Eagle Peak

posted in: Chugach State Park | 0
Eagle Peak (6,909 ft.)

Route (coming soon): xx miles round trip, xx ft. elevation gain. Difficulty: Class 3+. My time: 14 hours

Eagle Peak is a Chugach titan, soaring 6,909 feet over the South Fork and Eagle River valleys. Though it is most recognized as the peak towering over the far end of Eagle Lake, once you learn to pick it out you’ll find that its lofty summit is visible throughout much of Chugach State Park. Along with Bold Peak, it is one of the tallest peaks in the Chugach that can be climbed in a day, albeit a very long one. The round trip from the South Fork Eagle River trailhead is approximately 24 miles and requires nearly a vertical mile of scrambling.

Eagle Peak’s summit offers a thrilling panorama of hundreds–if not thousands–of mountains. Far below, you will look down on the tops of Eagle River to the east, Eagle Lake to the west, and Organ and Flute glaciers to the south. To the north, the mountains drop away in a series of ridges and far away you’ll see the whole southern extent of the Talkeetnas and, beyond that, the long arc of the Alaska Range. To the east, you’ll see far past the end of Chugach State Park and into the massive glaciated peaks and icefields of Chugach National Forest. Keith Weinhold writes over at Alaska Hike Search that “summiting this Chugach Range peak can be a transcendent experience.

Hiking around the north side of Eagle Lake

Ryan Kenny hiking around the north side of Eagle Lake, Eagle Peak in the background (note that there is a much better trail around the southern side of Eagle Lake).

Climbing Season

Eagle is a tall peak surrounded by glaciers. It receives a great deal of snowfall and some of its snowfields, particularly on the north face, persist year-round. During the winter and spring, the north face offers a serious technical ice and snow climb well beyond the scope of this post. The nontechnical season on Eagle’s Class 3 southern routes ranges somewhere between late June or early July and September, depending on conditions. Mid-July might be an ideal time to climb Eagle, since you’ll be able to approach the peak and even climb the scree field below the south face on hard-packed summer snowfields. By later in the summer, these snowfields melt out and you’ll have to do more scrambling over loose rock. There are several snowfields toward the top of the south face, at approximately 6,000 feet, that last into July and are easier to climb or cross with an ice axe. However, you can probably avoid them depending on your route.

The cliffy north face of Eagle Peak, as seen from Peters Creek Peak 5505 in mid May. One online resource advises climbing Eagle Peak in May, but the peak can hold a great deal of snow into early summer. Unless you have strong ice axe/mountaineering skills, those looking for a Class 3 scramble should aim for late June to September, with mid-July or August probably being ideal targets depending on your comfort level with summer snowfields.

Approach

The approach to Eagle Peak stands by itself as an exceptional day hike, even if you decide not to climb the peak. Start at the South Fork Eagle River trailhead and hike the wide, well-maintained trail 4.8 miles to the end of Eagle Lake. Continue poking your way over the boulder field, following the cairns if possible, until you reach the ruins of the small cabin between Eagle and Symphony Lakes. From here, one trail continues along the crest of the moraine between Eagle and Symphony Lakes, while another, which you’ll want to take, drops down the moraine gradually and then follows the south side of Eagle Lake. This trail is technically “unofficial” and not marked on most maps, but it’s blazed and well-established. This small trail will drop you onto the long floodplain at the head of Eagle Lake.

This floodplain is one of the most scenic and enjoyable places to wander through in the Chugach backcountry. Pick your way up it however you’d like, crossing and recrossing the stream as necessary. You might be able to jump across it, but if not, be prepared to soak your boots (or bring an extra set of sneakers, which you can pick up when you return). The side closest to Eagle Lake tends to be a little brushier, while the side toward the waterfall at the end has many wide spots of gravel that are as easy to walk up as a road. As you make your way up this floodplain, the sheer walls of Herman Buhl Point and Eagle Peak will begin loom over you. Still sure you’re up for this?

A towering waterfall caps the head of the floodplain valley. Hike up the scree field to the left/north of the waterfall, and continue making your way up the hanging valley to the west of Eagle. There are many small trails here, and the rocky tundra is open and generally easy to move through.

At the head of this valley is another set of cascades, which lead to a newly-formed tarn at the toe of Flute Glacier. To climb Eagle, you’ll want to cut left/west at this point, scramble up the scree or between the small wet cliffs, and make your way into the cirque directly below Eagle’s southern face. There is a very prominent gully running directly below the face and the rocky moraines. In early to mid summer, this gully will be filled with snow and provide a much nicer route than the unstable rocks on the moraine.

What a difference a decade makes. Flute Glacier, as seen from the mouth of the cirque below the south face of Eagle Peak. The photo on the left was taken during my first ascent, with Dylan Watts, in 2004. The photo on the right is from mid-July, 2016.

At this point, your direction will depend on whether you’ve decided to tackle the south face or south ridge routes. Both routes are Class 3 or arguably 3+; each have their own challenges, but neither is especially harder than the other. If you’d like to explore the peak a little more, the routes can be combined into a loop. Both routes do cross a lot of terrain with loose rock, including many steep patches that have only recently emerged from under permanent snowfields or glaciers. I would recommend wearing a helmet on Eagle no matter how you climb it.

