Eagle Peak (6,909 ft.)
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, 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 a minimum of 21 miles and requires nearly a vertical mile of scrambling.
Eagle Peak’s summit offers a thrilling panorama of hundreds–if not thousands–of mountains. Its summit looks 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 one can see the whole southern extent of the Talkeetnas and, beyond that, the long arc of the Alaska Range. To the east, summit views extend 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.“
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 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 early October, though this window is variable due to snow conditions. Mid-July might be an ideal time to climb Eagle, since it’s possible 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 the snow ascent is replaced by scrambling over loose rock. Several snowfields toward the top of the south face, at approximately 6,000 feet, can persist into July and are easier to climb or cross with an ice axe. However, it’s usually possible to avoid them depending on route.
The approach to Eagle Peak stands by itself as an exceptional day hike. 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 winding over the boulder field, following the cairns if possible, until reaching the ruins of the small structure between Eagle and Symphony Lakes. From here, one trail continues along the crest of the moraine between Eagle and Symphony Lakes, while the one leading toward Eagle 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. After traversing the southern side of Eagle Lake, the trail drops to the floodplain at the head of the lake and disappears.
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. Hike up the scree field to the left/north of the waterfall, and continue cross-country up the hanging valley to the west of Eagle Peak. 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 Peak, 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 Peak’s southern face. A prominent gully runs directly below Eagle Peak’s south face. In early to mid summer, this gully will be filled with snow and provide a nicer route than the unstable rocks on the moraine.
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+; 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 sections 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.
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 nontechnical climbs in the Chugach.
To take the south face route, ascend 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 that you’d 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 for about ten vertical feet does technically qualify as Class 4. Take your time here to find the best route, which is a bit to the left of the waterfall.
Past the tricky waterall, head 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 especially 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 and be careful, and you’ll make it up.
A wall of crags loom over the top of the south face, 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.
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 walk the pleasant, lofty Class 2+ ridge to the summit. There is a summit register in the small cairn. Enjoy the views!
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.
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.
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.
From the prominent scree gully, follow the instructions written above in the south face route description.
Other Resources and Trip Reports
- DNR overview and map of the South Fork Eagle River Trail. Note that the backcountry trail around the south side of Eagle Lake is not marked.
- Alaska Hike Search entry for Eagle Peak. Good overview, though confusingly the text describes the south face route, while the maps and diagrams show a variation on the south ridge route.
- SummitPost entry for Eagle Peak, by Matt Lemke. Tons of helpful photos and brief description of the south face route. Ignore the north face route shown on the map unless you really know what you’re doing.