Ptarmigan Peak

Photo by Ross Timm.
Submitted By Ross Timm
Difficulty Somewhat Difficult; climb, steepness, distance, loose rock. Navigation is not difficult because no real route finding is required and trail is close to popular trail.
Connects With Powerline Pass
McHugh Trail / Rabbit Lake
Miles One Way 5
Miles from Anchorage In town; about a 20 minute drive from downtown
General Vicinity Chugach State Park
Season June to September
Ratings
Hike rating
This trail was rated 3 moose hooves for hiking.

Description

This is a great hard day hike for somebody in moderate shape who is not afraid of loose rock and scrambling. The book, 50 Hikes in Chugach State Park, gives good directions, but I will add some info:

First, I did this hike on a recent 75 degree August day, so it was hot (south exposure).

You start on Powerline Pass from Glen Alps – the first try, a few weeks earlier, I started on foot and was burned out by the busy, flat powerline trail for the first 3 miles. This time, I mountain biked to the “trailhead” (it is unmarked and not real clear – again I recommend the book over my directions). Eliminating 1-1/2 hours from the hike was a very nice deal. I stowed my bike in the bushes. The ride back is especially nice – almost all downhill.

At the foot of a saddle to the west (right) of Ptarmigan Peak (a very steep looking, rocky, pyramid-like mass, the third (?) back from Flat Top – you should easily identify it as much more impressive than Flattop or the others between the two) you start out on steep tundra, with no switchbacks. Stay (as the book says) to the right of the saddle and the creek- this keeps you on the tundra trail instead of a steeper, rocky gully with loose scree.

After a exhausting 3/4 miles up you reach Ptarmigan Pass (which I explored on the first trip and then decided it was to late to try the upper peak) The pass is great- a high, flat tundra plateau that first crosses above an easily accessible tarn lake. This looks down the Rabbit Creek Valley if you hike to its south side. Again, follow the books advice and traverse the tundra field to start the advance up to the upper peak along its southwest ridge. The “trail” starts mildly steep but quickly raises its grade, loses its definition, and becomes increasingly gullied and loose. Stay on the most well worn paths across the scree, on an eastward curve around the mountain as you head up- better steps are found in the dirt along this path than the loose rock on others. The last 1/4 mile is all gully crossing and boulder fields. the top is really large broken rocks, with many ankle-breakers. The top has two summits- one very peaked (on the west) the other more flat. One has a memorial that I believe honors a long time hiker who died falling on the rocky slopes.

Both summits had the same weird bug phenomena I have witnessed on almost every other Chugach peak I have climbed (except Flattop?). That is: the tallest spots have a major infestation of no-see-ums (or flying ants?) that make the stay very short lived. Descend 20 ft, no bugs! The view is still great, as long as you can stand the bugs- I managed a few photos and then headed a few feet lower. You can see Turnagain Arm and Rabbit Lake from the top. The trip down is slow and painful- lots of tricky gullies to appreciate anew as you go down on your rear end. From the ridge back down to Ptarmigan Pass is not bad, and still great views. The hike back down to Powerline Pass is relatively easy compared to the trip up- you can walk pretty quickly down the steep tundra. As a side note I am torn on this practice- it erodes the tundra, but the option is constant slips on loose gravel on the well worn portions. Since the state does not seem keen on (or can not afford to develop) switchbacks, they leave little choice but massive slope erosion of popular trails. However, that rant said, I think this peak is so under hiked that it is probably still okay to do the tundra crossing. There is not much of a choice in many places. Do the bike thing and this trail is great. The bike ride took 25 min. then 1.75 hours up, 1 hour down, 10 min bike ride back. the book says 5-8 hours, but this includes the long hikes along Powerline Pass to and from the actual trail up to the peak.

Important Information

1) Not for young kids! 2) Only the best hiking dogs need attend – and it will be rough on their paws regardless. And 3) you are isolated – I saw only one other hiker on the upper peak, and only one on the hike from the Powerline Pass to Ptarmigan Pass, and this on a great August Saturday at 1pm. Let people know where you are going, especially if you are stashing a bike. Again, (see the O’Malley Peak description) kiss the Flattop crowds goodbye as you experience one of the closest real escapes into mountain solitude in the Anchorage foothills.

Etc.

