Devil’s Mistress (Southwest Face) & Sunlight Mountain (South Face)

A period of perfect weather in late July and a flurry of texts rounded up Eric Parsons and Lee Helzer for a weekend trip into the Blued Eyed Lake region in Chugach State Park. As is often the case with last minutes planning no one could leave at the same time / stay the same amount of time, so it ended with me hiking in around noon (since I could stay till Sunday morning), Eric leaving a couple hours after me (since he had to leave Friday night) and Lee hiking in at 6pm (since he had to work but could stay till Sunday night).  I started early and made good time… until a momma black bear with two cubs stopped me on the trail and turned my pleasant outing into a “GO AWAY” scream fest complete with bear spray unlocked and pointed.  After that I sat on an exposed rock with views in all directions for a while until Eric caught up with me wondering why I was hyperventilating.  Then we continued on pretending that bears never attack parties of two.

Eric’s civil duty on this trip included alder chopping.

Eric’s civic duty #2: hauling out 30lbs of old army cans.

Breeding male Rock Ptarmigan at treeline.

We made good time up the Twin Falls trail and then up and over the pass south of Soggy and finally rolled into camp around 6pm.  Eric was still tireless so we stashed our camping gear and continued down valley in the hopes of climbing Emerald.

Coming down the pass to Blue Eyed Lake. Devil’s Mistress looms above Eric.

Emerald was not to be.  At the base of the North Ridge (our route) frolicked a huge momma brown bear and two fully grown cubs.  At the base of the Northeast Ridge (our alternative route) a large black bear was grazing quietly.  That made for 7 bears in one day and I was not interested in fighting them off with trekking poles.  Back to camp and passing out around 11pm.

Lee finally showed up at 1am exhausted. Apparently I had not communicated that the trail takes about 6 hours.  I seem to recall that my conversation went something like “it take me about 6 hours but you can probably do it in 3”.  He was starving and only mildly amused at the sandbagging but Eric and I were too tired to feel sorry for him and he had to poke us with his ice axe to make room for him in the megamid.

Devil’sMistress from Soggy. The route takes the ridge center right.

Devil’s Mistress (6,750′) – Southwest Face

Up early and hiking before the sun peeked over the ridges to the east.  Our objective was the Southwest Face of Devil’s Mistress, a route known for exposed loose rock on a prominent exposed peak that lies on the far southern edge of the West Fork of the Eklutna Glacier.  The first crux to the Southwest Face is gaining the basin at the base of the face (just due east of Point 5175).  Most parties take the steep and loose gullies that are east of Blue Eyed Lake (and just shy of Inferno Pass) however on our outing to Emerald, Eric and I had spied a mellow gully to the south that gained the basin with zero complications. To reach it just continue past Blue Eyed Lake and follow sheep trails down valley for a few hundred feet.  Then traverse east until you reach the first gully that you can see all the way to the top of (don’t take the first gully as it has a cliff band halfway up). The gully ascends about 500’ and deposits you right at the base of the route.

The south gully as seen from the sheep trail leading towards Emerald / Thunder Gorge.

Eric nearing the top of the South gully.

View of the SW Face. Route takes the snow on the right then traverses left to gain the ridge.

After gaining the basin the route follows a series of gullies and ledges for around 1000’ until you reach a point where cliff bands force you to traverse left to gain a sub ridge on the West Face.  We ascended the lower part of the route which had decent snow and then exited the face via a ledge which was marked with an old cairn.  At the ledge we scrambled across the West Face until reaching the base of an exposed 3rd class gully. The lower part of the route was straight forward class 2, however once we started the traverse the exposure and difficultly ramped up as we tiptoed out across the West Face which dropped steeply for 1000’ beneath us.

Booting up snow half way up the SW face.

Lee on the SW face.

Lee after traversing from the SW face to the ridge.

We ascended the Class 3 gully which consisted of about 300’ of loose rock.  Along the way we passed an old rap anchor and a couple other signs that we were on route.  We had excellent dry conditions which made of easy travel, however if the route were wet or covered in snow/ice, it would be exciting and difficult.

Eric starting the traverse leading to the Class 3 gully that takes you to the summit ridge.

At the summit ridge roping up for the short rock step. Blue Eyed Lake is way below!

The gully took us all the way to the final summit ridge – with the summit being about 100’ vertically and 250’ horizontally above us.  Blocking the way was a short 4th class step with massive exposure on all sides.  We roped up and Eric lead up the step, placing one medium cam in a decent crack right at the crux.  Lee and I followed and at the top we unroped and scrambled the last bit to the tiny summit.

Eric leading the rock step to the summit. It’s easy and only 1 move of Class 4 – but the exposure is nerve-wracking.

Lee reaching the summit ridge.

Eric – last steps to the summit!

A perfect day with amazing views in all directions.  We sat around for almost 30 minutes taking in the views.

Summit selfie!

Then reversing the route.  We downclimbed to the belay anchor that Eric had built above the step.  From that anchor we were able to rap directly down the West Face (10m) to a ledge which we then traversed to another rap anchor below the crux rock step.  The second rap was a full 30m which allowed us to easily descend the exposed Class 3 gully. At the end of the rope we carefully downclimbed a few hundred feet until finally traversing across the ledge to gain the snow covered Southwest face.

Lee down the first rap. (15m down W face to ledge to bypass the Class 4 step).

Lee down rap #2. 30m – or as far as you can make it. After you reach the end of the rope it’s another 100′ of steep exposed Class 3 rock the ridge. Don’t slip!

Back on the SW face. Easy downclimbing from here.

