Pioneer Ridge

Chugach State Park
This hike was rated 5 stars.
Submitted By
Ross Timm
Difficulty
Difficult; Final Ridge and Summit - very loose and dangerous footing; loose footing in general. Constant steep climb from trailhead until final ridge. Isolated from final ridge to summit.
Miles One Way
6
Miles from Anchorage
38; on Knik River Road near Palmer
Season
June to September

Description

Please use the book “50 hikes in Alaska’s Chugach State Park” for reference with this description.
I decided to take on Pioneer Peak on a HOT (80+), late June day. The hike starts along Knik River Road near Palmer. The mountain appears VERY imposing from the Glen Highway, but you approach it from the back, where there is a long steady climb along a steep ridge. The 2001 edition of the book says the Knik River Road is a dirt road, but it is paved– that was confusing.

Anyway- you start at 200 ft elevation at the nice trailhead (no toilets or water though). Most people stop either at a picnic table (yes a picnic table) at about 4800 ft (?) or at a saddle at 5200 feet. The books talk all about the picnic tables placed along the way– they sure are nice distance markers and also make for nice tanning beds! But one book says there are four, one says three. I saw three– I think maybe the top one is gone now, probably burned by some idiot.

Well, the trail is in the forest at first, then it is in nasty wet alder forest with little creeks. Like a little Alaskan jungle, except I was lucky and it was not too overgrown– I never touched Devil’s Club or Cow Parsnip. It was very muggy however, and buggy. The first picnic table is about a 1/4 up, and it was welcome because it was near the treeline. It just got better from there– another picnic table marked the transition to thick alpine tundra and then light alpine tundra, then that third one and then it was all alpine ridge walking. But it was REALLY steep the whole way. I consider myself in okay shape and I was dying.

You finally reach the “top” of the normal hike– a beautiful saddle with some snow still left to refill your water bottles. There is a little direction sign here with the elevation. Problem is, the South Summit beckons any good Chugach scrambler. So it was 5pm, hot as it could get, and I decided to press along the rough ridge to the summit. It was longer than expected, and loose rock with steep falls the whole way. I finally reached the base of the South Summit– then it was a total scramble to the top– I felt pretty risk-exposed for being by myself, more so than most of the other day hikes I have done up the likes of Ptarmigan or O’Malley. Maybe it was the near sunstroke conditions. I went through 6 liters of water! Some super cool older lady passed me as I was coming down- just kind of strolling on up!

So, in my book, there is no excuse for not bagging this peak if you are so close when you are at the final “official” point, but I would do it with a friend, and maybe on a cooler day. It was a “Jell-O leg” ride down, which was when I realized how steep and long the initial super long ridge climb was.

Total time 6.5 hours, with many short breaks. The views are spectacular! And you can always look at those imposing twin peaks on your drive back from The Valley and say to yourself– I was up there, 6400 ft. later!

Important Information

No young kids!

Only hikers in good shape should attempt, even to the last “official point” — it is tougher than, lets say, Flattop’s second stage (to the second saddle) the whole way, but about 5 times as long. Only hikers who enjoy scrambling with some danger should go past that point! Snow patches were small but still around in late June. Bigger one at the last official point- should give water throughout the summer for the final peak hike (but don’t quote me on that!)

Bring bug dope for the jungle!

Topo Map

Pioneer Ridge topo map

Comments on hiking Pioneer Ridge

  1. Hap Wurlitzer — December 11, 2018

    From the Old Glenn Highway went up the front face of Pioneer Peak. August 1957. Had a fall on the way down from North Peak.
    Fractured right patella. 5040th helicopter rescue. Hap

  2. Burpee — May 23, 2017

    I hiked Pioneer Ridge with a friend in 2016 and man did it hurt. The trail at first is a set of long, lazy switchbacks in the trees but soon leaves the tree line, where it becomes a whole lot steeper and continues until the park bench at the end of the “official trail”. From there, we hiked the ridge up to the base of the south summit where we attempted to climb the loose rock before moving down onto the goat trails that looped us up onto the second ridge where a pretty clear trail to the top continues. The view from the top and the oppertunity to ridge scramble make is worth it in the end as long as you are fairly fit, I would defiantly say do this as a last hike for the summer/fall after some less scetchy hikes and a few trips to the gym, specifically the stairs or stair machine. Other recommendations: do it on a cool day, don’t try to free climb to the peak (the rock is really loose), bring lots of water and finally, don’t be dumb and know your abilities.

