Moonlight Mountain (Northwest Glacier) & White Lice (West Ridge)

Moonlight Mountain (6270’) and White Lice (6650’+) lie near the eastern edge of Chugach State park on the Eklutna Glacier – Moonlight Peak being the peak that lies just off the West Fork the summit just above a hanging valley that is on the southern flanks of Bellicose.  The glacier on the north side of the peak used to connect to the West Fork, but in the past 15 years it has receded and now close to 500’ of rock is exposed.

White Lice is the tallest peak on the ridge that separates the Eklutna glacier from the East Fork of the Eklutna River.  Just a side note – USGS data shows that White Lice is 6650’ and The Mitre as 6651’ – however USGS lists the South Peak of White Lice as the summit and subsequent research (i.e Ross Noffsinger tromping around all aspects of the peak with a GPS) has shown the North Peak to be slightly higher.  Thus I’m calling White Lice as the tallest peak on the ridge.

Both peaks are fun climbs – Moonlight Mountain having a wonderful moderate snow route all the way to the summit which would be a great intro route for Chugach glacier mountaineers – whereas White Lice is for the choss connoisseur with lots of exposed Class 3+ scrambling, a steep snow/ice slope and a short pitch of Class 4 decomposing rock.

Northwest Glacier of Moonlight Mountain from Transcendence Pass. August 2018.

Moonlight Mountain (6,270′)

While Moonlight Mountain is over 6000′, it is overshadowed by surrounding peaks that are closed to 1000′ taller and much more dramatic.  That said – it is situated in a unique spot with a beautiful view of the West Fork of the Eklutna from the summit perch. Likewise the rapidly changing landscape surrounding by the peak makes the route seem wild in nature despite the moderate climbing.

The peak was first climbed on September 11, 1965 by Gerry Garland, Jr.; Frank Godfrey, Jr.; and J. Sergeant, presumably by the Northwest Glacier ramp which is the standard route.  Since then it has seen a fair number of ascents, the majority being by the Northwest Glacier. In a sad byline to this – Frank Godfrey Jr., who was on the first ascent party in 1965, died of exposure in a storm on the Eklutna Glacier in May 1966 with Ann Kroenung.  There’s a short snippet in the June 1966 Scree about AMRG’s involvement:

On May 8th AMG (Alaska Rescue Group) was called to assist the AMU (Alaska Methodist University*) students in trouble on the Eklutna Glacier.  A helicopter from RCC was summoned to the west end of the Lake, and at 4:00pm seven climbers were air lifted to the Glacier.  Unfortunately this rescue mission ended in tragedy as two of the students had perished due to exhaustion and exposure before the MRG members arrived.  The helicopter evacuated the remaining students to the Hospital and the ARG members brought the vehicles back to Anchorage.
– Scree, June 1966
Note – Alaska Pacific University was established in 1957 as Alaska Methodist University in 1957. It was renamed to Alaska Pacific University in 1978.

Approach

Moonlight is best approached via the standard Ekultna Glacier / Pichler’s Perch route. In the summer months it can also be approached via Inferno Pass, however the descent to the route / subsequent return would make for a long tour. In spring it can also be approached via Transcendence Pass. Note that Transcendence melts out early so it shouldn’t be attempted any later than early June.

Northwest Glacier and West Ridge (right skyline). Photo July 2020.

North Face of Moonlight (peak in foreground) from the summit of Bellicose. July 2020.

Routes

Northwest Glacier

First Ascent: Gerry Garland, Jr., Frank Godfrey, Jr., and J. Sergeant; September 11, 1965
Rating: Class 3
This route is fairly straightforward and easy to access from the West Fork of the Eklutna Glacier;  basically gain the hanging glacier at the base of the Northwest Face and then angle up the face (staying climbers left to avoid the bergschrund).  At the top aim for a gully on the left hand side of the summit block.  Scramble up this gully and then work your way to the summit via Class 3+ rock. It should be noted that the bergschrund at the base of this route turns into a big gaper by August, so roping up for this zone is a good idea. This route has been skied at least once (April 2020), although it’s a fairly obvious line and within a few hours of resident hard-man Zach Shlosar’s backyard so I’d be surprised if Zach & Co. hadn’t skied it prior.

West Ridge

First Ascent: Unknown
Rating: Class 4
The only other route I’m familiar with is the West Ridge which J.T Lindholm and Eric Parsons climbed by gaining the ridge near the Transcendence / Moonlight col via the glacier south of the peak. (Note: Richard Baranow and Wendy Sanem climbed Moonlight after climbing Sunlight in June 1996 and they probably climbed this ridge given its proximity to Sunlight.) The route was moderate until they gained the sub-peak west of the summit, however descending to the glacier ramp required some difficult downclimbing on fractured rock.  Once they gained the snow they joined the normal route.  Eric also fell in a crevasse later that day and afterwards they decided to rope up.

