Pleasant Mountain (Southwest Gully & North Glacier)

EDIT 8/30/2020

As of late summer 2020 legal access to Ram Valley is once again closed.  An influx of visitors were causing parking issues and the land owners blocked off access at the road with a sign saying that 57 visitors had come at one day.

This closure shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Due to COVID restrictions, trail usage has seen exponential growth this summer and every single trailhead throughout the state is experiencing parking issues and overcrowding.  Yes 57 people in one day is far too many for this trail  – but 57 is also a fraction of the number of people/day that popular trailheads like Reed Lakes, Rabbit Lake and Glen Alps are experiencing daily.   The same issues happening everywhere were bound to happen at smaller neighborhood trails.

Aside from filing a lawsuit not much can be done for Ram Valley, but what people can do is contact Chugach State Park and their elected officials and request that funding from the CARES Act and Great American Outdoors Act be used for local trails and local access. We should not be proposing or building new trails until we can secure funding to access and maintain the trails that we currently have. We need parking lots, basic trail maintenance and full time rangers who can manage the thousands of users who access our park daily.

That said – instagram influencers and writers posting about Ram Valley and other areas with potential access issues should make an extra effort to educate visitors about the issues surrounding areas. Posting a drone video that draws thousands of views in a week, or publishing a story in a widely distributed newspaper without mentioning the fact that trailhead has room for 3 cars is irresponsible. A simple “this trailhead only has room for 3 cars – please leave if the spots are taken” message would have gone a long ways towards resolving issues.

Pleasant Mountain lies near the head of Ram valley and is the peak just due north of Bombardment Pass. It was first climbed in June 1960 by Norm Pischler, Louis Willard and Erma Duncan (route unknown) who named the peak claiming that the hike made for a pleasant afternoon.  Greg Higgens, Peter Sennhauser and Ted Laska made the second ascent in October 1980 via the South Ridge which they accessed from Bombardment Pass and described as a Class 4 / 5 traverse of “three rotten spires”.  Since then the name Pleasant has become a misnomer due to the terrible rock quality and a rock shedding south face that often causes scramblers to run for cover as chunks come flying down the south face that most people hike up.  But timing is everything.  A late summer ascent of the peak will find you playing dodgeball with microwave sized blocks while a spring ascent will be a little less exciting in that the rocks will be a little smaller. Either way it’s still a misnomer.

I climbed the peak via the South Gully in August 2018 and in March 2019 went back up to ski the North Glacier.  By far the spring ascent was the better day with a nice ski descent off the north side, whereas the summer scramble was a tad nerve wracking due to the incessant rockfall and never ended scree slog to the ridge.  Regardless – notes from both days are included since people will probably be interested in both.

Southwest Gully (Class 3)

The easiest way to the top of Pleasant is via the giant Southwest Gully that splits the north and south summits.  Access from Ram valley and once up the rock glacier travel along the grassy trail between the moraine and the south face of the ridge between Raina and Pleasant.  It’s exactly 5 miles to the base of the gully. Once you’re at the base of the route take a long look the gully and remind yourself that the route is basically a bowling alley.  Everything that falls off the rotten south face tumbles 1900’ into a gully that continues to constrict until at the bottom you have little room to maneuver when the inevitable rock comes down.  Thus choose one of the slopes to either side of the gully with the intention of ascending the side slopes for 1000’ until you are above the massive rotten south face that likes to shed.  At that point you can traverse back into the gully.

The rock glacier. Stay in the grass to the north and east to avoid the rocks.

The Southwest Gully (August 2018). Note the recent rock fall scars.

The scree sidewalk to access the summit ridge (as seen from the col).

When I climbed the gully in August 2018 I started up the gully, watched a big rock bounce past and then traversed Class 3 rock out onto the West face. I then ascended up the West face until I was able to traverse back into the gully above the rock fall basin.  On the descent I stayed on the scree slopes to the south (skier’s left) of the gully (ascending the scree slopes would be arduous but it makes for a fast decent).  When I climbed the gully in March 2019 we booted straight up the gully and thought that it was a really straight forward fast route until a rock came down and pelted Todd which left a nice bloody black and blue welt on his hamstring.

Todd up the Southwest Gully (March 2019).

Todd just below the col in the Southwest Gully (March 2019).

At the top of the Southwest Gully you’ll be at a col.  The route heads north along the ridge for about 300’ and then you can traverse left across scree sidewalks until finally gaining the summit ridge.  The summit is the farthest northern bump on the ridge where you can lean over the edge and practically spit on the North Glacier.

To get down descend the route.  Some people opt to descend the West Ridge towards the scree slopes near Raina, but the route is exposed and the rock rotten.

North Glacier (Steep Snow)

North Glacier of Pleasant viewed from the Bees Heaven in September 2010. Note the full width bergschrund.

The North Glacier is the steep hanging glacier that is only visible from a few aspects in the vicinity; namely the top of Pleasant and the ridgelines near Bee’s Heaven.  Viewed from below in the summer the glacier is a tongue of blue ice dropping 1000’ from the col to the dark gullies below. In the winter the glacier and gullies below collect and hold snow and the route, along with the X Couloir and Peking King, has become a classic Peter’s Creek descent.

Looking down at the North Glacier from the summit (August 2018).

Looking down at the North Glacier from the summit (August 2018).

Access the route via the Southwest Gully which dumps you right at the top of the run.  Then drop onto the glacier for 3 pitches of great skiing.  Pitch one puts you 800’ down the skier’s right hand side of the glacier taking care to avoid the exposed blue ice that rolls 70 degrees in the middle of the bowl.  Pitch two puts you down another 700’ through two rock bands that may or may not be filled in.  If it’s a low snow year you can cut far skier’s left and take a chute against the cliffs bands on the other side of the gully. Pitch three puts takes you down another 800’ via the pinched gully at the very base of the run.  Total drop is 2300’ over a length of 4100’.

Dave Bass down pitch 1. The day before Dave had skied 30 miles and 11K and claimed he was tired. Later that day he sprinted to the top and took a nap while waiting for me.

The famous Pleasant yeti caves.

This is a glacier run so you will be skiing over crevasses and ice bulges. Note the pictures and where the crevasses are in the summer so you can up your speed accordingly in those spots.

Todd below the yeti cave.

Todd spotting Dave as he enters the choke mid run.

Todd sidestepping the 10′ of rock to reach the powder below. Note the big gully behind him that we neglected to get to.

Google Earth imagery of the North Glacier. Note: this is not a GPX file.

The run puts you in the basin to the east of Raina and you have to climb 2500’ back up the reach the ridge to get home.  That said… the ascent dumps you right at the top of the North Couloir on Raina so you get a bonus run.

Todd nearing the Raina col.

Eric Dahl down Raina’s N Couloir.

Drop Raina and then ski out Falling Water to get home. Take the trail back to your car and don’t be tempted to ski the gully all the way back to the old road – this is private property and trespassing endangers the limited access we have.

Todd Kelsey, Dave Bass and I skied the run in March 2019.  It was unseasonably warm and the Southwest Gully was shedding rocks on the ascent, but once reaching the top we found the snow on the north side to be boot deep powder. This was 10 days into a high pressure system so there were 2 old tracks in the run and we reached the top of the run at the same time as two other skiers.  We gave them dibs since they were younger and 10x faster, which meant that skiing down was a no-brainer with no route finding issues.

Dave Bass down Raina’s North Couloir.

Back up to the Raina col on a hot afternoon and then down the north side and out Falling Water in the early evening hours.  Cold north facing powder, soft southern corn and no bears – the perfect way to end March.