The Chugach Mountains are a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts all over the world. Among the many sights and activities are glaciers, alpine lakes, rivers, abundant wildlife, salmon fishing, ice and rock climbing, hunting, gold panning, and abandoned mines. Also of interest is a portion of the original Iditarod trail which passes through the Chugach on the way up from Seward before continuing on to Nome. The Iditarod trail was used by early miners in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s who sought to strike it rich. The Chugach Mountains are protected by Chugach State Park and by the Chugach National Forest.
The Chugach Mountains are the northern most of several ranges that make up the Alaska Costal Range. Its formation likely derives from the actions of the Pacific plate and its movement against the southern Alaska coastline. The mountains span approximately 250 miles east to west and span approximately 100 miles north to south. The Chugach Mountains are largely glacier carved, giving them a more distinctly alpine appearance than older mountains of similar height. According to Wikipedia, the name "Chugach" is from the Eskimo tribal name Chugachmiut recorded by the Russians and written by them "Chugatz" and "Tchougatskoi"; in 1898 U.S. Army Captain W. R. Abercrombie spelled the name "Chugatch" and applied it to the mountains. For expediency, the Chugach Mountains can be subdivided into three distinct geographical sections: The Western Chugach, Central Chugach, and the Eastern Chugach.
Western Chugach Mountains / Chugach State Park
The Western Chugach is the region covered by Chugach State Park and its immediate surroundings. Chugach State Park lays claim to being the third largest State Park, falling behind only Alaska's Wood-Tichik State Park and California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It is the most accessible, developed, and well explored of the three regions. The Western Chugach can be subdivided into several smaller locales as well, including the Hillside, Eagle River, Eklutna Lake, Ptarmigan Valley, Turnigan Arm, Girdwood, Lake George, and Twentymile.
The Western Chugach is bounded by the Knik Arm, the Knik River, the Lake Fork of the Knik River, Inner Lake George, Sparrow Creek, Bagg Pass, the West Fork of the Twentymile River, the Twentymile River, and Turnagain Arm. Most (but not all) of the Western Chugach Mountains have been climbed. The highest peaks in the Western Chugach Mountains are Bashful Peak (8005), Baleful Peak (7990), Bellicose Peak (7640), Hunters Peak (7549), and Mount Yukla (7535). Despite this, many of the peaks in the Western Chugach taper before 6,000 feet.
Central Chugach Mountains
The Central Chugach extend from the boarders of Chugach State park to the riverbanks of the Copper River. The highest peaks of the Chugach fall into this region. It is also characterized by several large interlacing glacier systems including the Knik Glacier, Tazlina Glacier, Columbia Glacier, and Nelchina Glacier among others. The Central Chugach is bounded on the south by Turnagain Arm, Portage Creek, Portage Lake, Portage Pass, Divide Lake, Shakespeare Creek, Passage Canal, and Prince William Sound and on the north by the Matanuska River, East Fork of the Matanuska River, Trail Creek, Trail Lake, Tahneta Pass, Lake Leila, Tahneta Lake, Eureka Creek, the Nelchina River, Tazlina Lake, the Tazlina River, and the Copper River. The Central Chugach see some climbing attention; Getting more than the Eastern Chugach, but far less than the Western Chugach. The highest peaks that have been climbed in the Central Chugach are Mount Marcus Baker (13176), Middle Summit of Mount Marcus Baker (12850), Mount Thor (12521), North Peak of Mount Marcus Baker (12360), and Mount Valhalla (12135).
Eastern Chugach Mountains
The Eastern Chugach the least developed and least explored of the three regions. There is very little supplies or medical care in this region. The Eastern Chugach is east of the Copper River, west of the Bering Glacier and the Tana Glacier, south of the Chitina River, and north of the Gulf of Alaska. The Eastern Chugach Mountains see relatively little climbing attention. Many of the peaks in the Eastern Chugach remain unnamed officially. Named peaks in that area that have been climbed include Hanagita Peak (8504), Mount Hawkins (10295), Ragged Mountain (3315), Mount Steller (10515), and Mount Tom White (11191). Some prominent glacier systems in the Eastern Chugach include Miles Glacier, Wernicke Glacier, Stellar Glacier, Bering Glacier, and the Bagley Ice Field.
Thanks to Steve Gruhn, who provided a large portion of this information.
Getting ThereThe Chugach Mountains can be accessed through a variety of methods once you arrive in Alaska.
Western Chugach Mountains / Chugach State Park:
Numerous trail heads direct visitors into the Western Chugach. Some popular trail heads can be viewed on from this map. The USGS on the Alaska Pacific University campus (off of University Dr) has a great selection of purchasable government maps for planning expeditions.