Joe Chmielowski on Ovis with White Lice in the background. The North Ridge is the left trending ridge. The West Ridge is the right trending ridge with the glacier remnant near the top. The summit is the second bump to the right of where the North and West ridges meet. September 2018.

White Lice Mountain (6,650′)

White Lice is the hulking peak that borders the east side of the Eklutna Glacier.  From the Ovis / White Lice col to the north and to the Pellet col to the south is a distance of almost two miles and when you’re skiing up glacier it seems like you’re underneath it forever.  First climbed solo by Vin Hoeman in 1961, it has seen a rich history of ascents, routes and controversy  over the years.

In regards to the name, Willy Hersman has a short snippet in the September 1987 Scree:

I always misunderstood the name of this peak, it seems so ridiculous.  Tom said it might have been a joke by Vin Hoeman.  When John Muir encountered domestic sheep in the otherwise pristine Sierras he would sometimes refer to them as “hoofed locusts”.  It’s possible that Vin was reminded of this when he climbed this peak in 1961 and saw sheep on the ridges below, and called them “white lice”.
– Willy Hersman, Scree, September 1987

It should also be noted that for years climbers regarded the South summit as the true summit (which is what is marked as the summit by USGS), however in the September 2011 Scree Ross Noffsinger wrote a lengthy article where he debunked the notion that the South Peak was the true summit by analyzing photos taken from multiple aspects surrounding the peaks.  His conclusion was that the North Peak was slightly higher – and likewise he concluded that White Lice was the tallest point on the ridge.

From the summit of White Lice, one can look directly over the top of The Mitre and see a lower ridge in the distance, thus establishing White Lice as the high point on the Mitre/Ovis/White Lice massif. The narrowness and extreme relief on both the east and west sides of this massif make it one of the most spectacular geological features in the Chugach State Park. In the vicinity of The Mitre, the relief on both the east and west sides of the ridge exceeds 5,000 vertical feet of rise in less than one mile of horizontal distance.
– Ross Noffsinger , Scree, September 2011

This opened a can of worms in the local community given that several climbers who had climbed all 120 Chugach State Park highpoints had climbed the South Peak, and thus their achievement was considered incomplete.  A petty argument – but climbers tend to get upset about things that the general public consider insignificant.

Approach

All known routes are approached via the standard Ekultna Glacier / Pichler’s Perch route.  Be wary of crevasses.

Routes

Southeast Ridge

First Ascent: Vin Hoeman; 1961
Rating: Class 4
This was the Vin Hoeman’s first ascent route that he soloed in 1961.  The second ascent was in 1962 by Paul Crews, Paul Crews Jr, Dale Hagen, Rod Wilson and Greg Erikson.  Following that it saw several more ascents – the most recent one being by Wayne Todd and Ross Noffsinger in September 2010.  Wayne described the route as “quite the pile of garbage rock with frequent and prolonged exposure”.  As far as route descriptions go – gain the ridge via the col between White Lice and Pellet Point and work your way up the rotten rock.  Wayne and Ross climbed it in late September with snow on route and used a rope in a couple sections.  Descend the route.  (Note: early parties referred to this as the Southeast Ridge – but the route starts further south than east.)

West Ridge

First Ascent: Unknown
Rating: Class 4
I don’t know who first climbed this route, but it was probably sometime around 1964 when Pichler’s Perch was first built.  The route pretty much starts at the hut door – just start hiking uphill.  The first 1000’ is easy Class 3 however between 5500’ and 6000’ there is a long section of exposed Class 3+ rock with wild exposure that you have to creep along.  Above the rock you can traverse out onto the remnants of a glacier and kick steps to the intersection with the North Ridge. Once on the ridgetop traverse south for 1500’ on rotten rock with terrific exposure until you reach an obvious notch with a large chockstone you can use for a rap anchor.  We had a single 30m rope which we fixed at this anchor and descended to the end of the line and then climbed a steep snow/ice gully to gain easier rock to the summit. (Note – When Dave Hart / Ross Noffsinger climbed this route they bypassed the rap by downclimbing a gully skiers right of the rap anchor.) On the return we ascended the rope to avoid climbing the shattered rock. Descend the North Ridge.

