Bellicose Peak (Shroud Glacier)

Bellicose Peak (7,640’) is the third highest peak in Chugach State Park, and by most accounts, the hardest to climb due to fickle conditions that only seem to materialize a few weeks each year.  The peak was first climbed in 1963 by John and William Bousman, who proposed the name Bellicose, “Due to its not positively belligerent attitude but its definitely surly and unpleasant nature.“ (J. Bousman, October 1963 Scree).

That reputation has continued to this day. Stories float around about climbers who pushed on in the wrong conditions. A lead fall on the Southwest Ridge, a harrowing descent in deteriorating weather down an unknown ridge, point release avalanches ripping past climbers who chose to ignore ridge tops winds. It is difficult to approach and the easiest route requires a whole gamut of skills including glacier travel, a bergschrund hop and 5th class climbing on easy but horrid quality rock. There are almost as many stories of epics as there are of successful ascents and even a straight forward, boring ascent usually involves at least some fiasco be it rockfall on the approach or unpleasant bergschrund exploration.

The Eklutna Glacier and Bellicose Peak (center right); September 2014.

Approach

Depending on the route choice one either approaches Bellicose via Ram Valley or Eklutna Lake. The Ram Valley route (12 miles, 7K elevation gain / 4K loss) is the preferred winter / spring approach for the Northwest Ridge / Shroud Glacier route. This route takes you over Bombardment Pass and Rumble Pass (the col between Rumble and Peters). All other routes / variations are approached via Eklunta. For a late spring / early summer ascent of the Northwest Ridge / Shroud one must gain the valley east of Bellicose / Benign.  This can be gained either via the Dead Goat Gully approach for Benign Peak (17 miles / 4K elevation gain) or by going up and down gullies on the far end of the Northeast ridge from the Eklunta Glacier.  Do not be tempted to ascend the gully that drains this valley.  This gully is in a state of rapid transition and the rocks are extremely unstable (<- you want to read that story).  The rest of the routes listed are accessed via the West Fork of the Eklutna Glacier total travel just to reach the base of the routes is roughly 20 miles / 6K elevation gain.

Routes

There are 4 known routes on the peak, plus one route that has seen a couple attempts and a descent, but no known ascent.  All the routes require technical climbing skills to ascend and descend, and all require a complicated and long approach.  Aside from the known routes, there are several variations and faces that have yet to see ascents.

Southwest Ridge

First Ascent: John Bousman, William Bousman, August 20, 1963
Rating: Class 5
This route, climbed by the Bousman brothers, was the first ascent of the peak.  The ascended to the Peters / Bellicose col and then followed the ridge to the summit with one 80’ rappel off a gendarme into a col just below the final scree slopes.  They descended the route.  It got dark and John Bousman descended much of the route with a flashlight in his mouth with the Northern Lights “draped on the sky”.

Our route along the southwest ridge took some 12 hours up and back. Leaving the col at noon, we scrambled forth over alternately fairly good and quite loose rock. For the rest of the afternoon we worked between the ridge line and the south face until only a short series of gendarmes stood between us and the top. These we finished with an 80-foot rappel from some blocks onto the final col before we climbed scree to the top at six p.m. Our last three hours down the ridge were in the blackest night. Northern lights draped the sky and it was a beautiful sight.
– John Bousman; 1964 American Alpine Journal

Greg Higgins and Jim Sprott attempted this ridge in 1985 but turned around at 7000’.  They rapped onto the South Face and then descended gullies back to the glacier.  Willy Hersman, Jim Sayler and Karen Cafmeyer also attempted this route in August 1987. Hersman took a lead fall at 7100’ and they backed off shortly afterwards.

At 7100 three towering gendarmes blocked the way to the easy-looking summit block.  The climbing called for a rope, so off I went on Jim’s belay. Within 10 minutes I found myself dangling over the east face, victim of Chugach crud. I had barely touched the rock which chose that instant to disintegrate.  I hung for a moment thinking of Pat Murray and two broken arms in a bout with rotten rock a few years ago. I readjusted my helmet and went back up.
– Willy Hersman, September 1987 Scree

Gerrit Verbeek on Moonlight Peak. In the background is the base of the SW Ridge; July 2020.

Southwest Ridge from East Kiliak; August 2010.

