Benign Peak, Chugach Mountains
As an avid peak bagger, there is nothing more appealing than a list of peaks. Between the “Seven Summits”, the “128 Ultras”, or the “50 US high points”, there is a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment checking each new one off a personal list.
On a local level, there are enough mountains for me to summit to fill a couple lifetimes. I therefore started turning my attention to a small number of peaks that beyond their beauty share one thing in common; all 21 pierce the sky above 7000 feet in Alaska’s Western Chugach.
There is an unspoken principle among most fellow peak baggers when it comes to big days in the mountains; you only summit once, as there are too many beautiful peaks to climb to feel the need to come back. This can make trip planning challenging, as finding partners when you are late to the game can prove difficult.
The end of Summer was getting close and I was still hoping to find my way up a third 7000 footer before the snow piles. Scrolling around a map of the Chugach State Park and reading a couple of reports on different mountains, my mind settled on Benign Peak, 7235 feet and the 13th tallest on the list. After a few days of searching for a partner, I heard that my friend Max was looking to get out and fortunately, hadn’t climbed Benign yet. So on the morning of the last day of August, we took off on our bikes for a 12-mile ride around Eklutna Lake, which would get us to the base of the peak.
The climb was easy going for most of it, encountering demanding long sections of screen and choss that would test our legs and spirit. Unlike most mountains, we got to the crux about a third of the way up. It consisted of a steep and narrow gully interspersed with a few high steps involving short moves of 3rd and 4th class scrambling (which ended up quite easier on the way up than the way down after 12 hours on the mountain). The Fall colors and the continuous sight of the Eklutna glacier in the distance made for an incredible experience.
After 8 hours of slow going up steep slopes and gullies, we finally emerged at the top as the afternoon mist wrapped around the rock edges of the summit. Luckily the wind picked up shortly after and dispersed the clouds to let us contemplate the views. I will never get tired of such moments.
We made our way back without any incident, arriving to our bikes as the sun disappeared beyond the mountain range. The 12-mile ride to the parking lot was punctuated with the occasional remounting of the chain on Max’s bike as well as the usual “hey! bear!” call to avoid any potential encounters. Our tracking recorded 15 hours by the time we got to the car, hoping for a late dinner somewhere and good night sleep.