Friday, January 12, 2024

Paradise Pass Weekend - July 2023

On a gorgeous weekend in July of 2023, Nyssa, Erin, Tom, and I drove south from Anchorage towards Girdwood. The weekend would start like so many others have for so many people: at the Crow Pass Trailhead at the top of the Crow Creek Road. With a general plan centered on a loop around Synthesizer Peak, we shouldered our light weekend packs and started hiking towards Crow Pass.

The climb to the pass brought back many familiar memories of trail running, peak bagging, backpacking, and backcountry skiing in this little corner of our paradise. At the pass there was still a bit of the last winter’s snow as we left the Girdwood Valley behind and began to descend towards Raven Creek.

About a mile below the pass we left the heavily used trail behind and followed a social trail contouring into the Clear Glacier drainage. I have always liked the perspective that this trail has of the Raven Glacier.

The Clear Glacier creek was swollen by gray summer meltwater, and we carefully crossed it before continuing to sidehill under Peak 5465 towards Paradise Pass. Perched far above the Raven Creek valley, we stopped for lunch on a beautiful alpine bench draped in wildflowers. Above us, we looked up at the ant-sized specks of people working their way from Paradise Peak to Delgga Mountain. Then we continued to follow the drainage to Paradise Pass. The ascent to the pass was straightforward and we were soon looking towards Moraine Pass and the headwaters of Camp Creek draining away from us.

Unlike the east side of Paradise Pass, the descent off the west side was a mess of icy, wet, and loose scree. Descending directionally to avoid overhead hazard from each other, we watched rock missiles whistle past as we slipped our way down to the old bulbous moraines below. Travel on the old vegetated moraines was much better, and our pace improved as we made our way north down Camp Creek. Covered in lush greenery and painted with wildflowers, the upper reaches of Camp Creek were absolutely spectacular.

Under the southeast face of Organ, we left Camp Creek behind and started to climb towards the col between Organ and Synthesizer Peak. In this secluded valley we passed a large flock of sheep peacefully grazing for dinner in the early evening.

At the col we dropped our packs for the quick jog up smooth and efficient scree to the summit of Synthesizer. From the top our eyes were drawn northeast towards Beelzebub, Devil’s Mistress, and the other iconic giant peaks of Eagle River.

Behind us, Organ's blocky summit lurked in a bank of clouds.

With dinner calling our names, we dragged ourselves away from the sublime summit, back to our bags, and began to descend towards the North Fork of Ship Creek. Consisting mostly of smooth low angle summer snow, the descent was fun and fast.

Once we had left the snow behind for good, we found a dry camp next to a picturesque little alpine tarn at around 3,500 elevation. Feeling dwarfed by the towering massif of Organ to our north, we sat eating dinner and craning back our necks to look at the big south face of dead-end chutes.

On Sunday morning we packed up camp and continued towards Grizzly Bear Lake. By contouring along the valley wall, we were able to stay mostly above the alders until we reached the spectacular azure lake.

Again, we dropped our packs, this time climbing north towards Synclavier Mountain. The ascent was smooth and pretty, with each step bringing better views of Ship Creek.

Soon we were at the summit looking south at the Kinglet Ridge and west at the Tail Feather peaks.

Looking north brought a similar view as Synthesizer, but this time with a better view of the Icicle Creek Peaks. Icicle is a nice full day jog with microspikes.

We considered following the ridge towards Pyramid Point but were short on time, and not sure about the connecting ridge.  Instead we descended back to the impossibly blue water of Grizzly Bear Lake.

Shouldering our packs, we followed the rolling terrain up-valley towards Moraine Pass. At Moraine Pass, Nyssa and I turned south towards Grey Jay Peak while Tom and Erin retraced yesterday's steps towards Paradise Pass. Nyssa and I ascended a smooth pocket glacier before climbing a steep headwall of unpleasant scree to the plateau below the summit cone of Grey Jay.

On top of Gray Jay, we looked back at our weekend tracks, then through the familiar names in the summit register.

Next, we continued south towards Steamroller Pass. At the pass we stepped onto smooth and firm snow that would take us to the summit of Camp Robber Peak. On top of Camp Robber, my eyes were pulled east towards intriguing ski lines on the Raven Peaks and south towards Magpie Peak.

Done feasting on the views, we slid down the snow towards Steamroller Pass, then turned east towards the Clear Glacier drainage.

Reaching the Clear Glacier creek, we hopped back and forth across the creek, kicked cobbles, scrambled down perched moraines, and crashed through young alders until we reached the social trail back to the Crow Pass Trail.

In front of us we could see Tom and Erin climbing towards the pass, and with long strides up the fast trail we soon caught them.

Passing Crystal Lake, a large family of goats were feeding around the water falls as we began the last descent to the car. All too soon we were back at the parking lot and dreaming of pizza for dinner and the next weekend in this wonderland.


  1. Man, such a cool area. We did a family trip back there last summer and camped on a several lakes in the pocket valley. Paradise pass is so gnarly. Every time I use it for passage to that area I try to forget it so I can convince myself to use it again. Posted a cool video of our route on YouTube if you are interested.

    1. Lance! Great to hear from you. Loved the video, really captured the magic - thanks for sharing. Hope you're doing well.