Southeast Face

First Ascent: Brian Okonek, Dick Griffith; July 1976
Rating: Steep Snow/Ice
This route was climbed in mid-summer and the first ascent party followed a “7 foot deep runnel with an ice bottom” that transitioned to snow averaging 45 degrees all the way to the summit.  They summited at 6am and descended the same route. (Okonek and Griffith ascended this route the day after making the second ascent of Beelzebub – also via a new route the West Ridge). Since the first ascent there have been rumors of subsequent ascents, but names and dates are unknown.  It should be noted that while Bellicose is notoriously fickly in terms of conditions, this route is especially fickle.  I have walked and skied past this face 6 times (in both spring and summer) and have seen gullies that may go, but they have never seemed safe enough to climb and either avalanche danger or rockfall has always seemed too high to justify an attempt.

Southeast face of Bellicose (peak just left of center gendarme) from Beelzebub; July 2012.

East Face from White Lice; July 2020.

Northwest Ridge / Shroud Glacier

First Ascent: Willy Hersman, Tom Choate, Mike Miller; August 14, 1987
Rating: Steep Snow / Class 5
Willy Hersman and Stu Grenier first attempted this route a few weeks after Hersman’s attempt of the Southwest ridge. They approached via Wall Street. Grenier turned around low on the Shroud (the hanging glacier on the West face) and Hersman made it to the bergschrund before turning around after looking into the hole and realizing he should have a rope.  Hersman returned a couple weeks later with Tom Choate and Mike Miller*. This time they approached via the Benign / Bellicose col and downclimbed to the Shroud and then ascended up the glacier with a rope to gain the Northwest Ridge up high and make the 3rd ascent of the peak.

This route was first skied by Zach Shlosar, Aaron Thrasher and Michael Burmeister sometime around 2015.  Sam Johnson and Ryan Hokanson made the second descent in spring 2020.

(* Mike Miller also made the first ascent of Mitre Might in 1987 with Charlie Sassara, Brian Canard and Karl Swanson. Mitre Might is a 450m Grade V ice route that is located right in front of the Bellicose / Benign gully.)

Lower part of the Shroud from West Kiliak; May 2020.

Top portion of the Shroud from Benign; September 2014.

Top portion of the Shroud from Peeking; April 2010.

Northwest Ridge (entire ridge)

First Descent: Ross Noffsinger, Richard Baranow and Cory Hinds; Spring 2003
Rating: Class 5
The entire Northwest Ridge (from the col where climbers descend to gain Shroud Glacier) has seen at least 2 attempts and a successful descent.  Vin Hoeman and Dave Johnston attempted the route (date unknown) and the same day Hersman and Grenier attempted the Shroud, Greg Higgins attempted the Northwest Ridge. Hersman reported seeing Higgens high on a rock face above the glacier and Higgens turned around at an unknown point.

The route was descended by Ross Noffsinger, Richard Baranow and Cory Hinds in spring 2003.  They ascended the Shroud but snow conditions deteriorated and they opted to descend the ridge to minimize avalanche danger. Noffsinger’s description of the descent is copied below.  Cory has a history of descending harrowing routes, but if you ask Ross about the route he is quick to tell you it is not recommended.

Since the sun had come out and was now baking the slope, it was determined that we should unrope and spread out. Our intent was to traverse the slope above the crevassed glacier to a point where we could gain the ridge crest. By down climbing the ridge we would minimize exposure to the ever increasing avalanche potential.

After traversing the slope for several hundred yards, we regained the ridge at roughly 6700 feet. Since the ridge was steep and exposed on both sides, we roped up with Cory in the lead, me in the middle and Richard at the end. As we descended, the ridge became very narrow with broken rock cliffs over a hundred feet high on each side. Below the cliffs were steep snow fields followed by more cliffs and finally the valley floor some 2000 feet below. We encountered short sections of exposed class 5 down climbing on snow, ice and rock. In a few places the ridge top turned into a knife edge which required shimmying saddle horse style on your butt while looking thousands of feet down into the valleys on either side. It became evident that we would be better off on the questionable snow slopes below, so we started to look for a point we could rappel from. The only problem was that our rope was not nearly long enough to reach the snow slope below. After descending about 300 feet we reached a big step in the ridge which required a full length rappel to reach the ridge top below. From this point we were able to rappel off the east side of the ridge, our rope barely reaching the steep snow slope.

