Saturday, September 23, 2017

Hidden Peak & Ramp Ridge - Danger! - Updated 2020

11.9Mi/6:10:41/3,724ft/Plus one 400lb boulder
UPDATED 2020 - See bottom of page

   I woke up this morning not knowing that I was going to go scrambling, much less on Hidden Peak, much less try to connect the ridge between Hidden Peak/The Ramp.  Interesting how plans for the day evolve, eh?

   Like 80% of my days off this summer/fall, the forecast called for rain showers.  That means I wake up, make coffee, go back and forth from the computer to the window, and wait for the sky to reveal itself.  It didn't look so bad!

OK, I'm used to seeing this by now.

   Since it didn't look SO bad, meaning that it still looked SORT of bad, I decided to stay close to home and climb a peak that had so far slipped underneath the radar - Hidden Peak.

   Hidden Peak is connected to O'Malley via a ridgeline, and many a time at the O'Malley summit I have entertained the thought of continuing toward Hidden.  But every time, it just looked too dang far to be bothered.  Hmmph!  So today I reasoned I would cut O'Malley out of the picture, and go straight up to Hidden Peak from the aptly named Hidden Lake just below.

   The trail to Hidden lake is several miles from the Glen Alps parking lot, and as I left the car and started walking, I knew it was gonna be a windy one.  And indeed it was proving to be!  I donned windpants and shell after the first few minutes, and kept them on all the way to Hidden Lake.

The trail to Hidden Lake.

Stream crossing on the way.

   The wind was in fact so fiercesome that it was stirring up white capped waves on Hidden Lake, and threatening to blow me over and rip the phone from my hand as I snapped some obligatory Fall alpine shots.  This was going to be interesting.  Bracing against the wind and errant few raindrops, I started climbing up the soggy scree.

Heading up soggy scree.

   I had slightly miscalculated my ascent, so instead of getting straight to the summit, I was deposited on the ridge.  It was a very windy traverse toward Hidden!  As I got closer, the rock got steadily steeper, until it forced me to go below the ridgeline and claw my way up a hideously manky mess of a chute.  Eww.

   At the summit, the wind was actually starting to calm down a bit, but that's a relative term and it was still quite strong.  In the distance, I saw fresh snow on both Mt. Williwaw and The Ramp, as well as a few rays of sun!  This got my attention, and then I had an idea - I'll go get some sun, and finally connect to The Ramp on this ridge!

At the summit of Hidden Peak, looking toward O'Malley.

At the summit, looking toward Mt. Williwaw and its Big 'Ol Buttress.

The Ramp with snow.

  I knew that this ridge was pretty serious.  I just didn't know HOW serious.  There is little intel to be found on it, at least none that I could ever find, and the one attempt I had made on it two years ago made me hesitate.  Surely it couldn't be that bad?  Could it?

   Well, I was starting on a different side this time.  Instead of trying to cross from The Ramp to Hidden Peak, I was doing the opposite.  And things were going alright!  For a while...

Traveling on the ridge, look back toward Hidden Peak (right) and O'Malley (left)

Look back toward Hidden again.  What a monstrous block of crud!

Typical saturated crud.
   The wind was considerably calmer by this point, but the rock was still quite wet and horrendously mossy.  Not confidence inspiring at all, especially while wearing wind shells on your gloves.  Despite that, the ridge crest seemed to have go arounds for all the sketchiest parts, for which I was grateful.

As it continued, these go-arounds got gnarlier and gnarlier, until it was difficult to tell if it would be better to stay on the ridge and contend with steep rock, or step off the ridge and deal with near vertical moss chutes.  It was at about this point, even though I was going slow and carefully, that I had a confidence shattering mishap.

   I was starting up one of many mossy go arounds, and decided I didn't like the route I was on, so I opted to try and head to the neighboring one.  No problem - step to the side, get a hold on this large boulder, and the-...

   The boulder moved.

   I felt a heart stopping moment as it moved, and continued to move, coming toward me, barely touching my shoe and wind pants, and then continuing down on its chaotic path of moss destruction, plummeting a thousand feet or more below.  It must've weighed at least 300lbs.

This wasn't good.  The boulder fall incident happened somewhere on the left (out of frame)

   The near miss shook me.  My foot was scratched a bit and my windpants were torn, but it was nothing compared to what could have been.  I felt like it was a sign that maybe this wasn't the day to be here.  I was very close to the end of this nasty part of the ridge, but unfortunately this last bit was also the worst bit.  I decided to call it, and made a painstaking descent down toward Hidden Lake.

   Even though I was bailing off the ridge, it still wasn't easy getting down.  The line of sight is deceptive, and there are many dropoffs that look fine until you're right up on them.  This slowed me up quite a bit, but I heaved a sigh of relief once I was off the super crud.

   Things were certainly a bit more pleasant down here, so I decided to have a nice leisurely walk back to the car, snapping photos as I went, reflecting on my incident.  I felt pretty lucky to have escaped as neatly as I did, with hardly a scratch.  I suppose that this is what happens when you mess around in loose rock, time and time again - eventually, you will make one fall.  Maybe a big one.  I knew it, but now I've seen it demonstrated right in front of me.

Stream running down from Hidden Lake.
More stream action.  The Ramp/ridge in background left.

More stream and foliage. The Ramp and ridge still lurking in the background.
   The parking lots were fairly empty for a Glen Alps Saturday afternoon, and this probably should have been expected due to the weather.  I started on my way home, happy to have finally made it up Hidden, but knowing there's still a looming asterisk on the ridge.  I'll be back.  Just not in the wet!  

(1) The manky gully up to the summit. (2) Realizing that I need to duck below the ridgecrest to avoid the worst exposure. (3) The first crux - I came to a steep overlook, carefully peeped over, and realized I needed to go around. Even so, there was an unavoidable knife edge for about 30-50 feet. (4) Massive crud block. I went around it on the Southwest side, and took a scree filled gully to finish getting past. (5) This is where the rock fell. I was being forced into worse and worse situations, and although I don't think the other side of the ridge would be any better, I'm not certain. This took away all my confidence, and I slowly started making my way down and around. (6) I was faced with several incredibly slippery blocks of rock, and had to keep looking for a way around them. Luckily, there were some moderately inclined dirt/moss ramps that were viable go-arounds. (7) I made it to some far less perilous scree, and my GPS had a significant data recording hiccup!


2020 Update - Making it across this 2017 FRange nemesis
On Sunday 6/21/20, I managed to finally (SAFELY!) cross this nastiness, but in the other direction - Ramp/Hidden.  Weather was much nicer, and this certainly had an effect on how pleasant the traverse was.  The "crux" is definitely near the 5 label above on the Google Earth screenshot.  I downclimbed (OK, groveled downward on moss) toward hidden lake in this area, then resumed the route described above.  Is it faster than going down to Hidden Lake and back up to Hidden?  In dry, maybe...      

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