The Glen Alps Parking Lot requires a $5 parking fee (bring exact amount). The price for an annual parking is $40. You can purchase a pass at the Federal Building at 4th and F or the Atwood Building on 7th and E, 12th Floor.

Here are the directions for getting there: take the Seward Highway to the O’Malley exit and head east. After a few miles, follow the signs to Glen Alps. Make a right on Hillside Drive then a left on Upper Huffman. Turn right on Toilsome Hill. This road will twist and wind up the hills for about two miles.

  1. The following was submitted by Clark Russell:

    A better option for getting to Ptarmigan Pass would be to come up to the pass from the Rabbit Creek Valley side of the mountain. The hike up to the pass is much easier from Rabbit Creek Valley than it is from the Powerline Pass trail (plus, there’s no $5 parking fee to park). From the Seward Highway, take the De Armoun Rd. Exit, and head toward the mountains. The only turn to make is a right turn at Canyon Rd farther up in the valley. Biking up is a great idea, whether you take the Powerline Pass trail or the Rabbit Creek Valley trail. However, Rabbit Creek is a more technical ride than Powerline Pass. I’ve biked them both.

    On top of Ptarmigan, look for a plaque on a rock that has the name of a mountaineer that died while climbing the peak, along with the three others that died while climbing up the north face of Pioneer during a UAA outdoor program accident a few years ago.

  2. The following was submitted by Louise Fode:

    I would just like to add that this is not a hike to do in poor visibility. My friend and I did this hike yesterday when low clouds covered the mountain, and we really got turned around on the top and nearly got ourselves into serious trouble. Fortunately, we were able to tell which side was the south side (the side we headed up) because we could hear the planes flying overhead.

    We made some serious errors in judgement, including not having a compass and hiking unknown territory in poor weather. And this is even though we both knew better! So take our advice, save this hike for a day when you can see the top and appreciate the beautiful view – and find your way down safely.

  3. The following was submitted anonymously:

    I have not been up the peak in 7 or 8 years and cannot speak on the plaques on the summit that are mentioned on your website. However I know there was a plaque last time I was up there that was placed on the summit as a memorial to friend of mine who died on peak 2 in an avalanche. It has been so long now I can’t even be sure of the year but I believe he died in 1990 or may have been as recent as 1992.

  4. The following was submitted by Jean:

    Rating: 3 moose hooves
    Difficulty: Somewhat Easy – Elevation gain of about 700 feet from Rabbit Creek valley, but not too bad. Steep going down to Powerline Pass, not too bad, but if you’re not comfortable going down steep slopes….

    Description:

    We hiked in to Ptarmigan Pass from Canyon Road on 09.20.08.

    From the trailhead until you start up to the pass is a gradual uphill grade – about 2 miles in. We started up to the pass just before the trail began it’s downhill grade to Rabbit Lake. No real trail here – there are some paths that people start up, but they rapidly disappear. So just eyeball a route for yourself and ease your way up. It is about a 700′ elevation gain from the trail to the pass. Once at the top, it is a beautiful, almost surreal landscape. Once cresting a little rise, there was Ptarmigan Tarn – just lovely.

    Continuing on the hike, we descended down the north side to Powerline Pass. Quite the decent, but much easier going down this side, then trying to go up it. Then a few miles west on Powerline Trail to Glen Alps trailhead where we had staged one of our vehicles.

    Great hike, about 5 hours for the entire trip.

    Warnings:

    The day we hiked this trail was an end of the summer gray day. It did make the colors jump out. We had our usual rain gear, fleece jacket, gloves, stocking cap, water and snacks in our packs and put it all to use at one time or another. It blew, it rained, it snowed.

    Coming down was a bit slick, so be prepared for that and take your time.

    We have not located the trail that the various books refer to as being to the right of the creek. The map that’s always in my pack is the Chugach State Park – Chugach Mountains from Imus Geographics which I picked up at the Map Store at APU. We also refer to any number of hiking books that are at my place.

    Earlier this summer we tried this hike going in from the Powerline Pass side, but had to stop. We couldn’t quite locate the trail to the right (west) of the creek that is often referred to. We tried going up near the creek itself, but it was a pretty steep ascent so we bagged it for that day. It ends up that this is the same route we came down yesterday.

Have you done this hike? Please share your experience below:

Ptarmigan Peak topo map