From there it was an easy descent all the way back to the basin and down the final gully and then hiking back up to the lake.  Round trip was only a total of 6 hours and Lee and I spent the afternoon lying around in the sun while Eric packed up and hiked out.

Mellow afternoon in the sun.

Kathy & Az were camping at the lake. They hauled in cold beer & gave us a sip.

Evening in the Chugach.

The Southwest Face has become the standard route to the summit – and if one ascends the South Gully instead of the steep gullies close to Inferno Pass, there are few difficulties other than exposure and loose rock.

Approximate route up Devils Mistress. Note: this is not a GPX import.

It should be noted that the first ascent of the peak was by Phil Fortner and Jim Sayler on May 24, 1992. They gained the East Ridge after ascending a gully from the West Fork of the Eklutna Glacier and belayed a few pitches to gain the summit.

Peril Peak (7,040′) – Southwest Face (attempt)

The next morning Lee and I were up early and tromping up and over Inferno Pass and then down glacier to the Southwest Face of Peril.

Lee looking at Peril from high on the West Fork of the Eklutna.

Looking back at Devil’s Mistress. This is the route that Fortner / Sayler took on the first ascent.

Lee and I attempted a gully on the Southwest Face that eventually took us to the ridge.  We roped up for 2 pitches of Class 4 in a smooth gully with minimal protection.  At the top of the first pitch we came across an old piton placed by Richard Baranow and Wendy Sanem during a late 90s ascent of the route.  They climbed the gully and then took the ridge to the summit.

Lee in the lower part of the gully. We roped up just above where the gully narrowed and the rock became smooth.

The crux of the gully. Look closely and you can see Lee. With no snow this pitch is smooth slick rock with zero protection.

Richard’s piton from the late 90s.

Belayed pitch #2 up a wet Class 4 chimney with minimal gear.

Lee and I had minimal gear and after reaching the Southwest Ridge we were uncomfortable with the exposed difficult loose rock so we downclimbed the route (we rapped once off of Richard’s ancient piton which surprisingly held).  We estimate that we turned around 500’ below the summit.

High point on the ridge. Beelzebub and Devil’s Mistress in the background.

Lee on the SW Ridge. As we got higher the ridge got steeper and more exposed and we were unwilling to commit without decent gear.

As is often the case with Chugach peaks, there is a lot of confusion about routes.  The oft quoted route description for Peril is to hike to the base of the South Face and “take the backwards C to the ridge” – but the two times I’ve stood at the base of the face I’ve never been able to figure out the route.

As for routes… Richard and Wendy (and Lee and I) ascended the prominent gully on (climbers)  left of the face that starts right from the bench at approximately 5700’. This route eventually gained the Southwest Ridge around 6500’. In mid-summer this route is melted out and has 2 pitches of Class 4 just to gain the ridge.  Once on the ridge you have a couple more pitches of exposed and loose Class 4 to the summit.

It is hard to probe the minds of Wayne Todd and Kathy Still regarding routes they climbed 20 years ago – however from what I gather they ascended the Southwest Ridge after gaining it via the gully that leaves the glacier around 5000’ (before you ascend the hanging bench to the base of the South Face). Kathy recalled steep exposed scary gendarmes which is probably where Lee and I turned around (around 6500’).  It is possible that this is the same route as the June 1964 first ascent by Van der Laan, Bading, Erickson and Fraser – however their route description is hard to discern.

South Face of Peril from Beelzebub.

Peril from the summit of Sunlight.

The South Ridge was first ascended by Nick Parker and Yoshio Inukai in July 1967. They apparently gained the ridge at it’s lowest point and followed it in its entirety to the summit.  They belayed several pitches and rapped 6 times on the descent.  Dave Hart and Steve Gruhn also climbed the South Ridge (7/1992) after gaining it via another a gully closer to the summit. They claimed they encountered no real difficulties. Ross Noffsinger and Charlie Sink also climbed a similar variation after ascending Beelzebub earlier that day sometime around 2013.  They roped up but simul-climbed.  Ross claimed there were no real difficulties but they wanted the rope since they were both tired.  That said… Jen Ashcroft and her partner ascended a similar variation and claimed to have climbed rock up to 5.6 to gain the ridge.  Jen also endured a skull fracture on the route due to rock kicked off by a goat (FTW!).

In short… the consensus seems to be that there is an easier route if you can easily gain the South Ridge.  However – the crux appears to be finding the correct gully and gaining the South Ridge.  On the other hand the Southwest Ridge offers little route finding difficulties (just go up one of 2 gullies) – but does offer several pitches of exposed Class 4 rock.  Choose your poison!

Sunlight Mountain (6,390′) – South Ridge

After bailing off Peril Peak, Lee and I tromped up glacier and ascended the South Ridge of Sunlight Mountain.  Sunlight was first climbed by Tom Choate, Mike Miller and Willy Hersman on August 17, 1967. It’s a wonderful easy hike that offers a commanding view of the West Fork of the Eklutna and the big 7000’+ peaks that jut out of the ice.

Lee approaching the S Ridge at the head of W Fork of the Eklutna.

Summer in the high alpine.

Lee on the S Ridge. Devil’s Mistress in the background.

On the summit.

The hike was pleasant in the evening sun and Lee and I sat on the summit enjoying the perfect day with perfect views in all directions.  With the sun finally starting to set at 9pm we started downhill and rolled into camp around 10pm.

Evening view of the W Fork.

Summit selfie.

Time to head back to camp.

The next day the weather window finally broke and I spent the morning stumbling downhill in thick fog trying to resist the urge to dig out the GPS and cheat. 4 hours later I was back at the car, exhausted and hungry and eager to turn around and head back into the hills.