Thursday, July 16, 2020

Penguin Ridge Hike - 9.7.2014

Note: Penguin Ridge is a trip down memory lane. In July 2020 I updated this post to include posts about peaks that I'd been dreaming of in 2014 and are now memories that I will cherish forever.

When Roman Dial describes it as "the best day-hike in the Chugach", you know you should do it. You should also know that Dial's idea of world class "day-hiking" involves burning calves, bushwhacking, and treacherous down climbs. Now I know that.

Penguin Ridge is another one of those adventures that I've been hearing about since the day I got here. Because the hike is all about the views, you want a day with perfect weather. Last week we got that day, so Whint, Kelly, Rachel, Alex, and I set out on the much anticipated hike.

I've really been looking forward to this hike along the skyline of Turnagain Arm. With unobstructed views in all directions, I figured it be both a trip down memory lane, and a chance to plot more memory makers. It was all that, and memorable too.

Shortly after a car drop/bathroom break/blueberry fritter pit stop in Girdwood, we were on the trail from Bird towards Penguin Peak. The fall colors have really started to pop in the last week, here they are just beginning to show across the valley on Bird Ridge.

The first bit of the trail is a rough wake up call. Its steep, slippery, overgrown, and beary. No, not berry. Alex and I both hate mornings, that's probably why we get along, heads down and no talking for the first hour:

The minute we we reached the the ridge and the sun poured onto us, we knew the day was going to be fantastic. Alex with Falls Creek in the background. Note - coupled with the north face of Penguin, the southwest bowl makes for a great combo day of spring pow and corn skiing.

The view from a little higher up. Looking west towards Indian House, South Suicide, North Suicide,  Avalanche, and Bird Ridge: Note - in July 2017 we connected Rendezvous and Bird Ridge for a fun backyard weekend - just like Crow Pass to Glen Alps.

Reaching the top of Penguin Peak, the valleys and peaks of the Chugach spilled out below us. Bird Peak is in the foreground, Alex has been talking about this one for awhile, I'm sure it will be memorable. Note - in 2019 Dmitry, Seth, Alex, and I skied Bird Peak, and it was memorable.

From Penguin Peak we followed Penguin Ridge to the east. At this point the hike became a scramble through loose scree. With vivid descriptions of their old dog dying somewhere above Turnagain Arm, Whit and Kelly turned around. This likely saved Ruby to hike another day.

One of the surprising parts of the hike was the number of seemingly untouched valleys hidden from, yet so close to the Seward Highway. Tucked away on the skyline upper right is Kern Creek where we have had so many good days connecting various ski lines.

After an extended period of scrambling filled with lounging and playing mountain goats, the traverse began to mellow out into more of a cruise.

An awesome rock glacier spilling into the valley below Bird Peak. So cool how it seems to the envelope the vegetation that it flows through.

Game trails galore - evidence of the plethora of goats up here.

Humans didn't make this trail, but it sure worked great for us.

With a nearly full moon, we were hoping we'd get to see a big bore tide. Popping up from behind a ridge, we could see the wave moving up the Arm towards us.

Looking back west towards town and the Tordillo Mountains:

The view south towards Resurrection Pass, and another look at the bore tide. The bore stayed pinned on the island for some time as the rest of the waved continued to move up Turnagain Arm. Tricky fluid dynamics here, I'm guessing that the boundary condition that kept it stuck there was the requirement for a bore until the change in elevation with position was overcome by the incoming tide.

Carpathian, a Kenai giant with the Skookum Glacier spilling off its southwest flanks. The Skookum is a playground for sled access skiers. Explorer has something for everyone.

The end of the Turnagain Arm, Whittier, Shakespeare Shoulder, Shakespeare Glacier, 20 Mile, Explorer, Byron (which we've skied a few times over the years), Bard, and Pyramid, to name a few that are visible AND on the Wish List. Coincidentally, our friend Neil was actually walking through the mud flats in the foreground when I took this.

Isthmus, another giant of the Kenai, nestled in the heart of the icefield. Note - over a weekend in March 2020 Nyssa and I skied Isthmus and Carpathian. Like many big objectives, it took years to knock this one off the list.

The ridge continued to act like a stair machine on steroids, but the walking did get smoother, although never getting quite smooth enough for skipping.

What you missed as you zoomed by on the highway.

Virgin Creek and Big League in the foreground and the headwaters of 20 Mile along the horizon.

Peterson Creek just poking out, another one for the Wish List.

There used to be more glaciers here, bulbous old moraines highlighted by the tundra.

At 6 PM Rachel reminded us about her red-eye flight that evening. Still about 2 km from our planned descent, we turned down a gully towards the highway. I doubt there are any pleasant ways off the ridge, and this was no exception. The hillside steadily became steeper and steeper and more and more slippery as we inched down. As we dislodged one bowling ball sized rock after another, I couldn't help but imagining the dog plummeting down the cliffs below us. If this descent was wet it would be certain death, even dry it was slow and stressful. The dirt jammed deep under all my fingernails as I clawed my way down is a testament to this.

After an hour of zigzagging through the cliffs we reached what Dial had generously described as a "meadow". It was still steep enough that Rachel was able to slide down it on her butt.

The end of the meadows brought a very memorable bushwhack. Particularly because of the thick nettle patch(es). So painful.

Three and a half hours after leaving the ridge we fell off the last drop and onto the edge of the Seward Highway. Out of the jungle!

The last time that I tried to hitchhike along the Turnagain Arm, it wasn't until my friend Diane drove by that I got a ride. Needless to say, a similar attempt in the dark didn't work as well. Eventually, we cut or losses and ran back to the car. 15 minutes later we were on the road back towards Anchorage. In Anchorage, Rachel was packed, showered, and on her way to way to Colorado 45 minutes later.

The descent is steep, filled with cliffs, and slippery. DON'T ATTEMPT UNLESS IT IS DRY.

In July 2015, we went back for redemption on Penguin Ridge. Tarah:

This time we made sure to not drop early from the ridge and followed meadows towards California Creek. Thinking about this I am reminded about the unbelievable quantity of bear scat we saw here in April 2019, or the huge brown bear on the Turnagain Arm Trail in March 2022. Fishs Breath, a Girdwood Classic, is just out of sight to the left (west).

There was still bushwhacking, but this time there was less devils club, no cliffs, and no nettles. I also remember a giant cloudberry patch. It was much more tolerable.

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