This page is a collection of notes and photos from several trips to Punchbowl Glacier and the surrounding areas over several years. Included are notes and route descriptions for Nagoon Mountain (4,403’), Lingon Mountain (4,098’), Highbush Peak (4,669’) and Lowbush Peak (4,229’). Also includes are descriptions for Berg Peak (3,917’) and Hibbs Peak (4,423’) since you must traverse those peaks to access Punchbowl in the summer months. I’ve included two winter routes and two summer routes to give you ideas of how and when to get there. These zones can be accessed in both summer and winter from multiple trailheads – including Peterson Creek, Kern Creek, Max’s Mountain (either Virgin Creek trail or the resort Cirque trail) and the Winner Creek trail.
A note about these peaks: This is not a wilderness area – it is a highly trafficked commercial zone. Punchbowl Glacier lies 4 miles southeast of Alyeska Resort and the glacier and surrounding zones are heavily used in both summer and winter by commercial groups. In the winter it is frequently guided by Chugach Powder Guides (CPG) and in the summer the Seavey’s run dog sled tours with people and dogs camped on the glacier from June through August. Alpine Air ferries dozens of tourists to this camp daily and there is near constant helicopter traffic for most of the year. Likewise private pilots frequently land on the glacier and the surrounding areas. That said, despite the commercial traffic, the climbing and skiing can be wonderful when weather and conditions are decent.
In terms of historical information – I don’t know where the name Punchbowl came from. It’s not an official name and the name doesn’t show up in mountaineering journals until 2001 by which time it had already been established. My best guess is that it was named by Girdwood pilots who ferried skiers to this glacier by fixed-wing in the 90s for day and overnight trips. Back in the 90s Keith at Alpine Air would drop you off for $35 if you could find 3 others to fill the Cessna. These days you’ll pay closer to $350.
As for the peaks themselves – the names were proposed by Vin Hoeman in 1961 who suggested Highbush, Kinnikinnick, Nagoon, Lingon and Bramble Knoll. He also proposed two other names (Juneberry for Alyeska and Currant for Berg) but those names conflicted with other common names and are not used. He listed the general name of this area as the “Berry Peaks” due to the wild berry theme and today the pass at the head of the valley is referred to as “Berry Pass“. Of note the only official name in this area is Hibbs Peak which, ironically, is often referred to by its common name (Big League).
This tour is slightly longer than Pastoral and slightly shorter than the Bomber-in-a-day – making for a good middle distance for people who would rather tour than ski yo-yos in Turnagain. Given you have to go up and over 4 passes (and across Punchbowl Glacier) you’ll want stable avalanche conditions and bluebird weather so you can see where you’re going.
I skied this route in March 2017 with a group of friends. Avalanche conditions were stable and the weather was bluebird – however it was cold and windy and I had opted for lightweight touring boots and thus suffered from cold toes most of the day. Aside from cold toes, the tour was relatively straight forward. We had good snow all the way to the Lowbush / Shoulder of Death col and then windboard at upper elevations until finally finding decent snow on the descent to Winner Creek. There were old heli-tracks on the south side of Lowbush and the Highbush / Lingon run was tracked out (it is a standard heli drop and is skied almost daily from February-April).
In terms of notes / tips – a few stand out:
- After you ascend past the last alder band while climbing to the Kern/Peterson col you’ll be above all vegetation for several hours – so don’t bother if it’s whiteout as you can’t see a thing!
- The section from the Lowbush / Shoulder of Death Col was suspect in that you first traverse under the entire South face of Lowbush and then must ascend a west facing sub-ridge. There is no way to assess avalanche conditions on this slope until you’re on it so space your party out well.
- There was a very pronounced wind-lip at the Lowbush / Punchbowl Peak col that may or may not have been a bergschund. It’s hard to see since it’s under a convexity roll so watch as you slide in.
- As you begin to exit the glacier to gain the Highbush / Lingon col you’ll note several crevasses. If you’re going to fall into a crevasse it’s probably going to be here.
- Reaching the Winner Creek trail is often the crux of this area. In the winter ski to the bottom of the pocket glacier / avalanche runout and then traverse east across the creek aiming for meadows below the east face of Little League and eventually the thick stand of cottonwoods on the trail itself.
