Anchorage Borough High Point Trip Report
Date: November 6, 2000
Author: Steven Gruhn
Bob Packard and I drove from my house to the Eklutna Lake Trailhead. The trailhead is reached by
driving north on the Glenn Highway and taking the Eklutna exit shortly after crossing the Eklutna River.
At the off-ramp stop sign head east (right if coming from downtown Anchorage). Take a right at the next
stop sign onto the Old Glenn Highway. Drive for maybe a quarter mile and take the first left up Eklutna
Lake Road. The road is paved for about a mile and a half until shortly after the Eklutna Water Treatment
Plant. It becomes gravel shortly thereafter, but can still be driven by a two-wheel drive vehicle. I didn't
put my light truck into four-wheel-drive during this trip. Over the next 12 or 15 miles or so, the road
snakes up the valley and gains about 1,000 feet of elevation, then loses about 200 feet. Shortly before the
parking area, there is a fee station operated by Chugach State Park which requires payment of $5.00 per
day. I had an annual pass taped to the windshield of my truck which allowed me to park at most of the
Alaska State Parks for $25.00. The parking area is rather large and separated into different uses
(camping, day use, hiking/bicycling, boat launch, etc.). I parked in the last (easternmost) parking lot
available. The elevation was approximately 900 feet.
Here we began our hike on the Eklutna Lakeside trail. We filled up our water bottles at a hand pump at
the trailhead. Immediately after starting on the trail, we crossed Thachkatnu Creek (also known as Twin
Peaks Creek) on a footbridge and turned right at the T. The Eklutna Lakeside Trail consists of an old
roadbed along the northeast shore of Eklutna Lake. The old road has been washed out in places, so a new
road was constructed along the old route. At times, this new road overlaps the old road, at other times it
is as much as a quarter mile inland. The frequently merge into and diverge from one another. I have
traveled this road dozens of times and have yet to figure out which is the optimum route. After 3 miles we
crossed Yuditna Creek (mislabeled Yuditnu Creek) on the bridge on new road. A little after 5 miles from
the trailhead, we crossed the bridge over Bold Creek on the new road. The old road and the new road join
permanently just before rounding the southeast shore of Eklutna Lake. About a quarter mile later, eight
miles from the trailhead, we crossed Eight-Mile Creek, which flows under the road in a culvert. There is
an established campground on the right. Another half mile or so led to a fork in the road. The Bold
Airstrip is a short distance down the right fork. We took the left fork. There is an established
campground shortly after the fork. We hiked another 2.5 miles until we came to the bridge over the East
Fork of the Eklutna River. The East Fork Trail (our route) led up to the left, but we opted to cross the
river and camp at a secluded spot on the left (room for one tent; elevation 1,100 feet). There are trees to
hang food bags. The trail up to this point is readily accessible with bicycles. It is also open to all-terrain
vehicles three days a week. The trail continues for another 2 miles to near the Eklutna Glacier.
The next morning dawned early (don't they all?) and drizzly. I had a bout with some form of intestinal
disorder while Bob ate breakfast. What a way to start a climb. I managed to finally shovel some oatmeal
down my throat and we left camp. We left our tent up, but took our food with us.
At about 7:30 I led us back across the bridge and headed southeast up the East Fork Trail. This trail is
marked and cleared, but is not open to bicycles or all-terrain vehicles. It is quite muddy. We waded
across Stivers' Gully (unmarked) and continued on. Bob had sought me out because I had been up the
East Fork Trail and up Stivers' Gully before. I promptly eliminated any confidence he had in me when I
missed our turn off the trail. I errantly led us another mile and a half up the East Fork to Tulchina Falls.
Only then did I realize my error. Sheepishly, I backtracked to a point where we could access Stivers'
Gully. Bob was very gracious about my mistake, but must have been wondering what he had gotten
We headed east toward Stivers' Gully, fighting alder, aspen, and tall grass. Eventually, we made our way
into the boulder field below Stivers' Gully. This is about the last good place to find water. We stayed on
the right side (facing uphill) of the gully until it narrowed. Then we left the gully and began climbing up
the cliff bands that protected the upper slopes. By now we were out of the trees and grass, only fighting
alder. We zigzagged our way up the slope, eventually angling to the right. After climbing up steep slopes
I didn't want to come back down. After swimming through one last patch of alders, we broke out into tall
grass and gentle slopes. Here we headed south to a viewpoint at a terminal glacial moraine. We crossed
the moraine and headed up a prominent gully to the northeast, traversing to our right as the slope became
steeper. We topped out on the ridge, marked it with a rock wrapped in surveyors tape, and hiked up the
ridge to the east. The climbing consisted of scrambling over rotten rock. We went slowly, picking our
way over the Chugach Crud.
At about 7,400 feet we came to a steep slope with a narrow (but not narrow enough to help) gully heading
up. This must be the infamous Chickenshit Gully! Bob looked at it immediately and said that he couldn't
climb it. I looked at it for two or three minutes, plotting a possible route. Finally, I told Bob that I
thought I could make it up. I had a half-pitch of 7-mil rope with me that I could use to help Bob. By
talking with friends before the trip, I had been told that there was an old piton (from the first ascent party
in 1959) on the right side of the gully about half way up and a prominent horn at the top of the gully to
aid in placement of protection. I never found the piton. The gully consists of steep (70 degrees), smooth
bedrock covered with a layer of loose ball-bearing gravel. All angles of the rock sloped downward. I
headed up, planning on using the piton to help Bob come up behind me. We ascended one-at-a-time, but
were in voice contact for much of the climb. I eventually topped out (no speed records were broken) about
330 feet above the base of the gully and tied a piece of webbing around the prominent horn at the top of
the gully, clipped a carabiner into the webbing, and tied the rope to the carabiner. Bob came up after me,
but didn't really use the rope much. It didn't extend down to the hardest part of the pitch.
