Eagle Glacier → ERNC

In late April 2019, Todd Kelsey, Joe Chmielowski and I skied from the Eagle Glacier to the Nature Center (ERNC). It was a great ski trip through familiar terrain that felt foreign when covered in snow.  All together it was 50 miles of travel (38 miles on skis) with 11K of elevation gain/loss. We took a leisurely 3.5 days to do the trip and got to climb 2 peaks along the way – but it could easily be done as a 2-3 day trip if you’re interested in just a ski tour. Here are a few notes for anyone who is interested in a similar trip.

To access the Eagle Glacier we opted to save a half day of travel and take a heli-bump with Alpine Air ($350/flight). We were dropped just below the headwall.  Luckily we had friends with a similar plan so we were able to split 3 flights between 6 people at $175/person.  Once on the Eagle we pointed our skis downhill and quickly drifted to the base of the Northeast Lobe of the Eagle Glacier.

Joe & Todd on the Eagle. Rosie’s Roost lies on the moraine bench directly above Todd.

Joe breaking trail up the NE Lobe of the Eagle. The glacier has receded to the point that it is easy to sneak up climbers right without a rope for much of the way.

Heading across the Whiteout Glacier.

In recent years the Northeast Lobe of the Eagle Glacier has receded to the point where moraine is exposed on the southeast side of the glacier – and if you stay just climbers right of the glacier lobe and ascend the moraine until you reach the top of the moraine / exposed ice, travel is super easy with minimal crevasse danger.

Recent skin track and natural slab avalanche crown (from previous storm cycle 40 hours prior) on the Northwest Face of Roost Peak.

After that continue climbing staying more or less on the right side of the glacier until you pass all (seen) crevasses. You can then change directions and ski straight to Hans’ Hut.

Hans’ Hut on the Whiteout Glacier. Required a bit of digging!

We stashed our overnight gear at Hans’, ate a snack and then scrambled up the North Northeast Ridge to the summit of Hut Peak (6,695′), reaching the summit at 7:30pm on a perfect April evening. Hut Peak has a wonderful north facing glacier run that would be a perfect ski, but we had spent the day touring up glaciers looking at giant recent natural avalanches from a recent cycle and didn’t trust the snowpack. So we cached the skis at the bottom and stuck to the ridge for both the up and down.

High above the Whiteout Glacier.

Me booting up the last steps to the summit. Photo by Todd Kelsey.

Summit selfie on Hut Peak.

Todd scoping last turns in perfect April evening light.

We reached the hut around 8pm and clambered inside just as the sun and temperature started to drop.

Fred Bull’s hut check.  Fred was a long time well known Alaskan skier and biker who died of brain cancer in 2008. I posted this pic on the MCA FB page and people posted some touching comments. Several Fred Bull stories are legends told and retold around many a bonfire.

A nice night at Hans’ and up early the next morning for a ski tour over to Emerald Peak.  From Han’s we toured north to Blackout Pass and then descended the Jade Glacier and climbed the Northeast Ridge of Emerald. We roped up from the hut to the pass and then skied unroped all the way down the Jade to a point where we could easily ski up the East face of Emerald to reach the Northeast Ridge. We skied all the way back to the hut unroped.

Todd down Blackout Pass on the Jade Glacier in perfect snow.

Me down Blackout Pass. Photos by Todd Kelsey.

Approaching the E Ridge of Emerald with the Jade Glacier in the background.

Recent natural slab avalanches on the West Ridge of Hut Peak. Pretty much propagated down the entire West Ridge!

Todd & Joe last steps to the summit of Emerald Peak. Anyone up for an April ski camp in the Emerald Glacier bowl?

Emerald Peak summit register.

Me looking down at Eagle Lake. Photo by Todd Kelsey.

Looking down at the terminus of the Eagle Glacier. The gully climbers right of the glacier is Richard’s bypass to exit the glacier.

Emerald Peak selfie.

This was a wonderful tour with excellent skiing and an easy summit. Climbing Emerald with snow on it was a highlight after looking across at it many times from different vantage points during the summer months. And descending 2000′ to climb a peak that was lower than the starting point was a novelty.

Hans’ Hut on a beautiful April afternoon.

Sunset and a natural that released earlier in the day on Whiteout Peak.

The next day we skied back over Blackout Pass to the Jade Glacier and then skied north down the icefall to the Thunder Glacier. There was good snow coverage on the Thunder Glacier and we roped up for the top of the icefall and then skied the bottom unroped. From the base of Thunder Glacier we then skied down valley until we could ascend the valley leading up the Blue Eyed Lake. There were several wet slides in this valley but it was still early and cold when we did it and had no issues.

Joe looking down the drop into Thunder Glacier. In the summer months this glacier is cracked to pieces so we opted to rope up for this section.

Todd down Thunder Glacier. Skiing roped with 3 people is so much fun.