Approach: Park one car at the Nordic lot in Girdwood and one car at the Kern creek pullout. (Tip: if you have a pass, park at the day lodge and ski a tram run at the end of the day.)
Route: Starting at Kern ski up valley until you can ascend to the Kern / Peterson col. Next drop a few hundred feet to the pocket glacier on the southwest side of Lowbush. Ascend to the col on the south side of Lowbush (north of Shoulder of Death), then ascend to a high col on the southeast ridge of Lowbush that allows you to contour around to gain the col between Lowbush and Peak 1203 (also called Punchbowl Peak). Next traverse Punchbowl Glacier aiming for the col between Highbush and Lingon and finally drop the pocket glacier from the col down to Winner Creek trail.
Gear: Skies & avalanche gear. Technically this is a glacier route (there’s a chance of a bergschrund at the Lowbush / Punchbowl Peak col – plus crevasses on Punchbowl Glacier and especially when exiting the glacier to gain the Highbush / Lingon col) and you should probably carry a rope/gear – but if you choose not to, the risk can be easily mitigated.
Distance / Time: 14 miles / 4,500’. It took us 7.5 hours. Don’t let the low stats fool you into thinking it’s a mellow tour – there is a lot of route finding and you’ll probably be breaking trail for most of the day.
Season: Winter / spring. You’ll want a deep snowpack in Girdwood otherwise the bushwhack to reach Winner Creek is horrible.
Highbush Peak (4,669’)
Highbush Peak lies at the northwest corner of Punchbowl Glacier. It’s the highest of the Berry peaks and has an imposing North Face that is very distinct when viewed from the areas near Crow Pass. It was first climbed via the North Ridge by Keith Hart, Ed Gendzwell (whom Eddies is named after), and Bob Goodwin on June 19, 1960. The North Ridge (Class 3+) is the sub-ridge between the small glaciers on the north side of the peak. The route ascends a gentle ridgeline until 4000′ and then steepens considerably for the last 700′.
“Peak 4,710” approximately six miles up Winner Creek trail from Alyeska ski lodge was climbed on June 19. The party was Ed Gendzwell, Bob Godwin and Keith Hart. Two miles beyond the old Winner Creek cabin it was necessary to tackle the alder, devils claw and other botanical horrors head-on until we gained the small glacier to the north of our peak. From the col at the head of the little glacier, we climbed to the summit via some very steep snow-filled couloirs and badly broken rock on the north ridge. The top was reached in a rainstorm seven and one-half hours from Alyeska Lodge. A small cairn was constructed on the highest exposed rock. A rather frightening descent was made over wet loose rock. Thirteen hours were required for the round trip. This was the most difficult climb that we have made in the Girdwood area.
– Keith Hart, Scree, July 1960
Other common routes include the following (note – I have only climbed the Southeast Face):
- Northeast Ridge (Class 3+): Accessed via the Lingon / Highbush col. This is the route some people take when doing the Berry Traverse (Nagoon > Lingon > Highbush). Expect steep loose rock.
- Southeast Face (Class 3 / moderate snow): A large moderately angled slope that can easily be accessed and ascended via the glacier.
- South Ridge (Class 3+): The south ridge which is accessed via the Highbush / Lowbush col.
- West Ridge: Accessed via the Highbush / Berg col. This is a Class 4 ridge that looks frightfully loose and steep and I am unaware of any ascents.
I climbed a variation of the Southeast Face with Aaron Holmen on April 10, 2022. The approach was a variation of the Punchbowl Traverse described above, but instead of accessing the glacier from the Lowbush / Punchbowl (Peak 1203) col we skied up and over the Highbush / Lowbush col. After reaching Punchbowl Glacier we ascended the Southeast Face until about 2/3 of the way up and then traversed left/west to gain the South Ridge which we took to the summit. We skied the Southeast Face and then re-joined the Punchbowl traverse route and skied out via Winner Creek.
We had perfect conditions on the up but we waited a little too long before descending and had to mitigate some wet sluff while skiing down. Fortunately we were able to traverse to a shaded aspect where we found colder and drier snow. Once off the peak we skied over to the Highbush / Lingon col and skied the run down to Winner Creek and out to Alyeska.
