The Pioneer Ridge-Austin Helmers Trail can be completed in a long day, though some prefer to camp. It begins in forest. The route traverses the northeast slope of Pioneer Peak, climbing more than 5,000 feet in 4.5 miles. At 2,000 feet, the trail switchbacks, and then opens onto a treeless ridge at the 11,000-foot distance marker. A picnic table is soon to come. For some, this is a nice goal in itself. At 3,200 feet, hikers crest the ridge. By the 5,300 foot elevation, the top of Pioneer Ridge Trail is achieved. Views reach far to the Knik Glacier, the Matanuska River Valley, the Talkeetna Mountains and, on a clear day, Denali is lit up in the sunny distance.
Before pushing to one of the summits, consider the sunset hour and your energy level. From the ridge, it’s another 1.5 miles to the south summit. Dogs beyond here become problematic. While the summit push is moderate, it sometimes requires hikers to scramble on all fours for balance. The crumbly Chugach Mountain terrain is known to deposit loose rock in your hand, what’s called “Chugach crud.” Test all handholds and footholds before trusting. Steep drops-offs and unclear paths require your focus. Arriving is grand at 6,398 feet above the Valley floor.