Todd skiing across Thunder Glacier.

Then up and across Blue Eyed Lake which was coated with feet of snow.  Skiing through here was really special.  I’ve been to Blue Eyed Lake several times in the summer months but had never been there in the spring when everything was covered in snow.

Heading up to the Twin Falls / Blue Eyed Lake col.

North Face of Vertigo.

Blue Eyed Lake was still buried with snow and we easily skinned up the pass. The west side of the pass (dropping to Twin Falls Creek) was rock hard snow at the top and a maze of wet slide debris at the bottom. Dropping down the Twin Falls trail with skis on the back was super easy due to trail maintenance last summer. Once down on the trail it was an easy walk back to the Nature Center.

Wet afternoon slides.

Off the snow at the top of Twin Falls trail.

Dropping down to Eagle River.

Our last night was fitful due to the mosquitoes being awake earlier than normal. It was warm in the tent and the mosquitoes streamed through the cracks of the mega-mid all night long.  We tossed and turned until finally getting up early to hike the remaining 5 miles to ERNC.

Male Spruce Grouse.

Camp for the night at Icicle Creek. Note the recent rockfall scar from the 2018 earthquake.

Once at the Nature Center we used the free pay phone to call Anchorage cab for a ride back to midtown. We then lounged around for an hour until finally piling into the cab and heading home.  A great ski tour through some of my favorite places close to town.

Moose jam!

Route Notes:

Whiteout Glacier > ERNC Traverse

The total distance from Hans’ Hut to ERNC is just under 20 miles with only 3100′ of elevation gain (and 8500′ of descent).  If the snowpack is good the route is pretty straight forward – however if it is a low snow year or avalanche danger is high the route nature of the route would change drastically.  A few tips:

  • The descent down Blackout Pass is steep enough to slide and a good place to get an assessment of avalanche conditions before committing to the drop down into Thunder Gorge.
  • The icefall from the Jade to the Thunder is really cracked up mid summer so you probably want to rope up for this stretch.
  • Once you’re on the main portion of Thunder Glacier contour north to avoid the icefall on the southwest side of the glacier. Be aware that Thunder Glacier is also really cracked up in the summer so if you don’t trust the snowpack then rope up.
  • The climb up to Blue Eyed Lake takes you under some big avalanche paths. Go early to avoid afternoon wet slides.
  • Likewise, the descent down to Twin Falls drainage is steep with both avalanche and rockfall danger. Don’t make the mistake of going too far skiers right else you’ll end up on a rock rib with cliffs below.  Drop into the gut of the bowl (skiers left) until you can exit below the rock rib.
  • If you haven’t been up the Twin Falls trail the trail can be hard to find from above.  The top entrance is at 61°10’34.26″N 149° 7’51.39″W. After that it’s more or less easy to follow. If you lose the trail I would suggest backtracking till you find it again.
  • Eagle River is open to bear hunting in the spring.  Yell loudly to avoid getting shot.

GPX route in Google Earth to show our route down Blackout Pass / Jade Glacier / Thunder Glacier.

Hut Peak (6,695′) – North Northeast Ridge

Rating: Class 3
First Ascent:  Spurr, B.; Bowman, T.; Carmichael, B.; Marshall, G.; Means, S.; Moriarity, J.; 1972
Total Time:  2+ days.
Approach Time:  15 minutes from Hans’ Hut.
Climbing Time:  Up: 1-2 hours. Down: 1 hour.
Route Difficulties:  Glacier travel; easy scrambling.
Equipment:  Glacier gear
Season Notes:  Best in the spring when you can approach Hans’s on skis.

Approach: Get to Hans’ Hut via either Rosie’s Roost or Pischler’s Perch.  From Hans’ ski uphill / south and west until you reach the base of the ridge.

Route: The route follows the ridge to the summit.  You can bypass the steeper start to the ridge by contouring west around the steep initial snow slopes via an easy ramp. The ramp eventually pushes you back to the ridge which you can then easily scramble to the summit.

Descent: To descend reverse your route.

Emerald Peak (5,185′) – Northeast Ridge

Rating: Class 2
First Ascent of Emerald:  Jim Sayler (Route and year unknown)
Total Time:  2+ days.
Approach Time: 2 hours from Hans’ Hut.
Climbing Time:  Up: 1-2 hours. Down: 1 hour.
Route Difficulties:  Glacier travel; easy scrambling.
Equipment:  Glacier gear
Season Notes:  Best in the spring when you can approach Hans’s on skis.

Approach: Get to Hans’ Hut via either Rosie’s Roost or Pischler’s Perch.  From Hans’ ski north to Blackout Pass. Ski over the pass and down the Jade glacier to the toe of the glacier.

Route: Ski down the Jade glacier and continue across a bench until you reach easy slopes that you can contour up until you reach the Northeast Ridge. Walk the ridge to the summit.

Descent: To descend reverse your route.