Alaska Range Patrol Report
NPS Rangers Mik Shain and Chris Erickson
July 3 to July 9, 2015
Patrol report written by Chris Erickson, with photos provided by Mik Shain
The Eldridge Spires (NPS Photo/Mik Shain)
Mik and I spent four days on the Southwest Fork of the Eldridge Glacier, two days crossing the Main, Middle, and North Forks of the Eldridge, and two days on Ohio Creek.
Most of our time on the SW Fork was dedicated to ski touring and glacier exploration. Little is known about this fairly remote area, and we set out to assess the area for climbing possibilities. This area, and in particular the "Golden" Branch of the SW Fork, is characterized by large granite domes, spires and towers that surround relatively flat glaciers. The granite is fascinating scenery but generally mediocre climbing. Most of the rock has begun to decompose or is covered in lichen/vegetation. A notable exception, however, is the lowest 50-100 feet - the part that has only recently been exposed to air due to glacial recession. This grey/silver granite contrasts with the generally orange/golden granite directly above it, and the climbing is top-notch. This rock is solid, offers good protection, clean cracks, high friction, and is slightly featured for hand/foot holds. If this quality rock continued to the top of the various walls, the Eldridge would be the best rock climbing destination in the Alaska Range. As it stands, however, it may primarily become a "cragging" (i.e. single-pitch) destination. Longer climbing lines certainly exist, but they seem to pass through more difficult climbing with less-quality rock.
The scenic viewpoints in and around the Eldridge are fantastic. Views of the Buckskin Glacier, the Mooses Tooth, the Bear's Tooth, Mt. Hunter, Denali, and more are outstanding from any high point.
Summit at the head of the Eldridge Glacier (NPS Photo/Mik Shain)
Ski Planes can land at the head of the SW Fork and offer access to the area. Most of the rock climbing is found near the confluence of the SW Fork and the Main Eldridge Glacier, and up the "Golden" branch - a north facing side glacier in the SW Fork.
Crossing the four forks of the Eldridge Glacier is involved, slow travel. Many large moraines, moulins, open crevasses, and small rivers must be navigated. The entire area is an ankle hazard with loose rocks and uneven terrain. One river canyon on the North Fork required a hand-line/rappel to cross. Often, steep glacial ice was covered by a thin veneer of scree, which can result in a long and dangerous slide to an unsuspecting traveler.
The Eldridge forks were separated by tundra ridges. We saw caribou and marmots on these ridges, despite the fact that the ridges were surrounded by glaciers on all sides.
Putting in on Ohio Creek (NPS Photo/Mik Shain)
We ended our patrol and exited the park by packrafting Ohio Creek. Ohio Creek is non-stop, fast moving, splashy whitewater. It featured many sections that had a "big-water" feel to it, i.e. exploding waves, large hydraulics, boils, and side-waves, despite it's relative lack of size compared to other Alaska Range rivers. We walked around one box canyon that probably would have been floatable at grade IV whitewater (estimated).
We did encounter two black bears, one very large bull moose, and a herd of 15-20 caribou up the upper Ohio valley.
Reaching the Parks Highway (NPS Photo/Mik Shain)