North Ridge

First Ascent: Vin Hoeman; 1961
Rating: Class 3 to notch then Class 4
Like the West Ridge, the first ascent party for this route is unknown.  This route is a bit easier than the West Ridge, however you still have to descend the notch which is the crux of the West Ridge. Gain this route at the Ovis / White Lice col.  This is also the easier descent for parties opting to climb the West Ridge.  Note – to reach the start of the route (or return to the hut) ascend (or descend) the glacier that is on the North side of the West ridge.  The top of this slope is at 5200’.  If descending this route don’t make the mistake of downclimbing to 4500’ in the hopes of scrambling up rock to gain the hut.

White Lice Couloir (Class 5)

First Ascent: Charlie Sassara, Alan Juliard; September 1979
Rating: Class 5
This route is the obvious dramatic couloir this is directly above the hut. This was first climbed by Charlie Sassara and Alan Juliard in September 1979 (note – Julian is the climber who first cleaned & climbed the routes on the Service Boulder). In the hut log Charlie described the route has having ice and rotten rock up to 70 degrees. The crux was climbing out of the notch at the top of the gully.  In person Charlie tells an amazing story about the route and the act of “letting go” as a young alpinist. The story is about him letting go physically and fully throwing his body into the act of climbing.  After descending the route he tells about running into an old timer in the hut who implored them to let go of emotional restraints and to live the life he had glimpsed on the route.  If you ever run into Charlie on the trails ask for the story – it’s a gem.

This route was skied by Joe Stock, Andy Newton and Jeff Conaway in May 2011.  In the hut log Joe writes that they encountered “sustained 47 degree skiing” – however I do not believe they climbed out of the gully to the summit.

Unclimbed Routes

The East Face has not seen an ascent – although given the poor rock quality I have no idea why anyone would try it.  Likewise the peak has not been traversed – and the MOWL (Mitre / Ovis / White Lice) traverse is one of the big unclimbed objectives in the park. I also have not heard of anyone who have traversed between the North and South summit – which would require descending into and out of the White Lice Couloir notch.

South Ridge of White Lice. September 2020.

Top of North and West Ridges of White Lice.

White Lice Couloir from the hut. May 2013.

East Face of White Lice from Kelly Peak. September 2020.


Notes from ascents of Moonlight (Northwest Glacier) and White Lice (West Ridge)

I made three unsuccessful attempts on Moonlight before finally making the summit on July 2020.  The zone tends to hold clouds and weather and the storm systems often move up Eagle River valley and spill over onto the West Fork so you often don’t even see them coming until it’s too late.  On a May 2013 attempt Eric Parson and I made it to the base of the route only for a storm to move and close off visibility entirely.  We descended the glacier on skis by slinging a rope downhill for depth perception.

Eric descending to the Eklutna during a whiteout on Moonlight! May 2013.

Ping-pong ball conditions.

In August 2018 I gained Transcendence Pass in mid-August with Lee Helzer and balked at the open bergschrund.  If you want to climb it late season you’ll want good boots / crampons and a rope / pickets for the bergschrund crossing.

In May 2019 Kakiko Ramos-Leon and I skied in from Eklutna Lake one day with the intention of approaching and climbing the route in a single day.  We made it all the way to the base of the route when the snow started dumping hard and we were forced to turn around.  The next day we descended the Eklutna in a total whiteout while navigating by GPS and probe. The ski descent down the final part of the glacier was a sickening drop where we couldn’t tell up from down. And the moraine at the base, which had been bone dry the day before, was coated in a foot of wet powder and we probably each fell a dozen times.

Kakiko heading up to Moonlight on a perfect day.

Weather getting worse…

Weather officially bad.

On my forth attempt (July 2020) Gerrit Verbeek and I biked and hiked in from Ekultna in a day and made it to the base when a storm rolled in and pinned us down for an hour.  We cowered under a tent fly and Gerrit told me I was cursed. The weather cleared around 7pm and we ditched our overnight gear and ran up the route, summiting at 8:45pm and back to our camp on the moraine bench above the West Fork by 10pm.

As mentioned prior, the Northwest Glacier route itself is straightforward.  Gain the glacier ramp on the far climbers right side of the slope and climb up and left.  In early season you could probably ski right up the middle of the face, but by June the bergschrund will start to open and by August you’ll  find bare glacier ice above the ‘schrund.  Once safely above the crevasses aim for the lower angle slopes that lead to the col between the summit and the sub-peak to the west.  Gain the small basin between these peaks and the aim for the gully that is on the climbers left side of the snow slope.  When Gerrit and I climbed it the gully had recently melted out and was wet and loose.  Gerrit lead up the choss and belayed me to the top – and while I was thankful for the rope we ended up not using it on the down since there was no good belay anchor – and found it to be relatively easy descending without a rope. Above the gully I lead a short pitch up shattered rock to gain the final summit block and then we put away the rope for the rest of the route (and the descent).  We descended the route, stopping to rope up before descending to the bergschrund.

