Bold no more: Enough of one mountain
I’m a firm believer in never giving up. But I also believe it’s important to know when to quit. I refer here to a mountain that has captured my attention and imagination for 20 years. It’s 7,522-foot Bold Peak that towers over the south end of Eklutna Lake.
I first climbed this Chugach peak in the summer of 1993 after a work associate told me there was a non-technical way up its steep flanks. It’s called Stivers Gully, named after Alaska mountaineer Bill Stivers, who pioneered the route.
My first climb was solo and I did it in a long day. Eventually, I would climb it seven more times, sometimes with friends. And through the years, those climbs have been getting longer and longer-- the last of which took about 20 hours.
Here’s what it takes if you opt for the Stivers Gully route, which involves circuiting the mountain and climbing it from its south side:
• 10-1/2 mile bike ride along Eklutna Lakeside trail to East Fork of Eklutna River;
• 2 mile hike along East Fork Trail to Tulchina Falls cutoff, then about 1/4th mile to beginning of Stivers Gully;
• 6,600-foot ascent to summit covering four miles, about one-third of it in steep gully of unconsolidated rock that slips under foot.
Then, of course, there is the return trip. Sometimes I’ve camped near the Eklutna airstrip and made it a two-day outing. That’s actually the sanest way to do it, since you can take your camping gear in by bicycle or motorized vehicle with relative ease.
Key features: At about 2,500 feet, near the top of the steepest part of the gully, there is a fixed rope. I believe the Mountaineering Club of Alaska (MCA) maintains it, and it comes in handy. This section can be deceivingly dangerous, especially on the descent. After a near-serious fall about three years ago — caused by my walking stick getting tangled in the rope (I had it clipped into my pack) I learned to throw the stick to a point below and be free of it all-together. Having my stick attached to my pack on the ascent has never been an issue.
From the top of the fixed rope you ascend a steep grassy area for about 500 feet until you come to a plateau that I call “The Loft,” at about 3,000 feet. This area offers a great view of East Fork Valley and across it, a jagged mountain called The Mitre. A few parka squirrels that inhabit this spot are always looking for a handout. From this point you go back into the gully, but it’s not nearly as steep as you wind around and down to another green, grassy area that I call “Heavenly Valley.” It has some streams running through it and makes a great bivouac location.
From here, if you are early enough in the year, i.e. May-June, you will have snow to walk upon rather than the jagged tangle of unstable rocks. After ascending about 2,000 feet more on mostly gradual terrain, you’ll enter a pass at about 5,000 feet that offers your first glimpse at Bold from its back, or southern side.
From this point you take an abrupt left turn (north) and progress another 1,500 feet to a wide saddle at 6,500 feet, where you’re greeted with your first glimpse of Eklutna Lake and Knik Arm. On this saddle is where I spread the ashes of my friend, Dave Gahm, who died in 2008 of natural causes during a Kenai Peninsula canoe trip.
Then, mostly hugging the ridge, you go right or north east and follow the ridge all the way to the summit, sometimes slipping around farther right (east) to avoid steep sections. The higher part of the mountain is south-facing and generally clear of snow by middle- to late-June.
The 360-degree view from the summit is breathtaking. And for me, 7,500 feet above sea level is literally breathtaking, since I never was very good at altitude. There were too many smokers in our home when I was a child and for part of my adult life, I was also a smoker.
On Bold’s 7,522-foot summit you are higher than most of the mountains around, with the exception of Bashful, Baleful, Bellicose and a few other Chugach peaks. Far off to the northeast you’ll see the perennial white slopes of Mt. Marcus Baker, the Chugach Range’s granddaddy at 13,176 feet. The birds-eye view of Eklutna and Whiteout glaciers is unforgettable.
Next week: A variety of experiences on Bold Peak, one of Chugach State Park highest peaks.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and columnist who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank, email [email protected].