This was a great long day and we had optimal conditions. That said, this is a large peak in a zone that takes a lot of effort to reach. I had previously set out to climb Highbush 3 other times and turned around for various reasons – so be aware that there are lots of factors that dictate whether you can safely ascend the peak or not and be prepared to come back another time.
Highbush Peak (Southeast Face)
Approach: From Kern creek ski up valley until you can gain the Highbush / Lowbush col. Descend to the glacier and you’ll be at the base of the route. From Girdwood ski up Winner Creek until you reach the stand of large cottenwoods (right before the trail veers sharply to the east). Next pick your way through the trees / brush until you can gain the Lingon / Highbush col.
Route: The Southeast Face is the large snowslope that drops right off the summit. In perfect conditions you could skin / boot right up the run – however an option that bypasses booting up the steepest rollover is to climb to last and steepest rollover and then traverse climbers left to gain the South Ridge.
Gear: Ice axe, skies & avalanche gear.
Distance / Time: If done as part of the Punchbowl traverse the total distance / elevation gain is 17 miles / 6,000′. The climb itself from the glacier to the top is 1.5 miles / 1500′. The traverse plus the ascent of Highbush took us 8 1/2 hours.
Season: Winter / spring for the Southeast face. The South Ridge can be climbed in summer.
Lowbush Peak lies due south of Highbush and you can easily get it it via Kern Creek in the winter – however as a summer jaunt it requires a but more work. I climbed it as part of a longer overnight trip in late June 2020. My route started at the resort and took me over Max’s, Hibbs, Berg and Lowbush until finally dropping down to Winner Creek and back to the resort. Below are notes for these peaks and the route. A couple of the peaks I’ve climbed at other times via different routes so I’ve included alternative route notes for those peaks as well. Refer to the map below for more details.
Approach: Max’s (Baumann Bump) Mountain (3,302′)
The first step is getting up and over Max’s. You can start at Virgin Creek and follow a nice trail – but that means an additional 1.5 mile trek back to your car. Plus this is a quiet neighborhood and it wouldn’t be polite to leave your car there overnight. A better option is to park at the resort and ascend the Cirque trail to the top of Max’s. This is a steep eroded trail and you can bypass most of eroded sections by taking a spur that leads you back to the standard Max’s trail. The trail and spur are obvious. Continue up the trail to the top then traverse up and over the summit until you can descend grass slopes to the base of Hibbs / Big League. In the winter you can ski right off the summit and down the South Face – but be aware there are some steeper rock bands you have to work your way through.
Hibbs Peak (4,423’)
Hibbs Peak is the large peak with the imposing Northwest face that is due south of Alyeska. The first recorded ascent was by Keith Hart and Arion Fiebig in 1959 (route unknown) but presumably via some variation form Max’s as this was a popular route in the 60s. It should be notes that the resort maps label this peak as Big League – a name referring to the difficulty of the Northwest Face which is considered one of the hardest ski descents in the Girdwood Valley. Lots of skiers vie for this line… it’s big and the consequences are also big.
For my tour I ascended Hibbs after going up and over Max’s. I dropped down to the base of Hibbs and ascended the Southwest Face to the summit. The route I took, plus others I know of, are as follows (note – of these routes I have not climbed the North Ridge and did not summit via the South Ridge):
- Southwest Face (Class 2): This route ascends the steep tundra / scree slopes on the south side of the peak. Access these slopes by going up and over Max’s and dropping 1000′ to the valley floor. These slopes steepen as you get higher and you eventually work your way through a couple rock bands before finally reaching the upper basin on the south side of the peak. From this upper basin it’s an easy walk to the summit. These slopes are also a good ski run in the winter.
- North Couloir (Class 3 / steep snow): A short steep couloir that dumps you right on the summit. Access this couloir by climbing up to the snow slopes to the left of the steep Northwest Face. Note that this couloir will probably have an open moat by late spring so make sure snow coverage is good before attempting.
- South Ridge (Class 2): This ridge is accessed via Kern Creek. This is a really long route that goes up and over Point 3911. The 3000′ ski back down your route is superb.
- North Ridge (Class 3+): This is the route people take when linking up the ridgeline between Alyeska and Hibbs. Go over Alyeska to Little League then scramble up the ridge to the summit. Expect steep loose rock.
