Moksha Peak (Southwest Ridge)

Moksha Peak (6250’) lies southeast of Matanuska Peak, and when you climb Matanuska Peak it is the prominent peak you notice with a beautiful North Couloir that draws the eye. In recent years it has become a popular spring and fall destination due to a “decent” trail that departs from the Rippy trail on the southern (Knik) side of the peak. The route tends to melt out earlier than other nearby peaks and offers a direct route to a 6000’ peak with amazing views of the Jim Creek area and Knik Glacier.

The first recorded ascent was by Karen Courtright and Bill Babcock on May 10, 1969.  They camped at 2500’ and ascended the Southeast ridge.  They descended the Southwest ridge.  It should be noted that Babcock wrote a short snippet for Scree and misprinted the elevation which lead to confusion about the name.  6250’ had not been named – but the peak behind it (6201’) had a proposed name of Frontier. To quote Gerrit Verbeek:  “The confusion came because of a 1969 Scree article which Bill wrote for the first ascent of Frontier, calling it 6205′. Because ‘6205’ wasn’t on the map, people weren’t sure if it was referring to 6201, or a typo of 6250. So some people started calling 6250 ‘Frontier,’ and others kept calling 6201 ‘Frontier’. We’ve since cleared it up: Frontier is 6201 and that’s what Bill intended to write, Moksha is Peak 6250 @ 61.579, -148.848.

Because of the name confusion 6250’ remained unnamed until a later ascent by Richard Baranow and Marty Martinez at which time Baranow proposed calling the peak Moksha.  Moksha refers to a term in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism for various forms of emancipation, liberation, nirvana, or release – and from the name one might infer that Baranow and Martinez achieved some sort of tranquility upon seeing the dramatic views of the Knik glacier – however the truth is that the peak was named for Martinez’s dog. And so we have confusion over the actual name, combined with a confusion of dogma with an actual dog.

These pictures have nothing to do with Moksha peak but are instead visual representations of the confusion of dogma with dog taken in Kolkata India, November 2022. To the left is a sleeping dog outside St. Paul Cathedral and to the right is a sleeping dog outside of the Kalighat Kali Temple. 

But I digress. As stated earlier – the Southwest Ridge of Moksha has become a popular scramble. There is a decent route that departs from the Rippy Trail which ascends a somewhat brushed out trail to treeline. Upon reaching treeline the route continues up a broad Class II ridge to the summit. It’s 6 miles / 6000’ to the summit – which means 1 mile per 1000’ of elevation gain so bring a your snacks!

Yvonne and I climbed the route on July 22, 2023. It took us 8 ½ hours round trip – but much of that time was spent hacking away at the devil’s club that takes over the trail mid-summer. If you were to climb the route in late spring or early fall the vegetation would make travel much easier.

As for the route – park at the Rippy Trailhead and hike 1.2 miles to the obvious drainage / avalanche path. At this point start hiking up the ave path for roughly ¼ mile until the gully begins to narrow / steepen. At this point look for a faint trail that leads into the woods to the right.  Scramble up this until you reach the obvious trail.  Alternatively you can hike a few feet past the ave path and take the old trail that is adjacent to the gully.  In mid-summer this lower trail was a but overgrown – but in the spring it will be more apparent (check out the Peakbagger Moksha page for alternative GPS routes). Note that if you’re climbing the route in spring and there is snow in the gully above you’ll want to skip the fully and take the trail to avoid exposure to avalanche danger.

At mile 1.2 you’ll cross a wide avalanche gully. At this point leave the trail and start hiking up. Alternatively look the trail just after this gully. Note the debris in this photo – don’t walk up this if there is snow above you!

Follow the gully till it narrows and then ‘swack your way up the ravine to reach the trail.

The trail. A bit overgrown mid-summer but still easy to follow. If you climb this in the spring or fall the trail will be very visible.

Mid summer the trail is a tad overgrown. Yvonne is wearing a hood because the bugs are trying to eat her alive.

The trail ascends steeply through a hallway of devil’s club until about 3000’  / mile 3 at which point you will emerge into grass fields.  Ascend these working your way towards the obvious point on the South Ridge (3773’). Upon reaching this point you will be above the vegetation and will then work your way up a rocky ridge to the summit.

The grass fields around 3000′. At this point the bugs had finally relented and we were able to hike without our hoods.

Point 3773′. At this point the ridge becomes rocky and easy to follow. Below the obvious point lookers left there is a technical downhill bike trail that some locals are currently developing.

Looking up Jim Creek gorge and towards Frontier Peak. There is an ATV trail that accesses this valley via a trail lookers right (east) of the creek. However the trail is steep and has seen several bad accidents.

The final few hundred feet is a steep talus field but you can avoid the worst of it by traversing right to gain the lower angle southeast ridge.  To get down reverse the route.

Looking east from the summit towards Frontier Peak. In the far left of the frame is the massive Skybuster / Ice Cream Cone mountain (8675′). Nate Bannish has a great write up of a Skybuster ascent here.

Yvonne on the summit.

Looking west at Matanuska Peak.

Heading down.

Yvonne on the southwest ridge. The Knik glacier is in the background.

Heading down.

Yvonne approaching the summit and down the Southwest Ridge.