Penguin Ridge - California Creek to Penguin CreekI have long been interested in exploring areas of the Western Chugach Mountains, in particular the Bird Creek drainage. Many of my trips in this area have previously been reported in Scree, including trips to The Beak, Bird Peak, Bird Ridge Overlook, Bird Ridge Point, Bird’s Eye Peak, California Peak, Esbay Peak, Gentoo Peak, Nest Peak, and The Wing. Tom Choate had been my frequent climbing partner for many of these trips, but he was unavailable on July 20, 2002, so I turned to Jon Evenson for some company and continued exploration of this intriguing area.
Jon and I met at the Bird Creek trailhead early that morning and I drove him to the California Creek trailhead. Jon and I hiked up the trail and turned right on the side trail leading up the California Creek drainage (oddly, the one after the side trail labeled California Creek Trail). This was a pleasant trail that brought us to timberline overlooking California Creek. From there we found an alder-free slope and hiked up to Penguin Ridge, attaining the ridge at about 3,800 feet. We continued on until we reached the top of Gentoo Peak (el. 4196, Sec.1, T10N, R1E, S.M.) where we stopped for a lunch break. Tom Choate and I had visited this peak in July 2000, but we had not ventured further to the south or west. The exploration was about to begin!
The winds were calm, but we were enveloped frequently in fog. Knowing that the fog might cause route-finding difficulties and knowing we already had a long day of ahead of us, we didn’t dally very long. Jon left a register and soon we were descending Gentoo Peak via the south ridge and admiring the views of the unnamed lake to the west. We saw several mountain goats as we traveled along the ridge, but they quickly retreated into the fog. The travel was quite easy on this gentle, rolling portion of Penguin Ridge.
Soon we stood atop Chinstrap Peak (el. 3619, Sec.12, T10N, R1E, S.M.). In the fog without a map, compass, or GPS unit, we became turned around at this point and had to investigate which way to descend. The traffic noise from the Seward Highway below us turned out to be a reasonable guide and eventually we found the southwest ridge and we were once again on our way.
We hiked to the top of Crested Peak (el. 3530, Sec. 14, T10N, R1E, S.M.) and again had to poke around to determine which way to descend. For some reason I kept wanting to travel north instead of west. After realizing the error of our ways, we continued west over several hills to Bird Hill (Sec. 15, T10N, R1E, S.M.). Bird Hill is not a true peak in the sense that it does not have 500 feet of rise above the saddle connecting it to Crested Peak. But I had never been to this point before and I enjoyed seeing some new (to me) territory. We continued west on the ridge, soon arriving at Emporer Point (el. 3576, Sec. 20, T10N, R1E, S.M.). Emporer Point, also not a true peak, marked the point of this trip where I returned to terra cognita. I had previously climbed this point in May 1999.
Most of the points on Penguin Ridge were named after species of penguins by Vin Hoeman and Tom Choate. Of the 17 species of penguins I know of, 7 have their names on this ridge. I found the records of Vin’s names (Penguin Peak, King Point, Rockhopper Point, Adelie Point, and Emporer Point) in a register left by Willy Hersman atop Penguin Peak (el. 4334, Sec. 12, T10N, R1W, S.M.) in June 1991. However, Hoeman’s names were not assigned to specific points, but merely specified in order along the ridge, so I could be incorrect in the exact placement of each name. It is likely that Emporer is a misspelling of Emperor, the largest penguin species.
Descending from Emporer Point, Jon and I encountered quite a bit of debris on the ridge, including remnants of an old weather station and shrapnel from mortars used by the highway crews to release avalanches. We continued west to Adelie Point (el. 3825, Sec.17, T10N, R1E, S.M.). Despite its name, Adelie Point is a true peak, rising more than 500 feet above the saddle connecting it to Penguin Peak. From Adelie Point, it was a short walk to Rockhopper Point (el. 3812, Sec. 18, T10N, R1E, S.M.). Descending from Rockhopper Point to the west and northwest, we left the tundra and began to navigate across rocks and scree to King Point (el. 4150, Sec. 18, T10N, R1E, S.M.). Neither Rockhopper Point nor King Point is a true peak. But the image of King Point, complete with a large billy on its northeast ridge certainly had all the flavor of a real mountain.
Penguin Lake, north of King Point, still had ice in it, but was gorgeous enough to make me contemplate leading a MCA trip there this summer. This lake is more than 1,500 feet below the summit of King Point and probably sees very few visitors and would make a nice destination some Sunday afternoon.
Traveling northwest from King Point, the ridge became quite exposed in places and our pace slowed so that we could be cautious in this area. But, within the hour, we were atop Penguin Peak, the highest point along Penguin Ridge. We signed in the register and quickly hiked to Jon’s car at the Bird Creek trailhead, having climbed and descended a total of about 9,300 feet of elevation in about 10 hours.