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Eagle Peak

Eagle Peak 8/5-6/04 I woke up at 8:00 in the morning and caught a ride out to Eagle River at 8:30 with Tristan, who was dropping Wendy off at work and would swing by to pick me up and my two dogs. He had to go to the optometrist at around 9:30 or so, so we reasoned that we wouldn't be starting out on the trail until about noon. Then, as Tristan was in the optometrist's office, I decided on a whim to call Rob. I reasoned that a third person would make the time more interesting, and Rob is the only person I know who's nuts enough to want to go on a camp/climb given such short notice. When he answered the phone he sounded like he'd taken a hefty dose of valium or something. He explained that he'd just returned from a deer hunt near Juneau a few hours prior to my call, and that he had spent the night hauling 125 pounds of deer from the top of a mountain. But he wanted to come, crazy bastard. He told us that he still had to process the meat before he could leave, and that it would be some hours before he was done, but he sounded so disappointed at the idea of being left behind, I caved in and decided that we would wait until 4:00 for him.

He was done with his various chores by 3:45. We picked him up and set off down the trail by 4:30. We made really good time out to the end of Eagle Lake, staying on the right side and following the trail that skirts the base of Cantada, but once we reached the end of the lake, we lost the trail and became hopelessly entangled in brush. After some miserable barefoot marsh- crossing and creek-wading, we finally found a decent gravel bank and followed it up to the waterfall.

We made it to the Flute sometime around 8 or so, ate a meal, took some pictures, and put on some extra clothes. Kiliak and I went down to the Flute Glacier and collected some drinking water draining straight from the ice. He performed very well throughout the trip, and never showed any signs of fatigue, despite carrying full saddlebags, until he got back to the truck the next day. Eklutna is not used to long hikes like the one out to the Flute Glacier. She was hot, tired, and sore the entire trip, but performed admirably nonetheless. There was only one time I had to stop and coax her across some boulders on the way back, and she kept up and stuck with us the entire time. By the time we got home however, she was missing much of the skin from the pads of her feet, and we had to tape her feet up so they would heal. Kiliak?s feet didn?t get a scratch; he?s a great hiking dog. Anyways, back to the trip, we wound up going to bed around 10 or 11.

Tristan and I had purchased these Coleman 50 degree fleece sleeping- bags at Wal-mart, and I was combining that with my bivi-sack and a sleeping pad. Tristan had an emergency blanket and a sleeping pad as well. Rob had no more than a good sleeping-bag. My night, while not unreasonably chilly, was cold enough to be uncomfortable. I spent most the night in a mental debate over weather I should relieve my very-full bladder and face the inevitable cold which would come when I stood with my slightly damp body in the glacier wind, or if I should simply hold it, stay warm, and try to sleep. I chose the latter, which resulted in a very poor night?s rest. By about 4:00 in the morning I started to sleep much better, and by 6:00 I was getting some good Z?s, until Rob threw a rock at my head to wake me up. The best never rest.

Eklutna, who had spent the night alternately curled up behind a boulder out of the wind, and curled up next to me, could hardly move. I took her down to the creek and tied her up to a boulder where she could be in the shade or lay down in the creek if she got too hot. She objected, and continued to yip and bark long after we had left camp and started making our way up the hill. Kiliak, who had spent the night nearly as sleeplessly as I had, seemed to be unphased by the previous day?s hike, and followed us up the hill with tireless vigor. We worked our way uphill into the pass that can be seen from camp. At the top of the pass, we found a patch of soft grass and moss that would have made a much nicer camping spot than the sharp rocks we had chosen.