Berg Peak (3,917’)
The first recorded ascent of Berg was by Keith Hart and Arion Fiebig in 1959 (route unknown) as part of their linkup with Hibbs. Given they climbed Hibbs on the same day they probably approached the peak and took the same route that I took.
On my tour I reached Berg by first dropping down a long scree gully on the southeast side of Hibbs. I descended off the summit of Hibbs and walked the South Ridge towards Point 3911 before dropping the obvious gully down to the base of Berg. I then ascended the Northwest Ridge (Class 3+) to the summit. I then descended the East Ridge (Class 2) which is an easy hike to the Highbush / Berg col. However – once down at the col I didn’t like my camping options so I went back up the East Ridge and descended the Southwest Ridge down to a beautiful tarn where I camped for the night. The next morning I once again traversed Berg on my way to Lowbush. Details of the routes I’ve climbed on Berg are as follows:
- Northwest Ridge (Class 3+): Access this route from the Point 3911 / Berg col. Don’t take this route lightly – the route appears easy and short from below, but has several sections of steep exposed wet rock that you are forced to climb as you approach the summit pyramid. By the time you reach the steep part you’ll have traversed numerous sections of exposed Class 3 that you probably won’t want to downclimb and will thus be committed.
- East Ridge (Class 2): Used as either an ascent or a descent when traversing. This is mellow ridge with minimal difficulties. If climbing Berg in the winter this is the obvious route to take.
- Southwest Face/Ridge (Class 2): This is the long ridge that drops off the summit towards Kern Creek. I’ve been up and down it a few times both on foot and skis. If you plan on skiing Berg this is the route you want to ski. From the summit to the creek it’s 3,500′!
Lowbush Peak (4,229’)
The first recorded ascent of Lowbush was by Tom Choate and Steve Gruhn Choate in 2000 – however by this time many skiers had regularly been enjoying the skiing around Punchbowl for over a decade – and heli-skiing was in full swing – so it’s unlikely theirs was a first ascent. Tom and Steve didn’t encounter any signs of people on the summit and left a small bottle register which is still there.
To climb Lowbush I cached some of my gear at the Berg / Highbush col and then dropped 500′ to a basin below Highbush. I was then able to sidehill towards the slope leading to the Highbush / Lowbush col which I reached after ascending another 800′. I climbed the North Face (Class 3 / moderate snow) to the summit and then retraced my steps back to the Berg / Highbush col. I know of two routes on Lowbush (note- I have only climbed the North Face):
- North Face (Class 3 / moderate snow): Access this route from the Highbush / Lowbush col. Go up and over a 200′ and then climb 500′ of 35 degree snow to the summit ridge. The summit is a few hundred feet from where you top out.
- South Face (Moderate snow): Access this route from the col south of Lowbush. Once through the col pick your way up the face to the summit. See notes from the Punchbowl tour above for more info about this area. Most people will ski back down their ascent route.
Exit: Descending to Winner Creek
The final part of my tour was dropping from the Berg / Highbush col to Winner Creek. I have descended this several times but have never gotten it right and always end up thrashing around in the brush somewhere. There’s probably a trail somewhere – but I’ve never found it. Good luck getting down. Once you reach the Winner Creek trail it’s an easy walk back to the resort. If you’re too tired to walk the 2 miles from resort to your car you can catch the (free) bus at the Tram.
Approach: Park at the resort. If you’re doing it as an overnighter they’ll make you pay to park overnight so find another spot.
Route: Start with an ascent of Max’s via the Cirque / resort trail. Traverse Max’s then drop down into the basin below Hibbs / Big League. Ascend Hibbs via Southwest Face. A short side trip takes you to the summit. To get to Berg descend the large scree gully between Hibbs and Point 3911. You can ascend Berg via the Northwest Ridge (Class 3+) or via the easier Southwest Face / Ridge (Class 2). Descend Berg via the East Ridge and sidehill to the Highbush / Lowbush col. Lowbush can be climbed via the North Face (Class 3 / moderate snow). To reach the Winner Creek trail retrace your steps to the Berg / Highbush col and then work your way down to the trail. You will encounter thick brush on the descent. Once on Winner Creek trail walk back to the resort.
Gear: Ice axe.
Distance / Time: 21 miles / 11,000′ elevation gain. I did this as an overnighter and spent the night at a tarn on the west side of Berg Peak – however if you want to do it as a day trip expect to take about 15 hours.