Richard, who was the first to rappel, set off an avalanche just after he let go of the rope. Luckily his crampons bit into an ice layer below the snow that broke loose. Otherwise he would have followed the snow down the mountain and over a series of cliff bands. Cory rapped down second and I third. When I reached Cory, he was anchored to the mountain with a cam. I clipped in and Cory belayed Richard across the steep rotten snow to bare ground. Richard then belayed me and then Cory across. At this point we were able to cross over to the west side of the ridge and descend a steep snow slope to the Wall Street Glacier. Even though the sun was baking the slope, the snow was well consolidated from previous avalanche activity. We hiked across the glacier and ascended 800 feet to Rumble Pass. The 2500 foot descent to camp was facilitated by extensive boot glissading on well packed snow.
– Ross Noffsinger, August 2003 Scree

Freer’s Cheers

First Ascent: Evan Phillips, Carl Oswald; May 1998
Rating: WI3, 5.8
Evan Phillips and Carl Oswald climbed this difficult route in the spring of 1998.  The full account submitted to the AAJ is copied below.  It should be noted that what Phillips referrers to as the Northeast Ridge is called the Northwest Ridge by other parties. The ridge actually makes a sharp curve and while the final 400’ trends northeast, the majority of the 1500’ ridge trends northwest.

In May, 1998, Carl Oswald and I headed into the Eklutna Valley with sights set on a new route up Bellicose Peak (7,640′). After biking 12 miles, we stashed our ’cycles and walked up the snout of the Eklutna Glacier. We headed up the drainage where a beautiful frozen waterfall, called Freer’s Tears, after the late Catherine Freer, sits. After skirting steep rock buttresses, we gained a beautiful alpine valley nestled between Bellicose and its giant neighbor, Benign Peak. We bivied under a large boulder, surrounded by alpine flowers and crystal-clear brooks. We woke at 5 a.m. and were moving at 6. After following a pocket glacier, we headed for a steep couloir that snaked its way up the whole face. We climbed a short rock step and then followed the gully for another 300 feet to another, longer step. Carl led this 100-foot 5.8 R section with tools and crampons scratching. Two more pitches of WI3+ took us to more steep snow climbing up to 55 degrees. We exited the 2,500-face around 1 p.m. and followed the classic Northeast Ridge to the summit. Our route was the ninth recorded ascent of Bellicose since its first ascent in the early 1960s by the Bousman brothers, Tom and Bob. It was also the first route up the imposing northeast face.

We descended the shroud on the northwest side and skirted the mountain up through the Bellicose-Benign Col, arriving back in camp 14 hours after leaving. After a good night’s rest, we bailed and cruised back out to our bikes and civilization. We named the route Freer’s Cheers (IV 5.8 R WI3+) in honor of the great hardwoman.
– Evan Phillips, 2001 American Alpine Journal

Freer’s Cheers, July 2020.

The entire North face from Benign. September 2014.

Unclimbed Routes

Shroud Direct:  As far as I know no climber has ascended the steep ice rib that is on the far climbers right of the Shroud.  In winter / spring this rib is 1-2 pitches of deep blue glacier ice. It would be a wonderful direct variation. 

Northeast Ridge:  The entire ridge from the bench above the Eklutna has not been climbed.  You can easily reach the bench at 4200’ from the glacier and the ridge looks straightforward until 6000’ but after that you will encounter steep loose rock.  It’s a big route with no easy way off so caveat emptor.

Northwest Ridge:  As noted above, this ridge has been descended – but has not seen an ascent.  Expect lots of loose rock and steep 5th class climbing.

West Face: This is the 2500’ face climber’s right of the Shroud.  You’ll have to climb 1000’ of steep snow / ice to get to a 1000’ wall split by a huge Y shaped cleft. There is also a steep mixed couloir of the right side of this wall.  This is one of the biggest walls in Chugach State Peak and would be an extremely difficult technical route.

Map of the routes embedded below. Click here to view it full-sized.

