The Big Five: Pontoon
FIRST DESCENT: Jerry Hance
VERTICAL: 3800 feet, 58 degrees off the top proper
ACCESS: 20-minute flight from Valdez, 15-minute flight from Cordova. Site on state land so all operations have permits.
AS SEEN IN THE JANUARY 2012 ISSUE OF FREESKIER MAGAZINE. WORDS BY CHRISTOPHER JERARD.
WHILE THE OPERATORS IN THE CHUGACH WILL NOT ALWAYS AGREE ON THE EXACT BIG FIVE, THIS PEAK MAKES EVERYONE’S LIST. PONTOON IS ICONIC, TEMPTING AND VISIBLE FROM MOST OF THE CHUGACH. BUT ONCE YOU GET UP CLOSE, IT’S CLEAR HOW COMMITTED EVERY OPTION ON THE PEAK IS. ON THE MOST POPULAR LINE, THE FIRST 3,000 FEET OFFER LIMITED SAFETY ZONES. THE SLOUGH ALL FEEDS STRAIGHT DOWN IN FRONT OF YOU, AND THIS IS NOT A RUN TO TRY RACING YOUR SLOUGH ON—UNLESS YOUR NAME IS SETH MORRISON OR JEREMY JONES.
LEFT: COURT LEVE — RIGHT: TREVOR PETERSEN AND ERIC PEHOTA SHOT BY MARK GALLUP
“We had been heliskiing south and east of the Wall for a few days. Earlier in the day we finally skied Pontoon, we twice tried to land on it. We had skied another peak next to it and were at the bottom deciding what our next move was when we heard another heli. This was a real shocker as we had never seen or heard anyone else back in those regions. It was Chet Simmons with his heli with the pontoons for landing skids. He flew directly towards where we had tried to land on Pontoon and landed! ‘Oh well,’ we thought. But after he lifted off no one was on top. He’d just scouted a landing. This was the last high peak we hadn’t skied, and we definitely had tried to get on it.
Our pilot was psyched to make another try after seeing Chet. So we immediately loaded up the heli. With the snow blown away and Chet’s pontoon marks helping, we landed on the top. I immediately jumped out so not to be denied. Sometimes pilots would land for a moment then pick up again and not be able to land again in the same place to let you out. After descending it, we stood at the bottom and heard Chet coming again. We watched Trevor [Peterson] and Eric [Pehota] fly into it, each sitting astride their own pontoon on either side of the heli, and land on what now could really only be named Pontoon peak.” —Jerry Hance, owner and guide, jerrysheliskialaska.com