Saturday, September 2, 2017

North & South Pioneer 9/2/2017

North & South Pioneer 9/2/2017 - Crisp Sunshine!

14.4Mi/8:10:02/7677ft gain 

   Since I opted for a short mountain day on Wednesday, my legs were feeling good to go for another long one come Saturday.  Pioneer fit the bill - I'd often contemplated climbing it, but been scared off many a time by the warnings regarding the true (north) summit.  Everything was coming together though: the weather, the day off, and my improved scramble skills since the last time I had wanted to attempt Pioneer.  Go time!

Beautiful sunrise on the Pioneer Ridge Trail
Beautiful sunrise on the Pioneer Ridge Trail

Me walking in the morning sun.
   I started up the Pioneer Ridge trail just before 7AM, and after an hour of climbing, emerged above treeline.  The sun was gorgeous, but there was a definite nip of fall in the air, freezing the path solid and casting frosty highlights across autumn hued tundra. It was also a bit breezy, so I donned my wind shell and soon got a look at the two peaks I'd be climbing. 

It got breezy up here!
  It was incredible to see the scale and beauty of the Pioneer ridge.  I had never been up here before, and seeing the Chugach from a new perspective was incredible!  Behind me sat the Knik glacier, and to my left were Bold, Bashful, and the other B named peaks, glittering with fresh snow.  Ahead and to the left sat the twin peaks (one of which I had just climbed this past Wedesday) and directly ahead, were the two summits of Pioneer.  

The Pioneer Ridge
Bold Peak with some snow.

   As I traveled, soon the only one I could see was the South, and the trail remained quite distinct all the way to it's summit.  From here, I could see the new task at hand: the North summit.  
The connecting ridge did look fiercesome, but then again, a lot of things do when you are far away.  I decided to climb down to the saddle for a better look, and immediately, got a nasty surprise!

   The scree was frozen.  

   It had been saturated from all the days of previous rain, and now, it was a solid block with little kitty litter sprinkles of pebbles!  Traveling down it wasn't very fun.  I kept to some frozen footprints and eventually (albeit at the slowest scree descent speed ever) made it down to the saddle.  

Looking at the ridge to North Pioneer.

I'm in the midst of the ridge at this point...
   So, I'm guessing this is the part you want to know about.  The ridge.  I'd heard so much about this ridge that I was expecting the worst.  As it turns out, sticking pretty much on the ridge, I don't think I ever encountered anything I would consider class 5 (although I'm no authority on the subject).  Whenever there was something nasty, I went around it, and always found a better way.  To be fair, it was quite dry and had warmed up at this point, so conditions were prime.  Certain sections were class 4 for sure with some decent exposure to boot, but nothing I would consider outrageous at all.  It was very reminiscent of the NW ridge of Williwaw, so that would be a good gauge if you are pondering this route to the summit of Pioneer.  Needless to say, I made the summit!

Looking back at the south summit
Typical ridge action
Typical ridge action

This might be the 5th class section on the left.  Was not bad honestly, the picture somehow makes it look worse.
   The summit was really cool.  Looking down into the valley, looking back at a very snowy Bold and a few snow showers starting to form, made me realize I'd made the right choice to come to Pioneer today.  I was glad I waited for the proper weather for sure!  Lots to see.  I spent a few minutes and went down. 

Looking down down

Looking toward Knik
   Getting back to the car was just as fun as coming up.  Lots of beautiful fall views.  A perfect start to the very short Alaskan fall!  I wish it would last longer!  

Ridge travel back toward south summit

Bold and Bashful on the horizon

Bold and the B-Boys

Me walkin.  Thanks Garmin!

A mighty cairn with Knik in the background.
   Overall, the trail is super easy to follow and offers some of the mellowest routefinding ever.  I'd highly recommend it on sunny days, probably not as much on wetter days as I think the view is a big part of the experience.  Wait for a sunny one and then go for it!

Last view of the peaks before heading back down into the brush

World's best picnic table


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