West Kiliak (South Face) & Nantina Point (South Face)

West Kiliak and Nantina Point lie 4 miles south of the Nature Center.  With Yukla they make up the 5000’+ cirque around Icicle Glacier and the walls facing northwest loom above as you trek up valley.  While both peaks have relatively moderate routes to the summit, neither are particularly accessible due to thick brush and difficult hiking.  This in turn is manifested through their naming conventions:  Art Davidson on his first ascent of Korohusk (09/01/65) proposed Kiliak for the peak south and claimed it meant “boegyman” [sic] in Athabascan.  Keeping with tradition Tim Kelley, on his 07/93 first ascent of the point west of Kiliak proposed Nantina Point,  “Nantina” referring to a Dena’ina Athabascan word for evil spirit.

“Nantina,” an evil essence that represents the fear of losing a child, from the Dena’ina culture of the Kenai Peninsula. Children were warned not to wander far at night when fog came in because it was Nantina’s breath and they might disappear.

Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College (Source)

It’s hard to know the reasoning behind the names – but anyone who has ventured up Icicle Creek drainage believes the evil spirts are manifested in the thick and almost impenetrable brush that bars access.  Willy Hersman, who was extensively active for 30+ years throughout the Western Chugach from the mid 80s onward, referred to Icicle Creek Valley as, “the Western Chugach’s gift to masochists.” Venture into this valley and even if someone tells you there’s a trail you too will confront the alder boegyman.

West Kiliak (7,450’)

Approach

Depending on the route, West Kiliak has been approached from Dishwater Creek, Icicle Creek and Peter’s Creek.  Dishwater Creek has relatively easy access, but most parties that ascend Kiliak this way end up descending Icicle Creek.  The brush is much more manageable from Peters Creek, but the approach is long (and even longer given the recent loss of access at Ram Valley) and the route more or less climbs the same route as the Icicle Creek routes. In regards to access Icicle Creek – I won’t post the entire GPX, but I’ll provide points to get you started:

61.19398, -149.19276 / 1,477 ft
This is the bench you want to get to the top of.  From the Crow Pass trail look for the meadows on top of the rock outcroppings north of Icicle Creek.  There are a hundred human, moose, bear and sheep trails between the Crow Pass trail and this ledge so prepare to wander. On my first attempt I spent an hour on my knees crawling though sheep alder tunnels before discovering I had climbed 1000’ higher than I should have.

61.19370, -149.18166 / 1,836 ft
This marks the spot where you enter the alder tunnels that will eventually lead to the glacier. Get to this spot and take a nice break because as bad as it was getting to here, it will only get worse.  The route stays high for a while and then eventually goes low.  At times it might be easier to just walk in the river.  Prepare for brush!

61.19467, -149.15503 / 2,654 ft
The infamous boulder bivy and where you want to eventually get to.  This spot has been trashed by hunters over the years.  Do your part and bring down some of the trash they’ve left behind. Note that many people camp here but it’s a crummy spot.

Access Bench

Eagle River from high above the access bump.

Icicle trail just before you enter the alder tunnels.

The trail where it was damaged by the 2020 earthquake centered exactly at this spot.

Routes

Northwest Ridge

First Ascent: Grace Hoeman, Vin  Hoeman, Dave Johnston; September 1968
Rating: Class 5
This route was the first ascent of the peak.  The party ascended a gully at the Korohusk / Kiliak col, took the Northwest Ridge to the summit and then descended the South face. The party attempted the climb the route and descend Icicle Creek in a day but thick brush and cliff forced them to bivouac.  Vin Hoeman’s description of the first ascent is classic and copied below.

We chopped steps up the steep snow to the rock, we found this to be quite decent for Western Chugach permitting unroped scrambling to the 6450 col between Korohusk and Kiliak.  At ten o-clock we started on the last thousand feet of the NNW Ridge of Kiliak.  It drops off sharply on either side and the rock is extremely unreliable. We had to rope up and I place three poor pitons and three runners on various leads for protection, but more often had to trust the thin but firm covering of snow to provide sufficient friction. We reached the top of 2:25pm in prefer weather, a sunny 33°…

We talked ourselves into the mistake of traversing down the easy south side of the mountain rather than rappelling the ridge we’d come up.  The descent is indeed easy nut, as others have learned before us, Yukla Valley is a terror.

Before it got bad we admired mountain goats, the 3500-foot North Face of Yukla and we climbed a house sized boulder that sits alone on a flat. Then brush forced us into the creek. Grace and I had to be in Anchorage Monday morning, but Dave could try to cut back to Kiliak camp tonight.  We split up, but eventually all had to bivouac as cliffs forced Dave down and the brushy bottom was too thick to travel in without any light.

