It’s high summer – the bugs are out, and you should be too. Luckily, there are many more places to enjoy the out doors than the bustling avenues around Flattop and the Glen Alps. Outlined here are a couple of hikes – of varying difficulty – that are not far from Anchorage, and have some semblance of solitude.
Bear Mountain and Mount Eklutna
For a relatively short hike with a sweeping view from the Mat-Su Valley to Anchorage, head up Bear Mountain from the Peter’s Creek trail. Bear Mountain is the ridge that overlooks Mirror Lake, parallel to the highway. On a clear day, Denali and Foraker are in full view, and the rock outcropping at the top of the trail is a great place to show off your extensive geographic knowledge to visitors from flat and boring places like Kansas and Florida.
To get to the trailhead take the Glenn Highway to the Peter’s Creek exit and turn right onto Ski Rd. Follow it until the T at Whaley Ave. Turn right.
If you’re not familiar with the winding streets of mountainside neighborhoods that make one question how these people get along on winter roads, this next part is very important: stay on this road. The name changes to Chugach Park Drive. Follow this until another T. Turn left on Kullberg. Drive for about five seconds, and then take a right on Sullins Drive. Turn right again on Malcolm Drive, and straight ahead is the trailhead. It’s easier to find than a four-leaf clover in November.
The Bear Mountain trail is unmarked. However, you’ll see a trail on the left about a hundred yards down the Peter’s Creek trail. Go up, and enjoy.
Now and then, it’s a good idea to stop and look behind you to see from where you’ve come. It may not seem like much, but it’s a good mental note and this small exercise in memory has helped many an intrepid hiker from getting hopelessly lost, even in the most innocent wilderness.
If you want to stay on the joyous, spongy tundra for a while (or are as sick of there-and-back trips), you have a few options: once you reach the top, turn right and head for Mount Eklutna (it’s the big one, two peaks back). Tag the top, check out what of the lake you can see, eat some food, and head back down to the saddle from which you climbed. (Or, if you’ve all day and a sense of adventure, continue along the ridgeline and circle the Four Mile Creek valley.)
There’s a trail to the left that descends back into the Peter’s Creek valley, and it’s a little easier going than the steeper Bear Mountain trail. Unless you become terribly lost, you’ll come out about two miles down the same trail you started from. Turn right, and you’ll be back in civilization before you know it.
Blacktail Ptarmigan Rocks and Roundtop Mountain
Blacktail Ptarmigan Rocks is the apogee of Ptarmigan Valley, which is by winter a popular snow machine spot, and by summer an easy day hike that runs through a small but divine pine forest trail on the way up to the tundra.
Begin from the Ptarmigan Valley trailhead, which is on the Old Glenn Highway in Chugiak. It’s one of the few easily-accessible trailheads that does not require a parking fee. Follow the driveway up to the gate, and continue on. The first mile or two of the trail are the most dynamic. The trail traverses foothills before the climb into the valley, and for that time one is never far from someone’s back porch, or posted signs reminding trail users of this. Right at the point the real hike begins. At the top of a hill, there is a sign that points right for snowmachiners, and left for the summer hiking trail. Take the left path to find the evergreen grove.
This is a pretty popular hangout spot for bears. Watch for their scat, which is markedly different and messier than the often-seen round moose pellets, and often contains berries and seeds. If you come across a bear, don’t panic. They can smell fear just as well as the Clif bar in your pocket, so stay calm. If it doesn’t see you yet, back off slowly. Do not run, or turn your back to it.
Bears can’t see very well, so making yourself look bigger usually helps. If you’re with a group, stand together. Raise your pack (or jackets) over your head and talk to her. Most of the time, bears will write us off and walk away. If the bear stands up on her hind legs – which is not a sign of aggression, but of interest – stand your ground. You don’t need the bear spray yet, but you may want to know where it is.
The trail gradually gains ground through a track of alders and eventually breaks treeline. In front of you and to the left a bit is Blacktail Ptarmigan Rocks, a peak that looks more menacing from the south than from the valley. If you want to get a good look at it, take a hard left at treeline – that’s Roundtop Mountain, but it’s easier and more rewarding to climb if you climb Blacktail first.
Once the trail breaks past the trees, it dissipates, and options expound. Walk around, climb, and keep an eye out for wildlife.
One may return the way they came, or make a point-to-point hike out of it, and have a car at the Mount Baldy trailhead in Eagle River. From the peak of Blacktail Rocks, descend left and you’ll walk right into the popular Eagle River trail.
Take these directions with a grain of salt – explore what you want, and in proper Alaska fashion, be prepared for anything – weather, wildlife, and crazy gold miners to name a few – and always tell someone where you’re going. There’s no dignity in being an obstinate Ralston or McCandless, and needlessly getting yourself in trouble. Unless you want a movie made about you – in that case, do what you like.