About the Guidebook
The Guidebook is my collection of trip intel for popular Alaska hikes, floats, and other trips.
I’d encourage obtaining as much safety training as you can. Wilderness First Aid (WFA) and Wilderness First Responder (WFR) courses are available across the US, and other sport-specific courses like Swiftwater Rescue are available in many places.
I recognize that there’s a certain degree of responsibility in making guides, particularly in remote backcountry where the consequences of mistakes can be high. I have made every effort possible to ensure that the information on my site is accurate. Given that there is some bad information out there (or, for many peaks/trips, no information at all) my goal is to always leave visitors better-prepared and therefore safer. Nevertheless, most of the content in my guidebook is based on my own personal experiences, and therefore at heart it is based on opinion. The level of fitness and experience of myself and my hiking partners will necessarily be different from yours. Conditions change constantly. Ultimately, only you can be responsible for the safety of yourself and your party. I am not saying that as some kind of legal disclaimer, but as a basic fact about backcountry travel. Even if a whole paragraph on my site were totally wrong, you still need to be able to assess yourself and your group, the conditions, and the route on your own and make safe decisions.
Hike and Climb Difficulty
The difficulty of a given hike can be reflected by its Class rating. Many people are familiar with Class 5 rankings used in rock gyms; this same ranking system extends downward to describe the difficulty of unroped walks, hikes, and scrambles. Rating a hike is subjective and every classification system is a little different. Below are the general rules I use for rating hikes on Winterbear.
Well-marked, well-established walking/hiking trails through wilderness areas. Though the terrain itself may pose no significant risks, Class 1 trails still require attention to backcountry basics like navigation, footwear, exposure, and how to handle animal encounters.
Southcentral Alaska Examples: Powerline Trail, Eagle River Nature Center trails, Kesugi Ridge Trail, Ressurection Pass Trail.
The most significant distinction between Class 1 and Class 2 is that Class 2 trails/routes become progressively less well-established.
Established hiking trails with the potential for poor footing, loose rock, and basic routefinding challenges. Use of hands is unlikely but possible depending on route.
Southcentral Alaska Examples: Wolverine Peak, Near Point, Hidden Lake Trail.
Light hiking trails and well-established routes with occasional poor footing, loose rock, steep sections, and/or routefinding challenges. Occasional use of hands is possible.
Southcentral Alaska Examples: McHugh Peak, Falls Creek Trail
Indistinct hiking trails and routes that include poor footing, loose rock, steep sections, bushwhacking, and/or routefinding challenges. Occasional use of hands is likely, though probably not necessary.
Southcentral Alaska Examples: Flattop (summit), Bird Ridge (between Bird Point and Bird Ridge Overlook), Reed Lakes Trail.
The biggest distinction between Class 2 and Class 3 is that Class 3 routes require the use of your hands for scrambling. Class 3 routes may coalesce into trails during chokepoints (such as on a ridgeline) but are often dispersed.
Moderately steep, indistinct routes with at least some loose rock, poor footing, and exposure. Much easier to ascend with the intermittent use of hands, and an accident might reasonably be expected to have serious consequences. Use of a helmet reasonable.
Southcentral Alaska Examples: South Suicide Peak (west ridge route), O’Malley Peak (via the Ballfield).
Steep, often dispersed routes with loose rock, poor footing, and exposure. Use of hands required for safe travel, and an accident could reasonably be expected to have serious consequences. Use of a helmet recommended.
Southcentral Alaska Examples: South Suicide Peak (Hauser’s Gully route), Ptarmigan Peak (west ridge route).
Very steep, dispersed routes with abundant loose rock, poor footing, and exposure. Use of hands required, and an accident would reasonably be expected to have serious consequences. Use of a helmet highly recommended.
Southcentral Alaska Examples: Cantata Peak, Eagle Peak, Bold Peak.
Class 4 is considered light rock climbing.
Light rock climbing with significant exposure. Class 4 requires careful and deliberate hand and foot placement in order to avoid falls that could cause injury or death.
Southcentral Alaska Examples: The summit pinnacle on McHugh Peak, the crux of Eagle Peak, and the crux on Bold Peak.
Class 5 is rock climbing.