  3. Katie — November 24, 2016

    The hike up Pioneer starts harmless at first with trees to cover you from the elements and a beautiful stream you cross a couple times. Once you hit the first picnic table the trees open and you get some great views of Knik Glacier. Depending on the time of the year, there are also tons of wildflowers! At the second picnic table, you are above the tree line. This is where I would decide to call it a day and keep my sanity. There are 10+ false summits that give you hope each time you reach them, only to rip that hope away from you and throw it off the dang mountain. Once you get the the saddle, you can see what, you pray, is the real summit and start making your way over there. However, there is a lot of loose rock and bouldering to the summit. At the summit you feel like you’re on top of the world and on a clear day you can see 4 different mountain ranges. Just when you think the hardest part of the hike is over and start walking down, you realize it might take you longer to come down than it was to get up. To avoid busting a knee, I would recommend baby steps or walking sideways. All in all, this hike had amazing views and was well worth it. I am just glad I did this one already, now every hike after Pioneer is super easy 🙂

  4. […] Via Alaska Hike Search. […]

  5. Meab — July 4, 2016

    Just a warning, if you are allergic to bees make sure to bring your epi pens with you. There is a bee hive on the left side of the trail after the second Picnic table. I got stung twice, didn’t even see the hive, it’s only raised a little off the path if you aren’t looking for it you won’t see it. Just be careful. Thankfully my hiking partner, who is highly allergic to bees, didn’t get stung since we left her epi pen in the car 4000 ft down.

  6. Steve — November 25, 2015

    I did this hike in August of 2015 & had a blast. I saw only 2 picniq tables and the path was horribley wet on the bottom and became deep snow on the summit. The parking fee is now $5/day.

    The snow up to the south peak became deeper towards the summit and helped with the scramble; however, I wish I would have packed some snowshoes, it would have made it much easier.

    I was only going to do the saddle; however, when I reached that, I couldn’t help but go for the summit once I saw it in the distance. The path was not marked well due to the snow as a couple of the markers were either buried or missing. The sun started setting while I was on the south peak and it got much colder once it went down completely, luckily I had packed for that occassion.

    I made the hike back down in the dark, using a headlamp to light the way. The only thing that made it difficult was how wet the path was from the saddle on down. Like most hikes, I packed extra clothes in the truck, being dry and warm on the ~hour ride back home was nice.

    I had two 2-litre water bottles, which I filled up again with melted snow and drank more than 6 litres. I had packed freeze-dried food and energy bars, but only ate the two energy bars; I was definitely hungry by the end of the trip. I had brought my dog with me and made sure that she had plenty of water and some food for her, too. She enjoyed the hike as much, or more than, I and we both were exhausted by the end of the trip.

    One should be in fairly good shape to complete the summit, especially if planning on doing it in one day. It’s a fun hike and scramble with some outstanding views of Knick River, Knick Glacier, the surrounding mountains and the Palmer-Wasilla Valley all along the ridge and peak hikes.

  7. Scott Pryde — August 19, 2015

    Here’s an interesting article on this hike from a recent (August/2015) ADN:

    http://www.adn.com/article/20150818/more-6000-feet-pioneer-peak-offers-punishing-worthwhile-climb

  8. Susan Skvorc — July 24, 2013

    This is a great hike. I am over 50 and did not think this trail is as unpleasant as Lazy Mt. although it is a lot longer. It was very easy to follow and not very difficult – easier than Mt. Marathon anyway. I hiked it with two other ladies and we took several breaks going up as it was very hot. We got to the upper picnic table in 4 hours. I think I could have done it in just over 3. We descended in 2 1/2 hours. Only 2 picnic tables remain, the one just above tree line and the one at the top of the ridgeline at 5300 feet. We did not have time to continue to the South Peak, but I think I would do it if I was staying overnight. There is no water up there, so bring plenty. There was a snow patch still but pretty dirty. Awesome views. I expect it would be quite slippery in the lower 1/4 after a rain.

  9. John — July 17, 2013

    Just some updated info…

    First, there is now an outhouse at the TH. And officially there is a Mat-Su $3 parking charge. The parking lot is very easy to miss while driving as there’s no good reference point for its proximity. I’ve learned to just drive at speed until I pass it and then turn around 😉

    The only picnic tables left are the first 2. The one at the “top” didn’t survive this year’s snow burial. Neither of the two remaining are particularly on level ground, or close to it.

