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Penguin Ridge Traverse

Extremely Difficult
  5.0 ( 2 ) Favorite

Trail

16.2 mile 26.0 kilometer point to point
Extremely Difficult

Elevation

Ascent: 7,876' 2,401 m
Descent: -7,848' -2,392 m
High: 4,192' 1,278 m
Low: 168' 51 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 18% (10°)
Max Grade: 83% (40°)

Dogs

Off-leash
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Trail shared by Abe H

A grueling traverse across one of the most majestic ridgelines along the Turnagain Arm.

Abe H

Features Lake · Swimming · Views

It is recommended that this hike be performed during the mid-to-late summer months as excessive snow on the ridge can impede progress and make the scrambling section more hazardous. The Penguin Peak Trail is also entirely within an avalanche runout zone, so do not enter this area when avalanches can occur.

Overview

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.

Need to Know

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!

Description

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.

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Jul 13, 2019
Eric Dahl

Trail Ratings

  5.0 from 2 votes

#1

in Girdwood

#795

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  5.0 from 2 votes
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Photos

View of the Cook Inlet from the top of Penguin Peak
Feb 12, 2018 near Girdwood, AK
View from the top of Gentoo Peak looking west.
Jan 24, 2018 near Girdwood, AK
The unnamed tarn below Gentoo Peak
Jan 24, 2018 near Girdwood, AK
View looking east at Girdwood and Alyeska.
Jan 24, 2018 near Girdwood, AK
View from the ridge looking southeast down Turnagain Arm.
Jan 24, 2018 near Girdwood, AK
Abe's Trail trailhead sign
Jan 25, 2018 near Girdwood, AK

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