Ascent of Mount Sumdum on 2011-07-12

Climber: Ben Still

Date:Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Sumdum
    Elevation:6666 ft / 2031 m

Ascent Trip Report

Here are some photos from the trip of Peak 7031 and Mount Sumdum:

Mike Miller, Will Wacker and I embark from Douglas Harbor Friday July 8, 2011 with the mission to climb up Peak 7031 at the head of Endicott Arm and Mount Sumdum, a prominent peak at the junction of Tracy and Endicott Arm. Endicott Arm is a 35 mile long glacial fjord located 50 miles south of Juneau, Alaska. Mike’s 18 foot fiberglass boat dubbed Nunatak is hopefully up for the task of dodging icebergs and carrying gear and fuel for three people. The forecast is promising, but low clouds greet us the first 50 miles down Stevens Passage to Holkam Bay, the entrance to Endicott Arm. At this point large ice bergs become prevalent and we keep our eyes peeled for the smaller bergy bits which could cause our small boat problems. Cruising up the arm the clouds darken and a light rain begins to fall. I am concerned about the weather knowing this area tends to be even rainier than Juneau.
The last couple of miles up the arm the walls of granite steepen to near vertical or overhanging and the fjord is choked with ice. The Dawes Glacier is an impressive sight and calves often sending out glacial tsunamis which crash up the rock walls and oscillate back and forth for over thirty minutes. Crack Boom, a quarter mile wide piece of ice crashes into the water sending an enormous wave our way while our unattended boat sits anchored 50 feet off shore and we are setting up camp 100 yards away. The Nunatak is thrown up on the rock slabs and ends up nearly breaking in half while all the weight sits on the motor. The second wave pulls the boat back out to sea and miraculously the boat stays afloat! At high tide we pull our slightly damaged boat up the slabs to a safe distance anchoring it with three pitons. Our camp is located on the north side of the fjord at the base of the south west slopes of Peak 7031.
I wake up at 5 am and hear the pitter patter of rain on the tent. We sleep past our alarm waking up around 9am to low clouds, but improving conditions. We get a light rock rack together and decide to bring only one of the double ropes and no camping gear. Having yet to see the mountain we really don’t know what to expect. Leaving at 10am from camp we scramble up slabs and crash through alder ledges, working our way around the peak towards a south easterly facing valley. Luckily the smooth glacial carved slabs dry out quickly as we find ourselves in several very exposed locations high above the icy water below making committing slab moves lunging for alders. After three hours of alder climbing around the mountain and following some goat trails we make it to 2200’ starting up the south east facing valley. From here we catch a glimpse of the upper glacier seeing many large crevasses and a bit of an icefall, but the upper 2000 feet of the peak is still shrouded in mist. We make quick work of the easy terrain and hike up to 3400’ the base of the glacier, but here the clouds begin thickening below us and a light drizzle starts falling. We start to debate turning around and decide to at least make it up to 5000’ where the clouds are lingering. So we climb up 30-40 degree snow slopes heading into the clouds and end up gaining the south east ridge at 5200’. We follow some rock outcroppings through the mist up the ridge. At 5700’ we get a brief view above us to lure us up the mountain. We rope up here and gain the glacier proper weaving around some gaping crevasses.
We continue up through the mist shrouded crevasse field hoping to catch a glimpse of something up above us, but the mist thickens and for a brief moment I am disoriented and can hardly tell up from down. Continuing up slightly disoriented does not feel right so as we begin to talk about turning back for the second time, and then the clouds part and we can see the rock summit pyramid is very close, but looks much steeper than anticipated. We climb up 300 feet of 45 degree snow and gain the rock ridge, we are above the clouds! We continue up the exposed ridge on a running belay for 500 feet of really fun fourth class climbing on solid rock. The summit is blocked from afar by what looked like an overhung wall of aid climbing, but up close ends up being really fun 5.7 rock climbing. Will leads up the final pitch and Mike and I follow to the summit. From here we can make out Devils Thumb and Mount Burkett piercing the clouds to the south. The sun is getting low and the time is 9:30pm, we quickly take a bunch of