– Vin Hoeman, Scree November 1968

The second ascent of this route was by Willy Hersman, Tom Choate and Ken Zafren in August 1990.  They climbed Korohusk and traversed across to the NW Ridge and then descended Icicle Creek.  They too were benighted and forced to bivouacked on a pile of boulders next to Icicle Creek.  Since then the route has seen a handful of ascents including a recent Jukly 2020 ascent by Alex Mccready and Mike Meyers.  Mccready says there are several sections of exposed fifth class moves and suggests bringing four to five cams size one and smaller. It should be noted that even today most parties take an average of 20+ hours – so plan accordingly!

Southeast Ridge

First Ascent: Phil Fortner, (partners unknown); Summer 1990
Rating: Class 4/5
Willy Hersman references this ascent in the September 1990 Scree. Apparently Phil Fortner’s party approached via Peter’s Creek and summited sometime early summer 1990.  Difficultly is unknown but best guess would be Class 4/5 given the steepness of the ridge. Subsequent parties that have followed this route have traversed out onto the South face to avoid steep rock on the ridge.

South Face

First Ascent: Unknown
Rating: Steep Snow / Class 4
This route was climbed sometime in the late 80s / early 90s but first ascent details are unknown.  The route varies depending on season.  In the winter it is a steep snow route with a 15m step of ice that must be rappelled on the descent (an anchor can be found around a large boulder climbers left of the ice). In the summer this is scree slope that can be easily ascended / descended.  The route is hard to discern from the valley floor but essentially starting at 5000’ there are two broad gullies that you must connect.  The lower gully takes you to a bench that allows you to connect to the upper gully.  The upper gully takes you to within 250’ of the summit at which point there is a short step of exposed Class 3/4 easy rock. In the past a rappel anchor has been left above this pitch. Note that variations of this route ascend portions of the Southwest Ridge which is reportedly said to have several Class 4/5 steps. Descend the gully.  In the winter you will have to rap the ice step which is half way down.

Lower gully.

Approaching the col below the summit.

East Face

First Ascent: Unknown
Rating: Unknown
The East Face has been climbed at least once.  Malcolm Herstand and Danny Dresher made an ascent somewhere on that face in March 2019, but Herstand did not think it was a first ascent.  I’ve heard rumors of an ascent (J. Dietzman) in the early 00s – but nothing was recorded.  This is a winter mixed route so expect steep technical climbing.  Likewise Kellie Okonek, Russell DeVries and Phil Hess skied two lines on this face in 2012 but they didn’t go to the summit.

Unclimbed Routes

The major unclimbed features are the West Face and the entire North Northwest Ridge starting from Peter’s Creek. Aside from that unclimbed routes would be steeper and more direct variations to existing routes.


Nantina Point (6,850’)

Approach

Depending on the route, approach via either Dishwater Creek or Icicle Creek.

Routes

South Face

First Ascent: Tim Kelley, Bill Spencer, Steve Bull; July 17, 1993
Rating: Class 3
This is the standard route of which there are two variations to reach the basin just below the upper South Face.  The first ascent route was via the waterfall route which follows the major gully just above the boulder bivy. This gully steepens until you encounter a waterfall on the climbers left side of the gully at 4300’.  Just past the waterfall you can scramble up Class 3 ledges to reach the upper basin.  The other option is to take the scree that is climbers right of  the gully. Ascend the scree ramp to 4900’ where you will be at the base of a 500’ gully that leads to the South Ridge of Kiliak. Ascend the gully and at the top you will have a short downclimb to reach the basin.  Once in the basin ascend any of the moderate south facing gullies to the summit. Descend the route.  Note that the waterfall route is more direct – however the objective hazards in this route are quite high and the base is riddled with rockfall.  Likewise a party in spring 2020 reported watching an avalanche dam up and the gully and later that night reported hearing an explosion where water backed up in the avalanche dam and eventually released dramatically.

Upper South Face; June 2018.

Upper South Face; May 2020.

West Face

First Ascent: Todd Pagel, Michael Kilbury, Isaac Howard, Richard Baranow, Cory Hinds; October 5-6, 2000.
Rating: Very steep Snow / Ice; Class 4/5 Rock
This route ascends a series of gullies on the West Face above the Crow Pass trail.  If you look up towards the peak you can more or less pick out a route – but according to the first ascent description it is much more complex than it seems.  The first ascent party reported steep mixed climbing where the gullies constricted and steep rock above the gullies.  They also reported being caught in an avalanche and were tumbled down a gully for a couple hundred feet.