Central Chugach Mountains
Eastern Chugach Mountains
Red TapeDepending on where you find yourself in the mountains, different regulations apply. Realize that besides the National Forest and State Park, many private owners exist as well.
Chugach State Park:
The following are generalizations:
-Most State Park trailheads require a $5.00 parking fee per vehicle. An annual pass is availible for $40.00 from the REI in Anchorage. Some trailheads (i.e. Pioneer Ridge, etc. . .) are regulated by the Mat-Su Burough and may charge seperate fees not covered by the annual pass. Other trailheads (i.e. Artic Valley, etc. . .) are privately owned and also charge a seperate fee. Always read the trailhead markers carefully to see what fees are required. Plan ahead and bring cash.
-Firearms are allowed, however target shooting is strictly prohibited.
-Hunting is only allowed during seasons permitted by the state, and only in the locations the state defines. Hunting is strictly regulated in Alaska. Read the regulations carefully before planning a hunting trip in the state.
-Open fires are only permitted in areas along the shorelines below high-water mark and in designated fire pits.
-Destroying, altering, or removing vegetation and landmarks is prohibited.
See the State Park website for more up-to-date and accurate information.
Chugach National Forest:
-Firewood may only be gathered from dead trees and may not be sold
-Motorized vehicles should not wander off desiginated trails
Few regulations exist for the unprotected areas of the Chugach mountains, but explorers need to be aware that few boundary markers distinguish private land from public. Many Alaskans value their privacy and don't look favorably upon trespassers.
External LinksChugach State Park Official Web Site: http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chugach/
Chugach National Forest Official Web Site: http://fs.usda.gov/chugach
Chugach Mountains Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chugach_Mountains
Chugach Avalanche Warnings: http://www.cnfaic.org/index.php
CampingCamping locations are abundant but range from primitive to very primitive. The detailed information about provided camping sites can be found at the Chugach state park website:
Chugach State Park Camping Information
Camping is permitted throughout the Chugach Mountains, not just at designated facilities. Campers should be aware of land ownership before making use of the terrain.
"Leave No Trace" attitudes are strongly supported in Alaska.
Chugach Terrain and WeatherTraveling in Alaska on foot can be very challenging. Very little flat grassland exists, especially in the Chugach Mountains. Explorers can expect to encounter a variety of terrain. The following are personal commentaries and observation on dealing with Alaskan wilderness. Terrain types have been divided up into two rough categories.
Creeks – Will vary in size from barely discernible trickles to impassible floods. Creeks are encountered all throughout the Chugach. Bring extra shoes or plan on occasional wading when traveling by foot. Creeks are usually snow melt or glacier fed, and will be more likely to flood during hot days and after heavy rain.
Marsh - Much of the lowlands of Alaska are marshland. Expect different combination of water, mud, and vegetation. Vegetation can grow in lumps called 'tussocks' that float on the water. They are difficult to navigate. A similar form of floating vegetation known as 'Muskeg' also grows in the marshland. It usually resembles collections of tussocks that forms large pads of vegetation. These pads appear to be stable terrain but then give way. Most Alaskan marshland is extremely difficult to travel and is likely to cause injury.
Alder Thickets – Ranges between small, ankle-high scrub brush to head-high impassible walls of vegetation. Alder bushes can alternate between being passable and impassible within a few yards. Travel here is frustrating overall.
Forest - Chugach forests are usually composed of black spruce and white spruce, and birch. White spruce and birch forests are usually very passable and pleasant to travel. Black spruce forests are usually located in tundra and marshland and are very difficult to travel.
Scree and Talus - Broken up rock, usually due to glaciation that forms slope. Scree tends to be small, loose rocks, while talus is closer to large rocks or boulders in size. Both can be dangerous to cross, but they make up the only route on a trail occasionally. As long as care is taken it can usually be crossed without indecent.
Mountains - The mountains in the Chugach are largely volcanic deposited and glacier formed. They tend to take on classic upside-down 'V' shaped ridge-lines. Mountains and ridges can make for easy travel once you get past the treeline.
Glaciers - Heavy snowfall and year-round cold temperatures make the Chugach Mountains glacier factories. It is true that the in recent years the glaciers have receded dramatically, however they still cover much of the upper reaches of the Chugach mountains. Many of the lowland rivers and creeks are derived from snow and glacier melt off. Glaciers should only be traversed if the explorer has mountaineering/glacier crossing experience. Glaciers can be some of the most dangerous terrain to cross because of slickness, crevasses, and calving (ice boulders breaking away). Somewhat ironically, glaciers can make a good site for base camps when exploring the higher reaches of the Chugach mountains. Plan on using crampons and ice tools.