Small climb with big rewards

Connecting with nature in Alaska is as easy as looking at skyscrapers in New York City, because mountains are everywhere and if you drive a couple minutes out of Anchorage you will run across a hiking trail.

If you still have not done your summer duty and taken in any of the outdoor experiences the Last Frontier has to offer, then saddle up and take a ride in town to a little mountain called Flattop.

The mountain, meager by Alaskan standards, stands 3,550 feet from the trailhead and covers a relatively easy 2.8 mile trail from the lookout at its' base to the rocky crag that is its peak.

Experienced hikers can tackle the trail up and back in as little as an hour, without stops to take in the views of the Anchorage bowl or the mountains to Sleeping Lady and Denali.

Starting from the staircase at the trailhead you walk through a thicket of low-lying trees and up a steep climb to the first saddle. This area of the trail, though only encompassing a small portion of the hike, is by far the hardest part. Do not let this sway you, as anything worth doing will not be easy.

Take some water though, because if you are like most college students, the only real form of exercise you get is running to class or after the pizza delivery guy.

From first saddle, it is around the hill to the second saddle, obviously. It is this portion of the hike that gives you your first glimpse of the summit. It looks far away, what with its' steep incline and snow covered sides, but it is really at your fingertips.

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The view from the second saddle is worth the hike, if looking up at the peak burns you out. To your left as you walk are views of Power line Pass and the Glenn Alps, to your right is Turnagain Arm and Potters Marsh. But the real view is right behind you.

Anchorage has a small town feel that shrouds its' size. If you turn around, the city stretches from the Arm to the Mat-Su Valley. This is why you have come. The green of the trees, the varying heights of the rooftops, cars the size of gnats and roads that look like small streams. And it's all five minutes away, though it feels like hours. That is, if you are into that kind of thing.

After taking it all in, the climb becomes steeper. But fear not o' weary traveler, for the end is near. Finish a mere 50 to 60-foot ascent and the beast that is Flattop is conquered.

Getting to the top is half on the fun, but depending on the weather conditions the day you hike, plan on a picnic or snack, maybe some adult beverages for celebration (in moderation.)

The top of Flattop has the dimensions of a baseball diamond, and its' rolling massif provides many rocky outcroppings to catch your breath or waste your time on. So take your time, enjoy the experience of connecting with nature with your overpriced REI gear, and wish for times like these: minimal responsibility and time to do as you please.

Because in a couple of years, who knows, you might be one of the many citizens of our fair city that spends their hours merely staring out at the mountains around Anchorage instead of enjoying them.

And enjoying Flattop is easy. Once you get past the first saddle the bugs dissipate, the bear warnings drift to the back of your mind and if you are lucky, you might see a moose or two. Right next to you. Staring blankly at you as you reach for a camera or implement of self-defense.

The trail can be explored from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. seven days a week. Parking costs $5, which is conveniently placed in a drop box at the gate. So bring a friend and walk a mountain, because summer is almost over.