An Account of an ascent of the Northwest Ridge / Shroud Glacier

I have stared at Bellicose from just about every angle for over 20 years.  I’ve been up and over Bombardment several times with the West Face staring at me, I’ve camped on ridge tops above Peter’s Creek and gone to sleep with the Shroud bathed in golden light out the tent door,  I’ve climbed peaks to the North, South, East and West and stood on summits looking across ridges to trace lines to the summit.  And yet until July 2020, I had never had the right combination of weather, snow conditions and partners to give the peak a try.

And then magically in July 2020 the perfect window opened: We had a week of cooler temps, followed by a high pressure system that was supposed to last at least 5 days.  Gerrit Verbeek signed on early and Eric Parsons jumped in last minute and on Wednesday, July 1st we left the Eklutna Lake at 11am.

Our plan was the go up the Benign / Dead Goat Gully approach and camp in the basin at the base of the Northeast face of Bellicose. The next day we would ascend to the col and then descend the West face to gain the Shroud Glacier which we would take to the Northwest Ridge and hopefully the summit.

We reached the base of Benign quick enough and then transferred gear from bike to backpack and began the bushwhack / grovel that leads to the gully. An hour and a half after emerging from the brush at the bottom of Benign we were up the gully and standing on the point above Serenity Falls.

A touch of route finding error and then down to the river and across and up to the tundra bench that hovers above the Eklutna Glacier.  And finally 6 hours after leaving the truck we were setting up tents in a beautiful meadow with bare feet in tundra and staring across the valley at the mountain we had come to climb.

Toe of the Eklunta Glacier – July 2020.

Toe of the Eklunta Glacier – September 2014.

Up at 5am the next morning and hiking a little after 6am.  We made it to the Benign / Bellicose col an hour later, took a brief break and then scrambled across Class 3 rock bands to gain the 6170’ col at 8:30am.

We had been warned that some years the col could be melted out at the top and that a fixed rope for the return would be prudent.  I had brought 30m of 6mm and rigged an anchor at the col.  Eric and Gerrit didn’t bother with the rappel and downclimbed the steep snow (50 degrees at most – but over a short rock band) while I rapped down to rig the rope for the return.  After that it was 900’ of downhill traversing on 35/40 degree snow that was perfect in the cool morning temperatures.

Gerrit traversing to the Shroud.

We downclimbed to 5200’ where the snow band eventually gained the tongue of the Shroud glacier.  From that point it was 2000’ of snow and 400’ of mixed terrain to the summit.  Transitioning to uphill travel after the tiring downclimb over cliff bands was a nice change and we made quick time up the lower climbers left portion of the glacier until finally moving out in the center where we roped up for the crevasses that stretched across the entire glacier.

Looking up at the Shroud and the top part of the ridge.

Eric took the first lead and put us up and over the initial holes. We protected with 2 pickets and swapped out leads when we the gear ran out.  I took the next lead and climbed over 2 other bands of crevasses until we were finally on the steep headwall above the crevasses. We then unroped and took turns breaking trail up the 50 degree headwall to the ridge.

Snow quality on the headwall had been deep questionable soft snow and we were a tad concerned about avalanches, but it was chilly and lightly snowing so we figured conditions would remain stable for several hours.  So without delay we set off for the next portion of the route.

A short section of moderate snow lead us to the rock pitch – a 100’ section of low 5th class crumbling rock. The weather was closing in and snow swirled around in the stiff breeze.  I was getting cold and put on my rain pants and a puffy while Gerrit handed Eric the rope since he had lead this section twice before.  Eric started up the steep part, backed off and traversed around to a manky gully of shattered rock covered in ice.  Halfway up he placed a pin in a seam that might have held body weight and then took it to the rap anchor which is exactly 100’ from the belay point.

Gerrit followed and then me.  I marveled at the absolute abysmal quality of the rock while attempting to keep my feet from skating out from under me on the ice.  The piton was surprisingly solid and the rap anchor looped an entire horn that was truly solid.

We regrouped and then Eric ran off again quickly traversing the next pitch which was a 100’ Class 4 pitch with decent rock and horns that would accept slings for gear.  And then one more regrouping and removal of the rope and climbing the final 200’ of easy snow to the summit.

Summit selfie above the Eklutna Glacier.

Eric scoping West Kiliak.

Northwest face of Peril Peak.

