Driving along the Seward highway from Anchorage to Girdwood, there is this seemingly never-ending ridgeline running opposite of the shoreline called Penguin Ridge. Bikers and runners have coined the mostly sea level trail that runs alongside this portion of the highway "Bird to Gird." This featured hrx can be called the "Alpinist's Bird to Gird" as it summits 5 official peaks, testing the mental and physical endurance of any alpinist.
This hike has a double black diamond rating due to its length, steep ascent and descent, and scrambling section. This route is not recommended when avalanche conditions exist.
The trail as mapped is how we decided to do this traverse. We went this way because we were wary of locating Abe's Trail
coming down off the ridge, resulting in the potential for more bushwhacking. Some prefer to start from the Bird Creek Trailhead and go east to Girdwood due to the concentration needed in the brief scrambling section just east of Penguin Peak.
The scrambling section mentioned above should not be taken lightly. If you are not comfortable with traversing scree, or if you are not sure-footed, you may want to try this from the Penguin Peak side so that if you decide to turn around, there is less distance to back-track.
When retrieving the car parked at the Beaver Pond Trail
, I highly recommend refueling just down the road at the Double Musky with their famous pepper steak!
Penguin Ridge Traverse is a through hike and requires logistics and planning to complete. The endpoints are the Beaver Pond Trailhead on the east end and the Bird Creek Valley trailhead on the west end. This trail can be performed in either direction but I will describe it going east to west as depicted in the map.
The trail starts at the Beaver Pond Trail
in Girdwood, where there is a small area on the side of the road for free parking. Beaver Pond Trail
has two forks in it, one for California Creek Trail and another for Abe's Trail
. While any trail can be taken, taking Abe's Trail
helps minimize the amount of bushwhacking required to gain the ridge.
The Beaver Pond Trail
and Abe's Trail
are both very peaceful as you follow a gentle stream into a dense forest on an easy-to-follow path that is padded with soft organic matter. Be sure to enjoy this section. Abe's Trail
peters out when you start encountering alders, and that is when the bushwhacking begins. From here, you want to just take as direct of a route as possible up through the alders.
Treeline is at about 2500', where you are rewarded with views of Alyeska, Turnagain Arm, and several glaciers. Continue up what is now tundra to the top of the ridge, and again you are rewarded with views of Penguin Creek Valley and the Bird Peaks. Head east along the ridge to summit Gentoo Peak, which is #107 of the 120 Chugach State Park Peaks. From there, head back west towards where you'll summit Chinstrap Peak (#117), Crested Peak (#119), Adelie Point (#116) and Penguin Peak (#102).
On a normal-to-high snow year, there will be snow fields near the ridgeline that are a great source to restock water supplies. There is also a tarn just below Gentoo Peak on the far east end of the ridge that would be good for water as well as a quick, refreshing dip. Be sure to carry a form of water purification if you plan to use these water sources.
Care should be taken after Adelie Point as the ridge becomes more narrow and turns from tundra to rock. Rock quality is very poor here, as is the case with much of the Chugach. While this section does have some exposure, a fall will most likely occur due to crumbling rock and rock slides. This type of fall will likely result in bruising or abrasions, but there has been a serious injury sustained in this section so please evaluate it carefully.
Once Penguin Peak is summitted, follow the Penguin Peak Route
and Penguin Peak Trail
down to the Bird Valley Trailhead.