After emerging from a constricted gully, we entered a wide basin and headed for the ridge top (4500 feet) where we hoped to bivy. A steep slope of old snow loaded with new snow on top led up and rolled over near the ridge top. Recognizing the obvious slide potential, we headed up the left margin next to the rock. About half way up the slope the snow depth dropped to about 2- inches, and I figured that a 2-inches slide wouldn’t hurt anybody, so I moved out to the center of the slope to follow the lower angle route to the ridge, and Isaac followed. After a few more steps, the snow depth increased to about 6- inches. Just as I thought about reconsidering my decision to leave the relatively protected margin, a 2-foot crown broke about 25 feet above me, and the whole slope started to slide. Avalanche! I yelled as I fought to keep from being swept down. It was futile; more snow kept coming, and it knocked Isaac and I off our stance and sent us tumbling down the slope a couple hundred feet. Richard had wisely remained at the margin and watched helplessly as we slid by. The others were further below and able to get out of the way.

We were a bit bruised and thoroughly shaken up, but thankfully, not hurt. We were not buried, but we were extremely lucky not to have been hurt by impacting rocks at the bottom of the slope. It was a lesson learned the hard way.

– Cory Hinds, Scree November 2001

Note that this ascent took place in October.  October/November often sees a brief weather window and climbers take advantage of it for difficult routes, however I know of at least 3 avalanche accidents that have occurred during these limited windows: the above incident, an avalanche on The Prism where an ice climber suffered a punctured lung, and Nick Coltman’s accident on Flattop.  Low snow doesn’t necessarily low danger.

West Face of Nantina from top of Compass Butte; June 2020.

West Face of Nantina Point. Photo taken from from camp below Polar Bear; May 2007.

Col of the Wild

First Ascent: Richard Baranow, Paul Hanis, Clint Helander; April 2008
Rating: WI4 M5 Steep Snow
This route is the obvious right facing couloir located at the Nantina / Kiliak col. Climb steep snow with intermittent short ice and mixed cruxes. Slings exist near the top to rappel the route. Helander’s writeup of the route is here.

Col between Nantina & Kiliak. Note the gully trending up and right – this is Col of the Wild. Photo taken from Korohusk; May 2008.

Darkness Falls

First Ascent: John Kelley, Kevin Ditzler; February 2011
Rating: VI M6 WI6 A2++
This is a difficult route that takes the obvious gash on the Northwest face as you approach the Kiliak rock glacier.  You can read about it here.

Unclimbed Routes

There is plenty of room for alpine routes between Col of the Wild and Darkness Falls.  Likewise the entire West Ridge has not been climbed.  Another route would be a linkup of Nantina and Kiliak via the ridge between the two.

Darkness Falls takes this cleft. May 2007.

 

View from the summit of West Kiliak.

Notes from ascents of West Kiliak (South Face) and Nantina (South Face)

These are notes from two different trips.  In June 2018 I did a solo trip into Icicle Creek and climbed the South Face of Nantina via the waterfall route.  In May 2020 I returned with Eric Parsons and we climbed the South Face of West Kiliak.  After descending we went up the gully below Kiliak to gain the Upper South Face of Nantina Point and I took a nap at the col while Eric ran to the summit and back. (Eric had agreed to join me for his second ascent of Kiliak if I would climb Nantina again – I reneged at the last minute much to his chagrin.)

As mentioned above, Icicle Creek is horrendous.  The brush is extremely thick, the route gains and loses elevation continuously and the bears are almost as thick as the alders.  On my June 2018 trip  I took the wrong access gully to reach the bench and overshot it by close to 1000’.  I then downclimbed and traversed a mile of alder tunnels that have been formed by sheep traversing back and forth between the ledges.  When I finally reached the bench I found the trail briefly but spent the next 5 hours finding and re-losing the trail (all the while screaming HEY BEAR) until finally emerging from the alders and staggering up to the moraine benches below the 5000’ North Face of Yukla.

Icicle Glacier.

The second time was earlier in the season (May 2, 2020) so Eric and I were able to more or less see where the trail was supposed to go (it was thoroughly brushed about 10 years ago) – but the alders have grown thick with the hot summers and there were several sections where alders 10’ tall and thick as our forearms had grown next to obvious cuts.

That said – total time the year I got hopelessly lost was around 6 hours and only 5 hours the time Eric and I went in May.  (But time seems to slow down when you are off the ground balancing through alder thickets.)

Camp below North Face of Yukla.

