The Guidebook is my collection of trip intel for popular Alaska hikes, floats, and other trips.
Hike Times/”My Time”
A consistent problem with hiking guides is wildly inconsistent estimated trip times. On online trip reports, it’s common to see comments like “You said this would take ten hours but we smoked it in five” or “Ten hours? It took us seventeen and we hiked out in the dark!” There are some obvious reasons behind these discrepancies, such as fitness, but others, such as comfort moving down scree, that can be just as (or more) impactful. I have had plenty of experiences with really fit people who get spooked on loose rock and slow to a crawl, while less fit but more experienced hikers will bound down a scree fan like they’re in the bouncy castle at the state fair. In general, I’ve found that shoulder-season alpine hikes take about 25% longer (more time changing clothes, evaluating terrain, moving carefully over snow/ice/mud, etc.) and full-on winter hikes can take 50%-100% longer. Weather (rain vs. sun) also plays a role. Lastly, there’s the fact that people looking up information on Wolverine Peak, for example, will probably have a very different average speed/experience level than those tackling, say, Eagle. Should estimated hike times factor in breaks? Considering the consequences of badly miscalculated trip times, the problems here are pretty significant.
My first thought on Winterbear was not to list trip times at all. But I decided in the end that some information would be more useful than none, provided that the information I provide is generally internally consistent. I’ve decided to list a “My Time” figure for most hikes. The My Time figure is just that: my typical estimated time for the peak/hike/route under decent summer conditions, hiking steadily with generally fit and experienced hikers and taking a few reasonable breaks. I don’t set a timer or record my exact times and these aren’t my “records.” The purpose of the “My Time” figure on hikes is not to tell you how long you will take to complete a hike, but to give you a reasonable boots-on-the-ground measuring stick for comparing routes. For example, I’ve listed Ptarmigan Peak as 3 hours from the Rabbit Lake trailhead. If you know that you’ve taken 5 hours to do Ptarmigan, then take that into account when looking at other “My Time” figures and adjust your own estimates accordingly.
In addition to the “My Time” figure, I try to include more (though not perfectly) objective trip measurements like mileage, trail condition, and trip difficulty based on my interpretation of the well-established YDS Class System for mountain terrain. Ultimately, you’ll have to estimate your time commitment based on your own experiences and abilities.
Even the most experienced backcountry travelers sometimes badly miscalculate timing. Make sure you’re always prepared to be out later than you expect. My general rule is that you should always have enough gear to get you through the night, in case of an emergency or other contingency.
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.
Class 4 is considered light rock climbing, and a rope is either highly recommended or required. Class 5 is rock climbing. None of the hikes or trip reports currently on Winterbear include Class 4 or 5.