Hiking Pioneer Peak
Since I moved to Alaska in the winter of 2012, the mountains have been calling me.
I became an outdoor enthusiast fairly quickly and soon found myself on a quest to step beyond the tree line and seek the pristine air of high altitudes. 2 years ago, while doing some research, I came across a mountain that stuck with me. Pioneer Peak massively rises above the town of Palmer, in the Matanuska valley, at an elevation of 6,398 ft.
Luckily, the Pioneer Ridge trail can get you to the top in a matter of hours, avoiding the struggle of off-trail scrambling. However, it is no easy stroll. With 6 miles of steep climb and very few switchbacks, it can quickly turn into an exhausting experience for the uninitiated hiker. The challenge made it even more exciting and after a few weeks of physical preparation, we made the 4-hour drive to the nearby campground on a beautiful spring day. From the information we gathered, it takes more than 10 hours to complete the hike and so we decided to spend the night and start early in the morning.
At 8am, we were at the trailhead, as ready as ever.
It was going to be a hot day (for Alaska’s standards anyways) and so we packed water accordingly. The trail starts in a dense forest of hardwood trees, devil’s clubs, ferns and berry bushes.
After a couple hours of moderate hiking, we were out of the trees. The views of the valley and the Knik river were already quite something. That’s when I realized how far up this journey was actually taking us. This was barely a fourth of the way.
From then on the climbing became much more intense and frequent breaks were necessary. The ground was rocky and progress slow. The cold wind kicked in and layering up became essential. Many times we felt relieved at the sight of the mountaintop only to reach another false summit. By 1pm we were on the saddle, where the true adventure begins: about a mile and a half of scrambling along a ridge with stunning drops on either side.
Things would have been a little less disconcerting if it wasn’t for my tired legs, but we moved forward nonetheless. The ridge was primarily made up of lose rocks and boulders so the climbing wasn’t too easy.
We were lucky enough to not get into much snow on the way and after a couple hours of foot gymnastic and a few tense moments, we finally reached the South Summit!
It is hard to describe the feeling you get when you are sitting on top of such a mountain, inhospitable yet mesmerizing. Spending hours tiring ourselves for the brief reward of a majestic view…totally worth it!