On the summit the clouds lifted and the wind died and we collapsed on the ground and removed our wet boots and wet jackets and laid down for a rest.  Below us the Eklutna Glacier glistened in the sun with islands of mountains rising out of the ice.

Downclimbing steep snow to the rock pitches.
And then down.  The sun was rapidly warming the slopes and we hastened to return before having to repeat the epics of past partiers who had encountered bad snow.  We roped up for the traverse and rapped 30m down to the easy slopes below.

Gerrit on the traverse pitch.

Eric on the traverse pitch.

Eric rigging the rap.

Gerrit on the rap.

We descended the headwall unroped.  The snow was deep and wet and changing rapidly.  We downclimbed fast knowing that point releases were becoming more of a possibility every minute.

At the crevasses we roped up again and quickly downclimbed to the lower glacier.  The bergschrund was good for 5 crossings.  3 on the way up and 2 on the way down. Gerrit and I made it across and Eric pitched in with a yell. Luckily he caught himself on the lower wall and quickly hauled himself out with his legs dangling in the darkness below.

We unroped and descended the rest of the glacier quickly and then booted back up the 900’ traverse to the col.  The sun had melted out the snow near the top and a seam of thin ice covered the rock bands just below the anchor.  I was glad for the rope as I jugged to the anchor.

The ascent back to the col. Note the footprints to see where we went over. Also note the rock band near the top that melted out while we were on route.

Then down down down.  We spent another night in our camp and hiked out at 6am in golden light the next morning. Back at the car by 10am and ice cream for breakfast and home by noon.  A wonderful adventure.  Thanks to Eric & Gerrit for joining in.  Major props to Eric for leading the crumbling choss tower. (He loves that stuff.)

Route Info

Bellicose Northwest Ridge / Shroud Glacier

First Ascent: Willy Hersman, Tom Choate, Mike Miller; August 14, 1987
Rating: Steep Snow / Class 5

Approach Notes

Wall Street Approach (winter / early spring route)
One can reach the base of the Shroud Glacier via Wall Street Glacier and ascend steep snow over rock slabs to gain the glacier.  To get to Wall Street start at Ram Valley and go over Bombardment and then Rumble Pass (Rumble / Peters col).  This is the preferred winter / early spring route.  By late-May the lower slopes have melted out and this route becomes impassible due to rockfall and rock slabs.

Benign / Bellicose Col Approach (late spring / early summer route)
Get to the Benign / Bellicose col via either the Benign approach or the Eklutna Glacier gully approach. Once at the col travel start up the Northwest Ridge (trend left of the ridgeline to avoid a pitch of Class 4) until a notch at 6170’ which is just below the start of the towers on the Northwest Ridge. From the notch downclimb 900’ of 35-40 degree snow until gaining Shroud Glacier. Note that some parties leave a fixed rope at this col (30m will suffice) since the return can be involved if the snow is melted out.  (I shouldn’t have to say this – but please remove your fixed rope at the end of the day.)

Route Notes

Once on the Shroud Glacier ascend 800’ of mellow 30 degree snow until you reach the obvious crevasses.  Rope up here and ascend 500’ of crevassed 40 degree snow.  You probably want to unrope above the crevasses since the danger of avalanches is greater than the danger of falling – however the angle steepens to 50 degrees so you could also protect with pickets if you desire.

Gain the ridge at 7100’ and ascend easy snow until the rock step at 7300’.  The rock step is exactly 30m of easy 5th class climbing to an anchor on the ridge. This is followed by a 30m Class 4 traverse pitch. Above the rock ascend easy snow to the summit.

Descend the route.  The rap is rigged for a single 60m rope.

Gear Notes

Carry glacier gear and a light rack.  We hauled 2 screws and 2 pickets for the glacier.  We protected the 5th class rock pitch with a lost arrow piton and slung horns.  We protected the traverse with a slung horns.  I would suggest 2 lost arrows and 2 knifeblades and an assortment of long slings / cord.  You might be able to get a cam in somewhere but I doubt it would hold.

You will need 60m of rope for the rap station.  We carried 2 30m 6mm ropes and 30m of 8mm.  One 30m rope was fixed at the col and the others were used for climbing.  The leader used the 8mm and the 3rd climber was on a 6mm. Note that climbing rock on a Petzl 6mm line is not manufacturer recommended.



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