The pass led into an enormous cirque which was dominated by a rock glacier. Only one small patch of ice could be seen, and we stopped there for a drink. From the cirque we had three choices for a route. The first and least desirable choice was to head straight up to the summit over what looked like cliffs and a sea of loose rubble. The second, and only slightly more desirable alternative would have been to follow a very long and steep dirtslide to the foot of the false summit, then cut across a band of cliffs to the small S-shaped gulley near the top that appeared to lead to the summit. The third choice was to cut back across the cirque towards the Flute Glacier and hike up the grassy, mild ridge onto an adjoining ridge between Eagle Peak and Flute Peak, then climb the false summit and go on to the true summit via the S-gulley. We took the third option. It turned out to be undoubtedly more pleasant than the other routes would have been, and although it was slightly longer in distance, its length made the gaining of altitude much easier, and it was a much more scenic route. We headed up towards the top of a rounded hill where, on the other side, the Organ Glacier came into view. The hill was part of the ridge between Eagle and Flute, and despite being rounded and mild on one side, it was sheer, and in places overhung, dropping straight down several hundred feet towards Compass Butte on the other side.

I was concerned about Kiliak, since his total lack of fear when it comes to great heights could lead to disaster for an animal who's that stupid, so I tied him to a rock further down on the hill, in a shady area where there were no cliffs. Rob, who had performed remarkably up until that point, decided to stay behind for the sake of timeliness, take in the incredible view for a while, then take Kiliak back to camp and let Eklutna off her lead. We bade each other good luck and Tristan and I pushed on for the false summit. It was reasonably easy- going, with some loose scree, but mostly enjoyable bouldering. The exposure and danger from falling was pretty mild on the Organ Glacier side of the false summit, but at several points we were forced onto the Flute Glacier side and the exposure became much more extreme. We took a brief brunch-break on the top of the false summit, and I snapped quite a few pictures. Then we headed across the ridge that connects the false summit with the true one, and descended onto the cliff bands that led to the S-gulley. The cliff bands were rather enjoyable, so long as one is cautious of the places where marble-like pebbles coat the solid rock underfoot. Before long, we were at the scree-field.

It was a long, hot, intense uphill battle ascending the scree to the S- gulley, and our efforts were rewarded with more, and somewhat looser scree once we reached it. In the gulley we had to ascend about 500' or so of loose rock, much of it comparable to pointy bowling-balls. We would start small rockslides all the time, we slid backwards almost as much as we had stepped forwards with each step, and we would dislodge rocks from a few feet above us such that they would roll down and hit the ankles. At the top of the S-gulley, there was a choice of summits. I was about 300' ahead of Tristan, and had a bit of time to explore, so I chose the pointy, mangled-looking left summit, which turned out to be the incorrect choice. After several futile attempts at climbing the boulders to the top, I decided to be done with it and just get along to the real summit. I met Tristan, who had already made it to the summit. From the top of the S-gulley, the true summit is a very short and easy walk up a ridge. Once on top, the summit is surprisingly roomy, a hundred or so feet long, and perhaps 10-20 feet wide, although it is very uneven and strewn with boulders.

We sat for awhile, took some pictures, ate some food. I had cell phone reception on the top, so I called Alex and talked with her for awhile. I love being able to call her from the top of mountains. We found the peak register directly under the cairn and signed it. There were some familiar names, but the current register has only been there since ?99, so it wasn?t the glance back-in-time I was hoping it would have been.

We began our descent shortly after eleven in the morning. After descending the S-gulley we debated as to the proper route of descent. We could repeat the route we had taken up, but that meant repeating the sections of bouldering we had done. While it was certainly fun on the way up, that much downward climbing over rock would not be enjoyable. Our other option was to head straight down onto the rock glacier far below, over the steep, massive tallus field, over some cliffs beneath which we could not see, through a small canyon (the terrain behind which we could only guess at), and straight back to camp. We chose the latter, and it proved to be a prudent choice. Although I would not have wanted to climb the peak by that route, descending the scree was often quite easy, as its consistency permitted glissading for some of the time. The truly cliffy portions of the route were easily down-climbed, and there was even a small spring trickling over the rocks from which I rehydrated myself.

We were soon back at camp, and headed back towards the truck with two re-energized dogs and a well-rested Rob. After the waterfall, we found a trail that follows gravelbars and riverbanks almost all the way to the shores of Eagle Lake, which is a decent beach that can be traversed nearly all the way across on either side. We followed the same trail we had taken before, on the Cantada side of the lake, and were soon back at the car wanting nothing more than to go home and sleep.

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