Season: Summer. Under the right conditions this route could be skied – but you would need perfect conditions since you’ll encounter virtually every aspect and angle throughout the tour.
Nagoon (4,403’) / Lingon Mountain (4,098’) Traverse
Nagoon Mountain is the peak that lies due south of Berry Pass. The first recorded ascent was by Steve Gruhn on July 8, 1994. It should be noted that this was long before the established trail, which is so easy to follow, was built. Ask Steve about Winner Creek and he will be quick to tell you that it didn’t always have the nice trail it has now. Below are a couple snippets describing the epic he endured. The writing makes sounds bad and when he tells it in person you can still see the hurt in his eyes.
I waded the knee deep water until my feet became numb. Then I decided to battle the brush until I had my fill of that. I alternated between the two, making my way up valley until I could see some spruce trees on the lower slopes of Nagoon Mountain… I made my way across the alpine tundra, nearly stepping on a very started cow moose. As I descended the alpine tundra turned into the legendary alder undergrowth of the Chugach Mountains… I waded downstream until the creek turned into beaver pong. Here wading became closer to swimming. I tried to make my way through the flooded alder, only to have it spit me back out into the pond.
– Steve Gruhn, Scree, August 1994
Lingon Mountain is the smaller peak that lies between Nagoon and Highbush. The first recorded was by Willy Hersman and Jim Sayler in 1996. Once you get to the base it’s an easy ascent – but getting to the base is an endeavor.
This writeup is about a portion of the classic Berry Traverse which traverses Nagoon, Lingon and Highbush. Over the years many climbers have traversed this ridge and raved about the route and I was hoping to do the entire traverse. However we had poor visibility that sapped our motivation at the Lingon/Highbush col and opted to descend.
I traversed these peaks on a day trip with Eric Parsons and Gerrit Verbeek in June 2021. We biked from the Nordic lot to where the trail bends and then hiked to the pass. From the pass we climbed Nagoon and traversed the entire peak until dropping to the base of Lingon.
The route up Nagoon via the Northeast Ridge (Class 3) was much more fun that I expected it to be with long sections of moderately exposed rock. You weave left and right around gendarmes until finally scrambling up a rocky ridge to the summit. To top it off the descent down the Southwest Ridge (Class 2) is a nice scree field that saves your knees.
We then traversed Lingon and descended back to the Winner Creek trail. Lingon was an easy hike up the grassy East Face (Class 2) and then another easy descent down the South Face (Class 2) scree slopes to the Lingon / Highbush col.
It was a wonderful day in the mountains – even though the visibility wasn’t great. The route up and over Nagoon is steep enough to command your attention the whole time – but never so steep where you are worried about exposure or a fall. The route up and over Lingon is a casual hike with many wildflowers and wonderful views of Punchbowl Glacier.
And finally we turned our backs on Punchbowl Glacier and began the bushwhack down to Winner Creek. This time I stayed on the right hand side of the valley hoping for better travel. It wasn’t any better… but at least we didn’t have to swim across a beaver pond.
Nagoon (4,403’) / Lingon Mountain (4,098’) Traverse
Approach: Park at the Nordic lot and hike (or better yet – bike!) the Winner Creek trail. (Note – if you’re biking you’ll want to drop your bike where the trail makes a sharp bend to the east.) Follow the trail all the way to Berry Pass to start the route.
Route: From Berry Pass ascend northeast slopes to gain the Northeast Ridge of Nagoon (Class 3). Once on the ridge follow it all the way to the summit and then descend the Southwest Ridge of Nagoon (Class 2) to the Nagoon / Lingon col. Once at the base of Lingon you’ll to contour slightly to the south to gain easy grass slopes on the East Face of Lingon (Class 2) which you can take to the summit . Descend the South Face of Lingon (Class 2) to the Highbush / Lingon col. You’ll then drop down the old glacier where you’ll hope to find some sort of game trail which will take you back to Winner Creek trail. Expect to endure a half mile or so of moderate to heavy bushwhacking.
Gear: Ice axe and hiking gear.
Distance / Time: 20 miles / 6,200′ elevation gain. It took us 10 hours but we had poor visibility and stumbled around in the clouds for some time.