photos and start the journey back down. Two 100 foot rappels bring us back to the running belay ridge which we quickly climb back down. We follow our tracks back down into the clouds as the sky darkens. At midnight we find ourselves back at 3400’ and in the dark. We decide the slabs below are too dangerous to down climb in the dark and bivy out next to the high glacier. After 45 minutes with all my clothes on and my feet in my backpack I wake up shivering and unable to sleep, soon after I see Will get up and start running around our ledge trying to warm up. We spend the next couple of hours shivering and waiting for light. At 3:30 am we have enough light to make the trek back to camp. As we climb back down through the alders and slabs of rock the weather slowly breaks and by the time we reach our camp at noon the sun is shining brightly! We rest of the day is spent sleeping in the sun and watching huge pieces of ice calve off into the arm while waiting for the tide to come back in.
We are able to push the boat back into the water at 8pm and start the journey back out through the icy waters of Endicott Arm. We put our dry suits on for this part of the ride since there is a little hull damage to the boat. We are trying to make it back to Holkam Bay so we can start up Mount Sumdum Monday morning, but there appears to be more ice than when we came in so the going is very slow. By 11pm it is dark and we are 20 miles from the Sumdum beach. There are not many icebergs at this point, but we have to slow down after a couple of near misses. Around 1am we pull up to the beach and anchor the boat out while we sleep on the beach.
We wake up to a loud cracking sound around 4am. I peek out of my bivy sack and see a humpback whale slapping its tail and fins against the water just 100 yards off shore. I watch for a minute and the whale stops. Ten minutes later crack, crack, the whale is at it again and we are treated to this for the next two hours. The sight is awesome, but I am tired and can’t sleep with all the ruckus. Eventually the whale moves on and we sleep.
At the crack of noon we are getting ready for our climb up Mount Sumdum. We bring our glacier travel equipment and sleeping bags and leave the climbing rack in the boat for this climb. Our plan is to follow the western ridge/slopes of the peak to the north of the Sumdum Glacier gaining the southern snow slopes to the summit. The bush whacking here is much different and more intense with thick devils club and blueberry bushes and the occasional tangle of wind fallen trees. The old growth Cedar, Hemlock and Spruce forest is amazing as always. At 1800’ we break out into muskeg meadows which connect up the crest of the ridge to tree line at 3000’. At 4000’ we decide to call it an early night and drop our loads and take in the amazing views of the Sumdum Glacier and surrounding waterways.
Poking around the area I come across a bunch of old rusty tin cans, old drill bits and metal wire. This assorted garbage was left in the late 1960s when a mining company was drilling to see how large the copper, zinc and gold deposit is which is mostly under the Sumdum Glacier. The mineral deposit ended up being pretty small so they abandoned most of their stuff and left it for me to find many years later.
A 6am start the next morning and easy terrain brings us onto the upper slopes of the Sumdum Glacier at 5200’ by 7am. Another hour of slogging up the snow slopes brings us to the summit of Mount Sumdum 6666’. We admire the awesome views and take a look down the steep north east face of the mountain which was climbed in the 90s and featured in Rock & Ice magazine. We climb back down to high camp and gather our gear stashed earlier this morning and make the trek back down through the muskeg meadows and back through the awesome brush to the boat.
We push off the Sumdum beach and motor back into Douglas Harbor late Tuesday evening grinning and talking about how fun this adventure was and our many plans for the future.

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Sumdum Glacier cascades down towards Holkham Bay with Mount Sumdum on the left (2011-07-12). Photo by Ben Still.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6966 ft / 2123 m
    Total Elevation Loss:300 ft / 91 m
    Route Conditions:
Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Bivouac
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:6966 ft / 2123 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 6666 ft / 2031 m; Extra: 300 ft / 91m
    Loss on way in:300 ft / 91 m
    Start Trailhead:0 ft / 0 m
Descent Statistics

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