Map with routes to climb Eagle Peak

Map of the two Class 3 routes up Eagle Peak. Note that elevation on this map is marked in meters, not feet. Many of the snow/ice features marked here have shrunk or disappeared since this map was published.

South Face Route

Click Here to download a Google Earth KMZ file for the approximate South Face Route

The south face route is more direct and might be a little faster. This is the route described in 50 Hikes, and in most online trip reports. It is steep, and does require some routefinding and willingness to backtrack if you start to get cliffed out. But it’s solidly in Class 3 territory (at least once you’ve navigated the initial crux) and if you are patient and careful with it, you’ll find that it’s bigger but not especially harder than many climbs in the Chugach.

To take the south face route, climb the long, steep scree field at the base of the south face. This scree field is deceptively tall–in fact, it will take you about a third of the way from the cirque to the summit. If there’s still snow on the scree field it will be easier to climb up on it, but it is steep enough to qualify as lightly technical and you’ll probably be safer on it with an ice axe. Near the top of the scree field, a small cliff band with a trickling waterfall guards access to the rest of the face. This is the crux of the route, and is the only part that could maybe qualify as Class 3+. Take your time here to find the best route, which is a bit to the left of the waterfall. If you do this properly, it should not ever feel like rock climbing, though it is slightly precarious the first time.

Once you’re past the trickly waterfall, make your way directly up the face. You’ll have to navigate up or around many small cliff bands, ledges, and gullies. There is a great deal of loose rock haphazardly strewn on this face, including some fairly decent-sized rocks just sitting on ledges as if they were placed there yesterday. If you’re hiking with a partner–which you should be!–be very careful not to kick anything down on one another. Some trip reports try to describe certain routes and places on the face, but I can never match the descriptions to the place itself. It’s probably best to just trust your judgement here and not try to follow an overly-specific “route” up this part of the face. Just take your time, be careful, and you’ll make it up.

At the top of the south face is a wall of crags, towering over a semi-permanent snowfield. Once you hit this face, traverse directly left/north and into the prominent, steep, very loose scree gully. The scree in this gully ranges from basketball to penny-sized, and lies in a thin layer over smoother rock in some places. Those who aren’t comfortable with Chugach scree will find this part of the ascent especially unnerving. On the way down, you could take your chances sliding down some of the scree, but be mindful that you are very high up on a remote peak and a twisted ankle up here would be extremely inconvenient.

Final scree gully on Eagle Peak

Looking down into the final scree gully leading to the summit ridge. Descending this narrow, loose gully one at a time is probably a good idea.

The scree gully leads directly to a shallow col on the summit ridge, at which point you will earn a stunning view 5,000 feet almost directly down onto the surface of Eagle Lake. From this shallow col, simply run 90 degrees right/east and climb the pleasant (if very lofty) Class 2 ridge to the summit. There is a summit register in the small cairn. Enjoy the views!

Summit of Eagle Peak

Brett Frazer soaking in the views from the summit of Eagle Peak, with 9,638-ft Mount Gilbert in the distant background.

South Ridge Route

Click Here to download a Google Earth KMZ file for the approximate South Ridge Route

The south ridge route seems to have become popular a little more recently. On balance it’s not especially easier than the south face route, but it arguably has a better view and less rockfall exposure.

Once you climb up into the cirque, instead of climbing the face continue across the moraines and climb one of the steep chutes toward the pass between Eagle and the next prominent point to the south. The headwall of the cirque is a mix of scree, snowfields, and hard-packed dirt/sand/rubble. At least one group I know of turned back at this point. It’s not hard from a technical standpoint, but it could certainly be frustrating. Provided you are able to stay in good control of yourself, this part of the south ridge route is probably easier on the descent.

The west and south aspects of Eagle Peak, as seen from the summit of Cantata Peak in early September. The south ridge route is marked until it disappears into the final scree gully leading toward the summit. The route is marked just above the ridgeline itself so that you can see the terrain.

Once you gain the ridge, turn north and head directly up the south ridge of Eagle Peak. There is plenty of scrambling between big boulders and navigating chossy little chutes on this route. At least one trip report online recommends following a sheep trail along the southeast face of the ridge in order to avoid some of the scrambling, but staying pretty much right on the spine works too. This ridge is mostly Class 2, with a little Class 3 depending on route.

South ridge route on Eagle Peak

Brett on the south ridge route.

At about 6,200 feet, the ridge reaches a high point and then flattens into a quarter-mile-long high-altitude balcony with almost no overall elevation gain. At the end of this flat-ish section, the ridge climbs very steeply toward the summit. At this point, cross the top of the south face, heading toward the bottom of the prominent north-facing scree gully. There is a good-sized snowfield that somehow manages to survive on this south face well into summer, and an ice axe could be very helpful here.

Once you reach the prominent scree gully, follow the instructions written above in the south face route description.

Organ Glacier and airplane from Eagle Peak

A float plane flying over Organ Glacier, shot from the summit of Eagle Peak. From the top of Eagle, you’re pretty much looking down onto everything.

Other Resources and Trip Reports