Last week, I wrote about the annual trek up Wolverine Peak that Gina and I had just completed. We have a few of those "regular" visits we make -- Wolverine, Flattop, Little O'Malley Peak. They’re all close to home and enjoyable.
There is a different kind of excitement surrounding a trip to the top of a new peak. And that's what we nabbed on Monday. After getting a couple house projects out of the way earlier on the three-day weekend, we took advantage of a nice Monday morning to grab a peak that’s been on my to-do list for years.
Penguin Peak rises 4,305 feet above Turnagain Arm and the Seward Highway. You can't miss it on a trip south along the arm. We've hiked Bird Ridge (which is just across the valley from Penguin) a number of times, but we had never ventured onto the trail to Penguin until Monday.
It was stupendous.
After starting the hike with about a half-mile of flat walking along a dirt road, the trail heads up. And it doesn’t stop climbing until the top.
As Gina and I trudged step after step up the steep slope, I realized this was going to be a record-breaking hike for the two of us. It would be the most vertical feet we climbed in any one hike. According to my GPS, we started at 142 feet of elevation, so we would put in 4,163 feet of climbing. (We've climbed higher peaks: Wolverine is 4,455 feet, Ptarmigan Peak is 4,880 feet and the Ramp is 5,240 feet. But all of them start out at least 1,000 feet above sea level.)
Then I started thinking back to our flatland Midwest days when Gina and I would vacation in Chicago. The Sears Tower is 1,450 feet tall and is the building with the highest occupied floor in the world at 1,431 feet.
Some quick math tells me that our hike up Penguin was like climbing from the ground floor to the top floor of the Sears Tower -- three times. Of course, the scenery was better. As we climbed, we met five people and one dog headed down. That was it for human contact for the 5.5 hours we spent climbing, picnicking and descending. You’d never say that about an outing in Chicago.
The terrain changed as we climbed: From thick forest, to brushy willows and alders, to open tundra, to barren rock near the peak. The temperature changed too. We were sweating profusely early in the climb, and at the peak we had on every piece of clothing we brought -- three layers of shirts, hats, gloves, a headband -- and were still chilled. We sought protection from the wind behind the large cairn marking the summit. There, we snacked on our lunch before heading back down.
Once out of the wind, we picked blueberries along the trail as we worked our way down the mountain.
If Labor Day marks the end of "summer vacation" as Gina said, then it was the perfect way to end it.
How to get there: Drive south on the Seward Highway from Anchorage. After passing Bird Creek, turn left on Konikson Road. Follow the dirt road for half a mile to a large parking lot. Head out on a wide dirt road leading into the dense woods. About 100 yards or so past the trail head, the trail splits -- go right. After a half mile or so, the trail splits off to the right of the roadway. It quickly goes uphill.