West of Girdwood, surrounding the Punchbowl Glacier, are a striking yet low elevation cluster of mountains I refer to as the Berry Peaks, each peak named after a different type of berry. Sophie and my’s objective was for the highest one, Highbush Peak, likely followed by Lowbush, then by Lingon if we still had energy for it. (And we would have energy for it). We invited our friend Gerrit Verbeek, but coincidentally he’d, just 3 days prior, climbed Nagoon and Lingon Peaks. Gerrit declined, but he produced to me via text a photo of Highbush Peak from his position on Lingon. This was important because we had originally planned on climbing Highbush via the standard route which involves dropping to the punchbowl glacier and ascending the southeast ridge… but his photo revealed a neeearly continuous snow line on the north face. Hmmmmmm, tempting. This photo gave us the confidence to probe the line out, and it proved to be a very wonderful line, making for a Berry Wonderful Loop.
Thursday July 1st 2021
Sophie Tidler and I left Anchorage for Girdwood at 6am. Leaving early wasn’t essential for the sake of time, but was nice so we could beat the heat of day. From the Alyeska hotel overflow parking area we biked in about 2 miles of the winner creek trail. It’s not a lot of miles, I know, but both ways it adds up to 4 miles and we found them advantageous to bring. Note: mountain bikers will bike the Winner Creek Trail all the way to Berry Pass, and we saw their tire marks for as far as we went on this trip. Also note: we are not mountain bikers. After about 2 miles the bikes became more bothersome than they were worth and we abandoned the bikes.
When the Winner Creek Trail started bending north we began our schwack, aiming as if we were heading for the NW ridge of Lingon Peak. It was thick, but thankfully shortlived. Once out of the treeline we made aim for the pass between Lingon and Highbush.
The snow line went splendidly. Wonderful 50 degree snow, a little hard, not yet softened by the sun. But that beats the other extreme: slushy and unsupportive. Sophie was nursing a broken toe at the time so I got all the first kicks in crampons. From the top of our snow line, the summit was a little walk away, and earned at 1pm. Sophie logged into the registrar, I took lots of great pictures. The Turnagain Arm was splayed out and the views in all directions, of the countless Chugach Mountains, were pristine. I’m glad we didn’t do this one on a day with poor visibility.
All the while we watched a dogsled operation go in circles down on the Punchbowl. Tourists would get dropped off helicopter after helicopter to achieve a dogsled ride in Alaska without the inconvenience of visiting in the winter/spring. Atop Highbush Sophie and I plotted our route for lowbush and resolved to say hi to the sled dog people on our return trip. We figured the folks working at the dogsled camp all summer might want to hear from us on routes to hike the peaks, and we were highly curious to ask them about the niche operation (and maybe bum a novelty sled ride if we happened to time a lull between their paying clients) 🙂
For the descent we took the standard route, following the SE ridge of Highbush till we hit 3700′, at which point we abandoned it and headed south for the passes betwixt Highbush and Lowbush. The SE ridge was simple, definitely the easiest and most surefire way to climb Highbush. The boot skiing down from the ridge was enjoyable and quick.
Climbing Lowbush’s extra wide north ridge (more of a face to me) was simple. A nice, easy walk-up with superb views. For the descent, we took the east ridge down to the Punchbowl Glacier and chartered course for the dogsled people. A boisterous dialogue with the camp people, however, would not be taking place on this fine afternoon: enter “ass hat”.
As I approached the camp, a man wearing a stiff wide brim hat came to the edge of camp to yell at me from 100 meters “this is private property, your not allowed to be here. I’m going to have to have you walk around the dog track.” Unprepared to be greeted with hostility like this, I let back an “ok” and ass hat returned to camp.
What???! I relayed the message to Sophie. Since fruitful conversation wasn’t going to be possible for as long as ass hat was around camp, we agreed there was no sense lingering. Now, I understand that the portable sheds and dogsleds are your possessions, your legitimate private property, which I have sincere respect for. But to have the audacity to infer that Punchbowl Glacier is your private property… well that’s quite fitting for the name he will forever bear in my memory: “ass hat”. Since ass hat does not own Punchbowl Glacier any more or less than we do, we walked straight through the dog mushing course, not that footsteps would change the glacier surface any, but just to be deliberate in not doing what he wanted us to do. And also because the dog mushing course happened to be in the way of our next peak: Lingon Peak which we were now beelining for.
As we walked through the center, two helicopters cruised overhead, bringing more tourists to dog camp. The tourists, no doubt, saw us doing exactly what they must’ve been briefed to not do; walk on an ‘undesignated’ part of the glacier because its dangerous. I got a kick out of this thought.
On the way to Lingon’s south face we made use of little waterfalls for replenishing depleted water supply. The south face was a mild hike. The amazing views, I’m sad to say, were getting repetitive at this point of the trip. Two views that stood out was Kinnikinnick Mountain, and a beautiful teal lake due north. This lake would make a beautiful campsite. Lingon, would be an easy dayhike and you’d have a more interesting objective, Highbush, also in the vicinity.
We descended the northwest ridge of Lingon, and linked back up with our schwacking line. Some walking brought us to our bikes. And by bike, we cruised back to the car. Back at the car we discovered a note on the car, from the troopers. Apparently, Sophie’s InReach had accidently gone off on the bike ride in. Her parents and troopers were alerted. We were oblivious. Fortunately, my delorem was tracking and feeding my parents coordinates, so they could see that we were continuing on with the trip and clearly not in distress. Fortunately the search didn’t go any further than our car in the parking lot.
One thought on “A Berry Wonderful Loop”
Spectacular photos! I loved the crouching ptarmigan!