From the top of Chickenshit Gully, it was a relatively easy climb to the summit block. Just before the
summit block, an ice patch (elevation 7,900 feet) required me to change from running shoes to boots and
crampons. Bob, who had worn boots the entire trip, went on ahead after fixing his crampons. After I got
my boots on and crampons adjusted, I looked up. Bob was already headed down. It was about 10:30 at
night and we needed to rush, so I hurried to the summit (elevation 8,005 feet), signed into the register,
and headed down. The previous entry before Bob's was of a family that included an 8-year old girl. Boy,
she must have been some climber (or else have had help in hauling herself up the gully).
I left the summit and moved down the ridge to below the ice patch. Bob had already changed out of his
crampons and was heading down the ridge. I hurriedly removed mine and raced to catch up to him. I
didn't want to head down Chickenshit Gully in the dark. I caught up to him shortly before the top of the
gully. The sun had set, a 20-mile-per-hour wind had come up from the north, and he was getting chilled.
It was 12:30 in the morning and twilight was going away fast. Bob looked to me to make a decision.
I figured there was less risk from the cold than from a fall, so I chose not to descend the gully in the dark.
I found us some shelter to the left (facing downhill) of the gully behind some rocks. I loaned mittens, a
headband, and other clothes to Bob. We hurriedly got ready to spend the night, trying to trap as much
heat as possible in our clothes. Bob and I put on every stitch of clothing we had and rested on our packs
to keep the rocks from sucking the heat out of our bodies. It didn't work. I generally climb with more
clothes than I expect to use. This night we used everything: hat, balaclava, face mask, headband, gloves,
mittens, jackets, wind pants, turtlenecks, extra long underwear, etc. It was not enough. We sat down and
huddled together, trying to conserve heat. It didn't work. I don't recall sleeping, but I dozed off for about
a half hour according to Bob. Bob was snoring away for a while, too, but he wasn't very rested either.
At about 5 a.m. Bob urged me to get up. My joints had stiffened and my fingers were nearly useless. I
jogged in place a bit to warm up and clenched and unclenched my fists to limber my fingers. Bob asked
me to use the rope for the descent. I set up the sling anchor around the horn that I had used before. Bob
climbed down first, wrapping the rope around one hand as he went. Once he got to the bottom, I picked
up the rope and sling and put them in the pack while he waited at the bottom for me. I went considerably
slower than he did, but I eventually made it to the base of the gully.
We continued down the ridge to the point where we had come up. I was thankful that I had placed the
surveyors tape on a rock at that point, because, from above, it was easy to mistake which gully we had
come up. There were three or four times Bob and I had disagreements about which way to go. Our
fatigue was really catching up with us and my track record the previous day did not give Bob a lot of
confidence in my route selection, but he did follow my lead, nonetheless. We eventually got to the
prominent gully and headed down and to the right to the glacial moraine, about 2,300 feet below. Once
on the moraine, we crossed, it and descended into the maze of alder and cliff bands. We became separated
from sight, but were in and out of voice contact. Bob was ahead of me, and I tried to follow the trail of
broken alder branches, but they kept leading off cliffs. Eventually I got to the top of a cliff that it looked
like I could descend. Bob was down below and waiting for me. I noticed he had taken his pack off. He
must have been waiting a while. He showed me the route down the cliff. Once down, he turned to leave
and I asked him about his pack. He told me that he had taken it off, set it down on the top of one of the
cliff bands, let go, and promptly watched it roll over the cliff and bounce of the ledge below him. He had
an ice axe, crampons, camera, clothes, and other gear in the black Jansport day pack. I tried to pick out a
probable fall line and searched for the pack. We spent quite a while, but could not find it.
Giving up, we headed down Stivers' Gully and to the East Fork Trail. Again we got separated bashing
through the alder. I waited on the trail after calling out for him. He eventually came up behind me and
we walked back to our campsite. I walked faster, so I waited for him at the bridge over the East Fork.
When he caught up to me he told me he had seen a black bear cross the path between us a few moments
before. It was now about 4:30 in the afternoon.
In camp, I collapsed on my sleeping bag and rested. After an hour or so, Bob convinced me that we
needed to get going if we were to make it out tonight. We packed up and began our long slog down the trail.
Bob, twice my age, was traveling slowly down the trail. I worried about whether we would make it to the
truck that night. We joked about hitchhiking a ride with a four-wheeler, but none were around when we
were on the new road (the old road is closed to motorized vehicles). Finally, just after Yuditna Creek
(three miles and about an hour and a half from the trailhead at our pace) I heard some four-wheelers
coming our way. I asked Bob whether he wanted to flag them down. I could tell it was a very tough
decision for him. Bob asked the lead driver of the two machines for a ride. The drivers of the two
machines each had a passenger. After some consideration, they made room for Bob and his pack. I put
my pack on Bob's and asked told him that I would jog out to the trailhead and meet him there in a half
hour. The four-wheeler drivers offered to make room for my pack and me on the other machine. They
drove us to the trailhead in 15 minutes. It was a very gracious end to our hike.
Upon returning to the parking area, I found that my truck had been ticketed for having the parking sticker
affixed to the windshield with tape: $50 per day for two days. A less than gracious return to civilization.