Looking down the waterfall gully.

Looking back at Yukla from halfway up Nantina.

On my June 2018 trip I spent the evening scrambling around on the exposed ice at the toe of Icicle Glacier.  The next morning I ascended the waterfall variation to reach the South Face of Nantina Point.   The waterfall route was fun in that it was a tight gully with large walls and a gushing waterfall that I had to tiptoe past, however the base of the route was riddled with rockfall and walking across snow bridges next to exposed waterfalls in the spring is a great way to have a bad day.

Past the waterfall the gully constricted and I had to climb a pitch of steep loose wet Class 3+ rock  to gain the easier ledges above.  These eventually lead to a basin at 5000’ where I had a choice of several mellow snow gullies to the summit.

The waterfall gully and the scree slope to access the upper basin.

Waterfall pitch.

When I came back in 2020 we reached the basin via gully that starts from the basin south of West Kiliak.  This obvious gully starts at 4500’ and ascends 500’ to a notch where you have to downclimb all of 200’ to reach the basin below Nantina.  To find it look for the obvious gully at the base of the steep South Ridge.  This is a much safer route choice, however the 1500’ slope leading to the gully is composed of unstable moraine from the  recently receded Icicle Glacier, so tread carefully.

Heading down the Nantina access gully; May 2020.

Once in the basin choose any of the gullies to the summit.  On my June there was a fair amount of recent avalanche debris so I stuck to rock ridges in-between the gullies to avoid avalanche danger.  When Eric ran up it in May the gullies were frozen solid and there was minimal avalanche danger.

While this peak is uninspiring when compared to her neighbors, the view looking down into Eagle River and up the Icicle Glacier towards Soggy is magnificent, and well worth the effort – especially if you can combine it with a trip up West Kiliak.

An amazing pano of the Icicle Glacier zone from the top of Nantina. Photo by Eric Parsons.

View of Icicle and Soggy from Nantina Point.

On our May 2020 trip Eric and I camped at the base of the waterfall and the next morning ascended the scree / talus slope to gain the hanging valley at the base of West Kiliak’s South Face. As mentioned above, this slope is steep and loose but by going earlier in the season and staying further up-valley we were able to kick steps up snow slopes.  The initial 1500’ is fairly steep but at 5000’ you reach a bench and get a good view of the route.

The route is reasonably straight forward but from the basin it can be hard to figure out which gullies to take.  In short you want to ascend 900’ via any of the initial gullies to gain a ledge system at 6000’.  At the ledge system you want to take the centermost gully which is at 61.212627, -149.135068. Look up and you should be able to see all the way to the summit.  Take this gully 1500’ to col just west of the summit.  At the col stay more or less on the ridge and scramble 100’ of Class 4 to the summit. Total distance / elevation from camp to summit is 3.5 miles and almost exactly 5000’.

Connecting the lower gully to the upper gully.

The nature of this route varies from season to season.  By mid-summer it’s mostly a scree route with the only difficulty being the summit ridge and route finding around the waterfall pitch halfway down the top gully.  When we climbed it we had 2500’ of steep neve which made for wonderful climbing going up, but front-pointing down the steep snow was tiring.  The lower gully is probably 35 degrees, but the upper gully averages 45 and the 50’ ice step midway steepens to maybe 60 degrees. The top 100’ is relatively easy climbing, but a slip would mean you bounce off the ridge and drop straight down the north face.  We climbed the route unroped and with only a single hybrid tool – however we rapped the lower ice step on the descent.

Moraine camp. Waterfall gully and scree / snow slopes are center left.

Ice step. Note boulder to the left – this is the rap station.

Final rock step to summit.

Summit selfie.

Mt. Yukla from Kiliak. Photo on left taken by Vin Hoeman on first ascent in 1968; photo on right taken by W Finley in 2020.

Descending from the col below the summit.

Descending from the summit.

Eric and I ascended and descended the route without incident.  The snow was rock hard and we were glad to have real mountain boots and decent crampons / axe.  The ice step was climbed with a single tool each and we were able to find decent handholds on the right side of the pitch which made up for the lack of second tool.  The final scramble was a short rock which was exciting in crampons, but easy enough.  And then a spectacular view looking down into Peter’s Creek and across at the imposing North Face of Yukla. And then down climbing forever with toes barely purchasing into the hard snow.  We found the rap anchor that Eric had left 10 years previously and then continued down.

Rapping down the ice step.

A detour for Eric to scramble up Nantina and then out the gift to masochists valley and out the Crow Pass trail to the Nature Center as the sky turned pink and began to darken.



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