Williwaw and Koktoya

 On clear days, our backyard--the Chugach Front Range--beckons like the world’s greatest wilderness playground. Peaks stretch from tidewater to hanging glaciers, providing views from the Alaska Range to the Kenai Peninsula. Sheep browse lichen on escarpments and talus fields. An intricate network of ridgelines and valleys invite hikers to spend every last long hour of daylight in alpine exploration.
Traversing north from Williwaw to Koktoya
Such delightful weather is a perfect time to climb Mount Williwaw, a 5,445 foot peak that is the highest in the Chugach Front Range. Williwaw presides over the grand arc of peaks that cradle Anchorage. From her summit, tarns like a string of pearls drop down alpine terraces to the high forks of Campbell Creek. A stubborn remnant glacier clings to Williwaw’s north face, and looms over a voluptuous garden of lichen and tundra-covered terrain below. Williwaw provides humbling views of the state park’s wilderness interior, stretching toward the headwaters of Bird and Ship creeks.
Williwaw's north face glacier 
The approach to Williwaw is as enchanting as her summit views, once you get above brushline. For the most direct route, start at Glen Alps, climb O’Malley gulley to the Ballfield, then continue east toward Williwaw’s prominent southwest face. This is a 14 mile out-and-back. Considering the time that you’ll spend on the approach and return, it could be appealing to make the trip a loop. In that case, Basher Trailhead is a good option. Head up Middle Fork Trail to Williwaw’s summit. From the top, continue north along the ridgeline toward Koktoya, which is a surprisingly short and easy summit once you’re out at Williwaw. Navigating the ridge between the two peaks generally only requires losing elevation on the gentler west face of the mountainside. The east-facing cirque does not provide easy or safe passage. From the top of Koktoya, scree-ski down to the valley, then hike out past Long Lake. Climb the hillside on your left after a few miles, with the goal of gaining the ridgeline between Near Point and Wolverine. From the top of Near Point, it is a fairly quick walk or jog downhill to the Basher trailhead.

While there are several appealing ways to day hike Williwaw, it also makes a great side trip as part of a leisurely backpacking weekend. Williwaw Lakes and Long Lake provide stunning campsites with towering peaks reflected in cerulean waters. Hike out in the morning, drop your gear at camp, and summit Williwaw (and perhaps Koktoya) in the afternoon.

With a cloud-filled summer, it can be hard to find time to climb new peaks. If you haven’t climbed Williwaw, it is a good choice for the next clear weekend. Why waste time driving hours from Anchorage when the trailhead for such as majestic peak is just fifteen minutes from home?


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