Notch GullyIndianhouse Mountain - Notch Gully – April 28, 2007
Over the years I have tried to lead numerous trips to the summit of Indianhouse Mountain. But for one reason or another, none of these trips succeeded in reaching the summit. One year I canceled the trip because I had to attend an out-of-town funeral. Another couple of years the trip was aborted due to high avalanche danger. Another year we got close to the summit, but increasing rockfall in Notch Gully caused us to turn around. And last year, I was having such a good time in the perfect weather that I missed the gully on the east side of the peak and led the party from the south side of the mountain clear to the north side. And despite not reaching the summit on any of these trips and despite my notoriously early morning starts, the MCA trips always proved very popular and I frequently had to turn people away to keep the number of participants to a manageable level.
This year proved to be the year that I finally succeeded in leading a MCA group to the summit of Indianhouse Mountain. The weather was ideal, but the majority of the 11 people in our group couldn’t tell because their eyes were still closed at the 4:00 a.m. meeting at the Huffman Road Carrs. Luckily we found a few drivers willing to keep their eyes open for the short drive to Indian.
We started from a small pullout on the north side of the Seward Highway just west of the corner that is west of Indian. The pullout has room for about four vehicles. We started up the small trail to the northeast and followed that as it turned to the west. In the pre-dawn darkness, though, we soon lost it and began our bushwhack through the trees. Fortunately, there was no snow and the leaves had not yet budded, so we made quick work of the bushwhack and found the trail still to our west as we climbed above the timber. We reached the 2500-foot point of the south ridge of Indianhouse Mountain just as the sun was rising over Bird Ridge. Only here did we encounter our first significant snow patch.
We continued up the ridge to about 2800 feet and then moved north across the snowy east face of the mountain. The temperature was in the high 20s and the snow was firm. We walked across the slope, just below the cliffs, until we had crossed a couple gullies. Notch Gully descends on the east side of the mountain from the prominent notch just south of the summit. In the spring a snow-filled couloir makes this gully obvious when from Indian or the Bird Ridge Parking Lot. However, when viewed from up close, it appears similar to many of the other gullies on the mountain. Fortunately, the gully still had plenty of snow that descended into the trees, so it was obvious from our vantage point.
We headed up the gully, but partway up we spooked a couple of Dall sheep rams. Unappreciative of being rousted from their perch, they fled up the gully, knocking rocks down on us. Notch Gully somewhat resembles the gutter of a bowling alley tilted on end. When Mother Nature throws gutter balls, it’s a bad place to be. We moved out of the center of the gully until the sheep were no longer knocking rocks down on us.
Notch Gully forks. We took the northern (right) fork. The route beyond that point is hidden from view from below, but the gully continues, forking again (again we took the north [right] fork). Rick Hagen opted to wait for us shortly after the first fork, so after he moved to a spot safe from our fall line, we moved to the top of the gully. The snow was quite firm and several participants put on their crampons to move up the gully. Near the top of the gully we exited on the west (left) side just below the ridge crest.
Once on the ridge crest, Neil Murphy led us the couple hundred yards to the summit. Soon we had 10 people on the summit. The views to the east were fantastic. We saw flocks of snow geese and Canada geese migrating west above Turnagain Arm. But as we sat on the summit, the weather to the west began to get worse. Clouds descended from the peaks and were blowing toward us.
So, after our short snack we retraced our steps to the bottom of Notch Gully where the snow became softer. From this point we glissaded down the east face of the mountain to the timber. There is a small waterfall in the gully that had melted out, necessitating a short downclimb in the middle of our glissade, but the rest of the glissade was tremendous. Each one of the 11 of us had a smile spread from ear to ear as we reached the bottom of the snow. The glissade makes the month of April the ideal time to climb this mountain.
We began a bushwhack through the temperate rain forest, crossing the creek and descending down and to the southeast. Along the way we encountered a freshly skinned porcupine pelt. I figured that there was an animal with a bunch of quills in its face or paws in the general vicinity – just what I wanted to have while bushwhacking.
But the critter never made an appearance and we walked to the end of Chickweed Lane and followed that road to Indian Valley Road to the Seward Highway just west of the Indian House restaurant (after which the mountain was named in 1963), and back to our cars. We arrived at about 2:15.
The trip participants were Neil Murphy, Yukiko Hayano, Randy Plant, Lisa Ferber, Eric Holloway, Glen Troullier, Theo Hunt, Brian Gross, Kevin Downie, Rick Hagen, and myself. We all had a wonderful day.
As great and as popular as this trip was, I’m going to let someone else lead it next year. It’s been quite a popular trip over the years and I’d like to see it continue as a MCA tradition. So, if you’ve participated in any of the trips I‘ve led, consider giving a little something back to the club by leading this trip next April. It’s been my experience that trips can be even more fulfilling when I lead others into the mountains.