Organ Mountain. Down and around Grizzly Lake (we traversed north of the lake on the way there and south of the lake on the way back – north is better) and then through grass and willow fields until reaching the valley southwest of Organ (don’t take the valley that leads to Synthesizer / Synclavier). Once we turned north the grass quickly gave away to lush tundra hiking and we easily hiked the remaining 2 miles to the base of the southeast face.

Above Grizzly Bear Lake. Headwaters of the North Fork of Ship Creek. Approaching the south face of Organ.

We had Bill Stivers’ 1975 route description… but apparently, I didn’t bother reading it too closely because I saw snow and declared that we should go up. After a few hundred feet, the snow steepened and shortly afterwards Yvonne and I found ourselves kicking steps up 50-degree summer snow in lightweight boots. After a few hundred feet, the snow ended in a cirque of rock and we gingerly tiptoed across a sketchy sidewalk to the east where we eventually joined the actual route and quickly booted up scree slopes to the ridge.

Yvonne in the wrong snow gully! Connecting 3rd class sidewalks to the correct gully. In the correct gully and just below the ridge.

Polemonium boreale and Yvonne on the ridge and traversing to the scree slopes on the southeast face.

Once on the ridge we scrambled across ledges until reaching a broad scree slope that we traversed for several hundred feet until we reached the narrow gully that lead us to the summit blocks. A couple scrambling moves and we were on the tiny summit with excellent views in all directions.

Traversing the southwest scree slopes. Final 3rd class gully to the summit. The summit!

Looking south from the summit. Great views of Kinglet ridge!

We then reversed the route, this time taking the correct gully back to the valley floor which we found very straight forward. Hiking back Yvonne saw a grizzly bear, but I was too busy fighting the dense willow and missed it. Then back to camp for a leisurely afternoon and evening. The next day we packed up and hiked out, this time opting to take the Archangel / Steamroller Pass variation reaching the car in about 5 hours.

Yvonne working her way down the gully just below the summit. Dropping down the gully from the summit ridge.

On top of Archangel Pass.

Northern Shrike in CSP! Northern Shrike chick. I endured some serious divebombing to take this photo.
Glacial striations near Steamroller Pass. The Crow Pass greeting committee.

A year later Todd and I decided to hike in and climb the North Ridge of Synthesizer in a day. We approached from Crow Pass / Paradise Pass and then took the long tundra bench that drops northeast from Paradise Pass to the valley east of Pyramid / Synclavier / Synthesizer which we accessed via grassy slopes on the far western edge (to avoid the brush that is at the mouth of the valley). We then followed sheep trails to the upper tarns until finally ascending a nice sheep trail in a scree slope all the way to the Synthesizer / Organ col to the north of the peak.

Raven Glacier. Skiers take note of the crevasse patterns. Todd down Paradise Pass. Lots or rock hopping in 2017! Me heading up the valley easy of Synthesizer. Photo by Todd Kelsey.

Looking south and west towards the headwaters of Camp Creek.

From there the north ridge was a nice casual stroll with dizzying exposure to the west and a nice sheep trail just east of the ridge. Then back down the same route and back across the valley to Paradise Pass and out.

Todd on the ridge. Awesome sheep trails! Recently formed glacial lake. In the background is the South Ridge of Polar Bear. This is the ridge where Dolly Lefever fell and broke her pelvis 100′ from the summit . Epic!
Todd on the summit. Me on a point just south of the summit. Photo by Todd Kelsey. Todd carries the Sony RX100 Mk III – it’s a damn nice camera!

Todd headed down.

Regarding routes and times, it seems that half of the people who head back to these peaks opt to climb them in a day and the other half choose to take several days to explore the area. We climbed Organ as part of a leisurely 3-day trip with two nights spent camping at Grizzly Bear lake and extra time spent hiking what Dave Bass calls the 6 Pass Sufferfest (Crow > Paradise > Moraine > Archangel > Steamroller > Crow). Synthesizer was climbed in a 14.5 hour / 26 mile / 9700′ out and back blister-inducing marathon. The 3-day trip was nice, but it’s also nice to move for hours and hours and see lots of country.

In my opinion the ideal trip mellow trip would be turn this into a 3-day camping trip where you would hike from Crow Pass to Paradise Pass and across the valley to the base of Synthesizer. There you could drop camping gear near the base of the Northeast face of Synthesizer and scramble up the north ridge. The next day you could go over the Synthesizer / Organ col, drop gear and scramble up the Southeast face of Organ and hike out to Grizzly Lake. The last day you could hike out Archangel / Steamroller Pass back to Crow Pass.

If you’re looking for something more exciting, a challenging variation would be to link the South ridge of Synthesizer with the East ridge of Organ (descend the Southeast face). This route would require a stove for melting snow along the route and probably some extra layers for the few hours you spend near the top of Organ waiting for the sun to rise so you can see how to get down.

Alternatively, a north to south Organ / Synthesizer ridge traverse would be a true mountaineering feat. John Mitchell, Shawn O’Fallon, Charlie Sassera and Bill Spencer traversed Organ north to south in July 1998 (25 hours from South Fork to Crow Pass) but I do not believe anyone has traversed Organ and continued down the South ridge of Synthesizer.

Regarding access from Crow Pass, Paradise Pass is the most direct route with less elevation gain / loss, however the pass is notoriously loose and requires that you downclimb about 400′ of steep loose dirt and rock. Steamroller and Archangel can both be easily downclimbed (note – descend Steamroller Pass via the slopes far skiers right; if you attempt to go straight down you’ll encounter steep snow) but add about 1000′ extra elevation gain/loss.

All that said, this portion of the park is a beautiful area that feels very remote even though you’re less than 15 miles from Girdwood. It’s also a very sensitive part of the park given that much of the area is above treeline and covered in lush tundra. Please treat it with respect. One time I came across a garbage bag of food and trash at Steamroller Pass (I called the park because I couldn’t carry it out… later that summer I overhead a park ranger grumbling about a hiker who was too lazy to carry out the trash from Steamroller) and on my last trip back there I came across 300′ of static line down Paradise Pass. I popped three ibuprofen and carried out the static line out and but my feet paid for it dearly. My consolation prize was a nice letter from Chugach State Park Superintendent Tom Harrison who wrote, “The innumerable unsolicited actions taken by park visitors such as you significantly enhance the experience of other and are greatly appreciated. Thank you for helping maintain the park’s intrinsic settings for others to encounter when venturing deep into the park”. How’s that for a compliment? Pack out some trash and maybe you’ll get a similar letter.