On 6/18/08, Todd Kasteler and I had our sights set on climbing Cumulus Mountain (5815’), located in Eagle River, AK. We started running at 5:07 p.m. from the Eagle River Nature Center with high spirits and a thirst for the unknown. The weather was nice, but cloudy. Our route was a direct ascent from behind the Nature Center to the ridgeline on which Cumulus was located. Todd and I ran two or three miles down the Dew Mound trail, frequently looking up towards the ridgeline for the “perfect” line of ascent. The goal was to limit the amount of bushwhacking and to avoid steep cliff bands as much as possible. However, this ended up not being the case. We trudged our way up through brush, Devil’s Club, thorn bushes, alder, and cliff bands for probably 2500’ of vertical. Finally, we made it out and discovered a grassy slope that seemed to lead right to the ridge. Todd and I happily traversed across a few rock bands and found our way to the clearing. We then proceeded up a long, sustained grind to what we believed was the ridgeline to Cumulus. The clouds thickened, lowered, and fully covered the ridge. Todd built a rock cairn to help us know where to head down from the descent. Visibility was very low.
Todd and I excitedly began the ridge climb to Cumulus! The climb was relentless, exposed, mysterious, and unforgiving. False summits littered the ridgeline. Since the visibility so low, we never had a view of the summit. We simply pushed onward and upward with only the goal of reaching the summit in mind. The ridgeline was more difficult that we predicted. We grossly underestimated Cumulus Mountain.
Todd and I finally reached a point on the ridge that seemed near the summit. However, the angle steepened, the rocks became more broken, and the exposure significantly increased.
Surprisingly, Cumulus was testing our limits of comfort. We came to a jagged drop-off and wondered how in the world we would get to the summit. Todd slowly and carefully climbed down a rotten gully. He grabbed my feet and helped me get down. We made our way up a narrow slab of rocks to “solid” ground. My legs and hands were shaking. Almost there! We continued toward the summit, but a vertical wall of rock with deadly exposure on either side rudely confronted us. There seemed to be no way to move safely up or around. We peered into the depths and found nothing encouraging.
This was the end of the journey; at most, only a few hundred feet from the top.
Todd and I jointly felt the section was too risky and dangerous to navigate. Our hopes of climbing Cumulus Mountain were finished. At one point, I remember proclaiming to Todd that God gave me a message: You are almost at the end! In retrospect, I misinterpreted the message. I wanted to believe that it meant we were almost at the summit, rather than vertical, rotten rock will soon stymie you near the end. It is a painful experience to turn around so close to the top. It took hours of dedicated work to reach this point. Feelings of melancholy and disappointment permeated my soul. Todd was my savior. He shared comforting words that rejuvenated my optimism and sense of adventure. My feelings lingered for awhile, but quickly dissipated the longer I talked with Todd. We carefully retraced our steps down the long steep ridge and found the cairn he built several hours earlier.
We blasted down a glorious scree field and made our way to a glacier. Once at the glacier, the running was smooth and fast in the snow. We were quickly at tree line. Todd found a bear trail and we headed down. Fortunately, we only saw one black bear from a distance. Nevertheless, it was a spooky experience. Todd and I yelled, grunted, and howled the entire way down the game trail. We challenged any bear to look into our souls. After several minutes of fast and exhilarating running, we landed right on the Crow Pass trail, four miles from the Nature Center. It was a lovely run back to the truck. The outing ended at 12:40 a.m., for a total of 7 hours 30 minutes of pure thrill seeking.
The next day Todd called me at home and said, “Jason, you know what, we almost climbed Korohusk Peak (7030’)! As it turned out, due to the low clouds, poor visibility, and unknown nature of the route, we ended up taking the wrong ridgeline. All along, we were not on the ridgeline to Cumulus, but on the diabolical ridgeline to Korohusk! Oh my goodness! No wonder the adventure was sustained, relentless, steep, exposed, and never-ending. The phone call and concurrent analysis of the Chugach State Park map answered many questions. Todd; thanks for a GREAT adventure! What is the next one?