This mountain, although not amazingly tall, offers more challenges than most peaks in the Western Chugach within the immediate reach of Anchorage. As far as front range peaks go, this is one of the most intimidating and challenging.
Although completely visible from Anchorage, this peak is not heavily climbed. Even though it rises just a mile or so behind the most climbed vista in Anchorage, Flat Top, it remains secluded and climbed by only a reasonably small number of people.
There are several routes up Ptarmigan, including a mixed ice and rock route in the winter called Hookers, which according to even highly experienced mixed climbers "had them running off the face with their tails inbetween their legs."
The North side of Ptarmigan is seldom climbed since it is quite steep. There is a big couloir that leads nearly to the top, but like I said, it is quite dangerous. on June 29th, 1997, a group of University of Alaska Anchorage students in the Mountaineering 101 course were downclimbing the North Couloir after successfully completing the route. died on this route when the top of three roped teams fell, dragging all three teams with them down the chute. Two members died and most of the others were injured when they repeatedly hit rocks at the bottom.
You can read about the accident here
It is a route to be done when conditions and experience are right.
The easiest route up Ptarmigan is by coming from the Rabbit Valley trail. Hike three miles into the valley from the trailhead gate, then gain the ridge known as Ptarmigan Ridge. The peak will be highly visible as a near perfect pyramid-like peak on the left. Gain the ridge, then follow the barely visible trail to the top. There are two summits on this peak, one quite steep and daunting (the true summit at 4,911 feet), the other less intimidating, although not the true summit at 4,880 feet tall.
A semi-popular, yet more technical route up Ptarmigan is the North Couloir, which is highly visible from North Anchorage. It ascends up a steep chute that reaches 40+ degrees of snow and possibly ice.
No permits required to climb, hike, or trek anywhere in the Chugach State Park. If accessing the peak by way of the Rabbit Creek Valley, there is no parking fee.
If going by way of the Glen Alps, a $5 parking fee is in place.
Make sure you park at either Glen Alps or Rabbit Creek. Hillside residents will not appriciate you parking on their driveways or their roads. Do not trespass.
When To Climb
I climbed this peak in the winter of 2005. Seeing as how the infamous "Chucach Choss" is nothing but endless scree in the summer on many peaks, I prefer to do much of my climbing by direct snow and chute routes in the winter with crampons and an ice ax.
Ptarmigan is definitely climbed more often in the summer months though. Perhaps I will climb it this summer and recount it with that experience as well.
The crux of the climb is the true summit, especially in the winter. It is quite steep, perhaps as much as 60-65 degrees for five or ten feet.
The Rabbit Creek Valley makes for excellent camping anywhere along the trail, whether it be at the Rabbit Lake or up on the hillside. Camping in this valley is free and the views are awesome. Several great bivy spots I want to check out near the summit of Ptarmigan Peak next winter.
The views at the top of Ptarmigan are unmatched. It is truely amazing. Literally hundreds of mountains are visible in the Northeast as well as the Turnagain Arm to the Southwest. Denali can be seen on clear days as well as Susitna, Mount Spur, the Talkeetnas, etc.