12.9-mile after-work solo scramble up the north face of Point 4630.
The term “microadventure” was coined (or at least popularized) by British adventurer Alastair Humphreys, who defined a microadventure as “short, simple, local, cheap – yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding.” The charm of the term is that it’s so adaptable. It doesn’t specify mileage, speed, distance or difficulty. A microadventure could be a creative biking loop around Manhattan or a moonlit after-work backcountry skating trip to the face of a glacier. The concept invites people to pack meaning into small spaces.
Anchorage has always provided me with an endless supply of epic microadventures: bike rides through the parks and greenbelts, big urban ski loops, and weird, gnarly routes in the Chugach Mountains. On August 12, 2019, I set out solo to explore an alpine bowl behind Ptarmigan Peak and see whether I could thread through cliff bands to the top of Point 4630. The route didn’t look great, but some mapping data suggested it might work and there was one way to find out.
I started around 4:30pm from the Glen Alps trailhead, under mostly-sunny skies. The summer heat wave was still in full swing; the airport logged a ridiculously unseasonable high of 76°F. Even in the mountains, it was hot.
About a half hour of biking later, after rounding the shoulder of Ptarmigan, I pulled off the Powerline trail onto a small side trail leading to a tarn. The heat and sun had baked away much of the water in the tarn. The terrain above me looked pretty rugged.
One of the best trip-planning tools I’ve discovered in the last few years is the slope angle shading layer on CalTopo. This layer sits on top of conventional topo data and provides an immediate color-based cue about terrain gradient. For example, slopes between 35 and 45 degrees are shaded red, and slopes of 46 to 59 degrees are shades of purple. Based on my experience, the “red” slopes represent the limit for responsible nontechnical climbing in the Chugach. “Purple” slopes would be pretty sketchy without a rope.
Almost the entire bowl above me was purple. But there was one ribbon of red zig-zagging across the face. If I was right about red being climbable–and the data was accurate–I might be able to sneak up this thing.
I dropped my bike, headed up a tundra slope, and then sidehilled over the first set of cliffs. The bowl felt bigger than it looked either from a distance or on maps, and the crown of crags above me was pretty imposing.
I traversed over a couple fans of scree and then, after finding a decent line, headed straight up. Eventually I reached the crux of the route: the narrow “red” bench between two sets of craggy low-angle cliffs. It was covered in loose scree, and every step sent rocks flying downhill. But sure enough, it went.
The bench merged into a steep but manageable scree chute. After a few minutes I popped back into the sun at the top of the ridge connecting Ptargmigan Peak and Peak 4630.
To the left were the Suicides. Far below I could see hikers ambling through the early evening sun, coming or going from Rabbit Lake.
After taking a few photos from the top of Point 4630, I continued along the crest of the ridge. Rather than head back down the way I’d come, I decided to try another “red” route down a chute onto what looked like a giant scree field. At first, I nearly hiked past the descent spot, then climbed back up and checked my maps. It didn’t look especially steep, but it was very chossy.
Sure enough the gully was gloriously awful, and every step sent a river of scree tumbling downhill. I could only take a few steps at a time and then wait patiently for everything to settle. Every time a tangerine-sized rock ricocheted past I was thankful that this was a solo adventure.
Toward the bottom of the gully the angle relaxed and I picked my way across a fan of loose scree, rocks, and small boulders. From below, the gully was even less inviting than from above. But it had served its purpose, and it was hard not to be glad.
After sidehilling around the northeast shoulder of 4630 I ran into a couple groups of nonchalant dall sheep grazing at the bottom of the cliffs.
Near the lake I passed a couple of campers who had just set for the evening, grabbed my bike, and headed back down the Powerline Pass Trail.
I’m always surprised by how fast the ride back toward Glen Alps is. First I passed a few lone lycra-clad bikers, and then closer to the parking lot the crowd became more democratic: parents with kids, older folks walking dogs, roving packs of teenagers out enjoying the weird warm weather.
At the Glen Alps lot I packed up, drove back down the hill through Anchorage, and scrambled down to a beach near Point Woronzof to meet up with a group of friends for a cookout. There are as many potential microadventures out there as there are days times people. But in a perfect world, every microadventure should probably end with the adventurer barefoot in the sand, eating driftwood-roasted bratwurst, petting puppies and watching the sun put itself to sleep behind the mountains.