    There still is more snow than usual at high elevations this year (July 2013). This is good for those with dogs as its keeping the small creeks on the way up flowing with water and providing water from the snow directly for dogs and humans.

    There is some good tundra wandering possibilities for those interested.

    I personally would strongly caution against doing this hike in wet conditions or forecasted for same. It is extremely steep and keeping upright on the way down is hard enough when its dry.

  10. The following was submitted by David Longtin:

    Don’t know if you’d like to add this to your description of Pioneer Ridge, but it’s really fun in March:

    I climbed to the ridge on a sunny March day. Some parts were actually made easier by the snow. The boggy parts just below and just above the first picnic table, for example. And once you get above the second picnic table, you can choose whatever line suits you without worrying about damaging the tundra. I chose a route that was as steep as my cramping legs could handle, and that minimized side-hilling. Above that second picnic table, I could have taken my snowshoes off. The snow was set up firm enough to walk on, although traction might have been somewhat of a problem. My walking caused an avalanchey WHOOMF! in a couple of places. I simply started hiking to the nearest local ridge to get out of the bowl. The ridges were generally scoured nearly free of snow. It was extremely spectacular up there: comparable to the summer, but in a totally different way.

    The one difficult part was the stretch between the first and second picnic tables. Yes, I didn’t have to hold on for dear life on account of the mud. But I kind of lost the trail for a bit there, and the penalty was bottomless powdery snow. I was breaking through to mid-thigh depth, even in my snowshoes. It was extremely taxing, and resulted in the cramps I mentioned above. So when in doubt on that stretch of the trail, stay high. I went low and paid the price.

    The round-trip hike took 6.5 hours.

    Webmaster’s Note: David is an obviously experienced hiker and the above should only be attempted by the same!

  11. The following was submitted by Justin Saunders:

    The third table, which used to sit just under 4600 feet and about three and a half miles from the trail head, is not there anymore. If anybody knows more about this, please share. It was my favorite spot to cook up there. Still is, I guess, but having the table up there was pretty cool.

    When it’s pouring rain all week, a descent down that mountain can be a real hoot. My brother-in-law and I ran down the trail last week (08/28) and everything was so muddy and wet that we fell on our butts over a dozen times. At one point my feet went out from under me and I toppled off the trail and down the hillside until a patch of devil’s club caught me up. We had a blast!

    Pioneer Peak is one of my favorite hikes in the valley. If anybody itches to take on the true summit from the south, let me know. I found a decent route along the ridge. I’m not prepared to simply disclose it, however, because all of the warnings are true; the hasty climber will get himself into trouble very quickly along that ridge to the true summit.

  12. The following was submitted by AK_freefaller:

    Rating: 4 moose hooves
    Difficulty: This trail is intense from the parking lot to the ridge line. There are few places to rest your legs between accents.

    Description:

    The hike was great but very tiring. I’m not in the best shape but better than most and it smoked me!! We didn’t feel that we had enough juice to make the south summit and back safe so we busted out the cameras and fired away. The views from the ridge line are fantastic!! A great day trip for those who can handle the equivalent of four miles of stairs. Thought the third picnic table would be a great place to throw up a tent and summit the next day. Will give that a try next time!

    Warnings:

    Bring lots of water and food or alternative energy source.

    Etc:

    The views of the Knik Glacier and Mt. Baker are awesome. BRING A CAMERA!

  13. The following was submitted by Frank Baker:

    As I was several years ago, you might be tempted to follow the col from the south summit to the north summit. If you’re not a technical climber, don’t do it. It becomes quite hairy rather quickly with serious exposures. I have talked to MCA climbers who have made the north summit (only about 100 feet higher than south summit) and they said it involves connecting into a gully over on the east side. The gully takes you right past Counterpoint, not the true summit. True summit is the one that is flat-shaped on top. I’ve never spent any time trying to find this gully–getting to south summit has been enough for me. I used to think the south summit ridge looked too hard until, like the trip report writer, I saw an old lady coming down the ridge and figured if she could do it…

    The really hard-cores climbers, of course, go right up the north side of Pioneer Peak overlooking Palmer. No thanks!

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