In the Anchorage Bowl and Up Ptarmigan Peak

Ptarmigan Peak by Szalay 2004

Looking east toward Ptarmigan Peak's pyramid, just off the Powerline Trail (All Rights Reserved 2004).

Good morning.  I went through some photos from my trip to Alaska I took several years ago and thought one hike was worth sharing; while most hikes are in Denali National Park and Preserve or on the Kenai Peninsula, visitors often overlook the convenience of peaks in the Anchorage Bowl. 

Anchorage is surrounded on three sides by water and ringed by the Chugach Mountains on the eastern side.  If you are visiting Alaska for the first time and possibly only time, I recommend you hit up the traditional sites, like Wonder Lake for Denali, Talkeetna for beer, and Resurrection Bay for dramatic scenery.  But if you have a day or so in Anchorage, as I did when I was waiting for the friend I was visiting to get out of work, a hike or climb up Ptarmigan Peak (4,880 ft./1,487 m) might be called for. 

The mountains outside of Anchorage are often overlooked, and for good reason.  The peaks are small compared to the others deeper in the Chugach Range, or in the Wrangell-St. Elias region.  When there is plentiful supply of big, beautiful mountains to be had, the hills surrounding Anchorage can easily be dismissed.  

As many visitors to Anchorage do, we visited Flattop (3,510 ft./1,070m.) in South Anchorage at the Glen Alps entrance of Chugach State Park the evening I arrived.  Flattop is known as the most climbed peak in Alaska.  Perhaps because of its popularity, it reminded me a tourist trap (of course, I think Niagara Falls would be so much nicer if the casino and railings were removed).  But the view was nice.  But it was near the trailhead I first saw Ptarmigan Peak. 

The peak is named for Alaska’s state bird and it has beautiful lines.  Later in the week, after visiting some more exciting landmarks of the 49th State, I returned to the Glen Alps trailhead and hiked down the Powerline Trail approximately three miles before turning right and heading up the spongy slope to Ptarmigan Pass. 

I was hoping to scramble up the steep north face.  After moving delicately and foolishly over the scree field I soon realized why this field was here; the slope was full of rotten rock.  Much of it came apart as I gripped the wall.  Since I was climbing alone, I opted for a more conservative approach to the top.  While I did not know if then, back in 1997 a group of students from the University of Alaska were practicing here and two died and 11 were seriously injured from a fall, according the 1998 edition of Accidents in North American Mountaineering

The western ridge from Ptarmigan Pass provides a mostly narrow path to the summit.  Portions are only three feet wide and the views to the tarn below can be thrillingly dizzying.  The last one-hundred feet or so require some scrambling and is not for the faint of heart.  A rope and a partner may be recommended for most travelers. 

Return the same way, hop back on the highway and head for Snow Goose and order a beer from the Sleeping Lady Brewery.  If the weather is right, you might catch a glimpse of Denali from their back deck. 

Well, if you enjoyed this post, you may follow the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook.

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