That night we camped on the grassy bench above the West Fork of the Eklutna and were treated to an amazing sunset that turned all the surrounding mountains a deep pink.  In the morning we detoured to where the Moonlight glacier lobe is draining into the Eklutna glacier.  Several years ago this was an ice cave, but now the ice has melted back and the exposed ice is cross section of the West Fork towering above your head.  It’s a wild spot.

Camp above the West Fork. Western Mountaineering sent me a new bag this summer – the Flylite. It’s crazy light and perfect for summer adventures.

Looking down at where the West Fork and the lobe by Moonlight.

Close up of the glacier walls.

The day after we climbed Moonlight, Gerrit Verbeek and I climbed the West Ridge of White Lice and descended the North Ridge.  We woke up, trekked across the Ekultna glacier, dropped out overnight gear in the hut and climbed the route, reaching the summit in 5 hours.

The zone where the Main and West Forks of the Eklutna Glacier meet. This zone melt out in our lifetime and the glaciers will no longer meet. Read the full USGS study here.

The West Ridge begins with easy hiking from the hut (4200’) up grass and scree to a knoll at 5200’.  Above the knoll the ridge narrows and from around 5400’ to 5800’ the route ascends little but traverses around 1500’ of Class 3+ rock that is relatively sound (compared to the rest of the route).  We scrambled across the exposed ridge carefully, given the rock was still slick in places from rain the night before.  Above the traverse, the exposure eased off but the angle steepened. We stuck to the rocky ridge for a short distance and then were able to traverse over to the snow and kick steps to the intersection with the North Ridge.  It should be noted that by August the snow will have melted off and the upper part of the ridge may have sections of glacier ice if you traverse too far climbers left.

At the intersection with the North Ridge we had easy travel for several hundred feet as we traversed the ridge towards the summit.  That said – of all the peaks I’ve done in the Chugach, White Lice ranks near the bottom in terms of rock quality.  In places there are several deep chasms that you have to traverse around / jump over where the ridge appears to be pulling away from the mountain.   In other places rock the size of refrigerators are  precariously balanced and move when you put your weight on them.  Noting this we traversed the ridge carefully until finally reaching the notch just below the final summit block.

On the summit ridge. The immense and unclimbed North Ridge of Peril is directly in front. On the center right you can see Moonlight and where the glacier has receded in recent years.

The final obstacle to the summit is a steep chossy notch you must descend for 30m and then climb out of via another steep chossy gully that will take you to the summit.  We had been told to carry a 30m rope for this section – and upon reaching the notch we found the chockstone which we wrapped with a long piece of cord.  Then I did a careful rap / climbing traverse where I descended for about 20m then carefully climbed across a rock ledge to reach another gully.  A slip here would mean you bounce about 15’ down into the gully – but the rope should stop you from tumbling the remaining 1500’ down the mountain.  At the end of the rope we then scrambled up an icy gully to gain easier rock which lead to the summit. A brief rest on the summit and then we retraced our steps back down.  A careful downclimb to the rope which we then ascended back to the anchor and then back across the summit ridge to the intersection with the West Ridge.

Summit selfie.

Gerrit up the choss notch.

We opted to descend the North Ridge which is quite a bit easier than the West Ridge – it being mostly a broad gravel slope with only a few short sections of exposure.  The descent down the North Ridge to the Ovis col took another 2 hours.  Gerrit hadn’t climbed Ovis so he scrambled up the south gully while I leisurely hiked back to the hut in a total of 8 hours which I’d estimate to be an average timeframe.  Note:  if you’re returning to the hut make sure you ascend the glacier lobe to regain the West Ridge instead of descending to the valley at the base of the glacier.  This slope gains a few hundred feet – but will save you a bit of time since the descent to the lower valley is cumbersome due to moraine, and the ascent up the rocky buttress to regain the hut is harder than it looks due to wet and steep rock.

Down the North Ridge. Mostly an easy scramble with only a couple short sections of exposure.

The slope to gain the West Ridge (to get back to the hut). Easy travel but there are a couple holes.

A quiet night at the hut and then down the Eklutna glacier to our bikes and home – making for a nice 60 mile trek in 60 hours in the backyard.

Heading home over ice.

Heading home over water.

Local choss connoisseur.