Chugach State Park Ranger Dan Hourihan traced the route out on the USGS Topo-map to my request for the best hike through Chugach State Park. Dan’s timbre increased in excitement as he described notable landmarks; The Shroud, Bellicose Peak, The Watchmen. Travel through Bombardment Pass was along the right snowfield to avoid any crevasse. Dan was still awestruck as he described rolling a boulder into a cylindrical crevasse on Wall Street Glacier. He said they listened to it roll down the glacier for a long time, but never heard it hit bottom.
This hike in the early 90’s turned out to be as good as Dan’s description. I found out how Bombardment Pass got its name- ice & rocks crashed down all night as we camped on a ledge. I remember a wolverine in Rumble Pass. The Shroud & Bellicose Peak lived up to their names. We glissaded through Benign Pass in a snowstorm, transforming into bright sun & a rainbow. We followed the rainbow out to Eklutna Lake.
I received a 2019 drawing permit to hunt Dall Sheep & was planning to return. Son Hans would accompany me on the hunt. Hans had a break from work on the north slope. He is an electrician general foreman for NANA, working from Red Dog Mine in the west to the oil fields in the east. Hans’ crew is known as the “A-Team”. Spools of electric power cable weigh thousands of pounds. The “A-Team” is called in for this heavy-weight specialty work. The entire crew are weightlifters. Hans can deadlift near 500 pounds. He is reminiscent of his Grandpa Bill who specialized in the deadlift, competing in Mr. Minnesota competitions. The comparison ends there; Hans is taller than Bill & red-headed. Bill carried the black-hair gene from his Sami grandmother. As part Sami, Hans is working among his distant relatives on the north slope- The Inuit.
Hans began hunting at an early age. He accompanied me on a bow hunt for moose when he was only nine. Early in the hunt we were standing under a tree on the lookout for moose; Hans asked about how long it normally took for the moose to show up. I smiled to myself as I thought of the remote chance for success. The last day of the season a bull moose was fooled into close range by imitating another bull with a moose scapula. The bull passed directly broadside to Hans at 7 yards. Hans coolly drew back & released the arrow which passed through the moose, slicing off the top of the heart. Hans was a natural hunter!
Heat during the summer of 2019 was remarkable. As we headed up Ram Valley the cool stream was a constant source of refreshment, as were the abundant blueberries. Every once in a while I would yell “blueberry break!” & we plopped into the flora. Handfuls of blueberries were delicious, nutritious, & gave us a chance to wipe the abundant sweat from our brows. A large group of young sheep would travel just ahead of us. At one point they formed what appeared to be a picket line to halt our advance. We counted close to 40 sheep in the valley.
The moraine from the glacier in Bombardment Pass halted our travel at the head of the valley. We made camp. The scene had changed from the early 90’s. The glacier had receded & the snow field was mostly gone except for at the Pass.
We headed up the steep slope to near the top of Peeking Mountain. The smoke from nearby fires affected the view as well as our respiratory efficiency. We were able to scope all the country north & east. Hans spotted a large sheep in what looked like impassable terrain to the north. We got excited on spotting a large white object below Pleasant Mountain, but it turned out to be a large Mountain Goat. We could see all the familiar peaks & the route of my hike from the 90’s. Hans & his sister Ingrid had skied the Eklutna Traverse a few years back- a few miles to the east of our position.
Two climbers stopped by the next morning. They were headed to climb Mount Rumble. They wore shorts, T-shirts, low-cut rock-climbing shoes & carried helmets. They appeared to be dressed for a rock-wall gym rather than for wilderness trekking. We headed the same direction, over the moraine to Bombardment Pass. One bad step on the moraine rock-pile could result in injury. As we neared the Pass we skirted some crevasses. As usual Hans was ahead of me & studying a route through the Pass. There was a high snow field that appeared to offer a route across the top. Crevasses were present along a steeper ice route. We did not have crampons so the snow field would have to be the route. Loud ice/rock falls could be heard echoing at the head of the canyon, with no visible sighting to match the sounds. Hans pointed out that the ice/rock falls were occurring beneath the snow field. Attempting to cross could cause us to plunge through to the cavern or crevasse below. We decided it was too risky & turned back.
We packed our gear & headed out. On the way out we met a group of hikers. When asked why we were not successful I mentioned the luck factor that comes into play. The hiker offered that perhaps we needed to make our own luck. Back in the early 90’s I found success in another location, perhaps I could get lucky again.
The following week we pedaled mountain bikes with gear bags on Peters Creek trail. We stashed our bikes & hiked to nine-mile creek. At the top of the mountain overlooking Thunder Bird drainage is where I spotted 5 full curl rams long ago & lucked out on the largest.
We followed nine-mile creek up the mountain. Near tree line I spotted a level spot for the tent. A scraggly small spruce tree was torn up with broken branches. A bull moose will sometimes tear a tree up during the rut. This one was different- it was loaded with clumps of fine blondish hair. This was a scratching post for a Grizzly Bear!
I laughingly told Hans that I hoped the Grizzly would not get an itch that night, while spying a tree where we could hang our food. Hans relived a Grizzly encounter a few years back while hiking with sister Ingrid at Mount Baldy above Eagle River. They were hiking near the popular main trail when Hans surprised sow Grizzly with 2 cubs in the brush. Hans turned & ran with Ingrid screaming that mama-bear was closing fast. Hans grabbed his knife & wheeled to face the bear. They faced off at 10-feet separation with Hans spreading his long arms above his head. After a brief stand-off the Grizzly returned to her cubs. Hans brought up the idea of moving camp away from the Grizzly scratching post. I vetoed the idea- it was almost dark & would be hard to find a flat spot on the side of the mountain.
We retired to the tent. I was thinking of all the bear encounters over the years. A fatality last year, a couple maulings in recent years, I was bluff-charged 2 years ago; a Kodiak hunt where we held our guns all night as a bear walked around our tents. I dozed off.
Thumped in the chest, I woke to Hans’ urgent voice, “did you hear that?” I listened intently, a loud snort of a large animal broke the silence. Now it was my turn, “did you hear that?” A large animal was trying to get our scent- I have heard it on other occasions. I grabbed my gun & exited the tent in skivvies. Hans did the same as we heard a large branch crack under the weight of something big. I started yelling & whistling.. hey bear!..hey bear! Another branch broke- closer. I slid a round into the chamber. A large spruce tree was 10 yards away- another big branch broke directly behind it. We raised our rifles, expecting the worst. We waited. Nothing. Then we heard sounds down toward the creek, the animal was moving away. We remained vigilant, trying to guess if the animal was moving away or perhaps circling around us. We retired to the tent with no further disturbance.
The next morning we climbed the 3500 feet to the top. We glassed & scoped all 3 branches of the headwaters of Thunder Bird drainage, also Peters Creek drainage. Not only did we see no rams, we spotted no sheep. On the way up the mountain Hans spotted a large bull moose in the drainage. Perhaps this bull was the dusk visitor at the Grizzly scratching post.
We were right across from the spot I got the ram long ago. It was a beautiful spot, Thunder Bird Peak in the background; all the peaks could be seen along the headwaters of Peters Creek. I again pointed out the hike route from long ago- Ram Valley to Eklutna Lake.
We departed- on the way out Hans spotted a Great Gray Owl and another legal bull moose right off the trail, the season for moose was not quite open. After all that mountain climbing we celebrated with a Pizza Man Special & skoled our adventure with schooners of beer. I suddenly felt very lucky.