Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I've Moved!

Hello friends! I've moved my blog to:


I hope to see you over there soon! :)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Pepper Peak to East Twin Pass Traverse, #1 Anchorage Area Hike

Hey, a lot of people start a blog, get busy, and then don't write again for three years, right?! I meant to continue this blog as a fun project to get my over-eagerness for talking about hiking, eating, and traveling out of my system, but then got caught up...with hiking, eating, and traveling.  However, a recent foray back into the land of schooling (eek, homework, run for the hills!) has made me realize I should brush up on some writing skills...or skills of self discipline...any skills would be helpful at this point. And hence, I attempt to return to the world of blogging!

What better way to start than with my absolute favorite hike in the Anchorage area, Pepper Peak? Pepper Peak is accessible at Eklutna Lake, off the East Twin Pass Trail at the lake entrance.  I first did this trail three years ago (and wrote a blog post about it then, too!), repeated it again in 2014, and went back for round three this summer. Hard to believe that I have only done this fantastic hike three times, but that goes to show how many awesome hikes are in the Anchorage area. There is never enough time for everything you want to do, every summer!

My peeps enjoy the first excellent rest stop

This year I was super excited to hike Pepper Peak in June because my friend Soraya from Tennessee was in town visiting me. We had limited time and I knew if I could only take her on one Anchorage area hike, this would be it. Mountain views! Lake views! Glacier views! Only an hour-long drive from Anchorage! Plus you only have to repeat a small section of trail.  What more could you ask for. My beloved sister, ever-ready-for-adventure-friend Kelly, and my trusty sidekick Piper rounded out our group. Did I mention Piper is from Africa and the best dog ever? I love her.

It's my blog and I can do what I want to, including talk about stuff I like to buy
I packed Drool Central Treats for Piper.  She loved them. I get them from the South Anchorage Farmers Market and the lady who runs the business is super nice.  My personal recommendation is to support Alaskan businesses! Anyway, I'm not going to bother posting pictures of the beginning of the trail (you can look at my other entry) because in my opinion this is the first point that the trail really gets interesting - try to save a snack break till here, if you can! Once you reach the second bench on the East Twin Pass Trail, instead of going left to East Twin Pass, go right and follow the obvious trail up the ridge line. It will "end" in this lovely flat viewpoint (but really, before this viewpoint the trail makes a minor split on the left to head up the ridge. Go visit this viewpoint first and then retrace your steps to head upwards!)  Enjoy a break here and then start climbing the ridge directly behind you.

No way to go but up
As for time estimates...it really depends what type of mood you are in.  There were four of us chatty fantastic ladies with lots to catch up on and the weather was hot and clear so we took our sweet-ass time getting to the top.  I think the whole 13 mile hike took us something like 8 hours - but it could be done WAY faster if that is what you are into!  To each their own. No bragging if you are amazingly fast at every hike you do.  I'm more impressed if you actually just enjoy yourself. 

Towards the top, Piper helps pull me up (or drag me off cliffs?!) Kelly says, this way!

 As you reach the top, there is a short section that resembles the type of scrambling you do on Flattop (if you are not familiar with Anchorage, ignore this reference). Just use your hands a bit! Every time I do this hike, this section becomes easier.  Experience is key - the more you prove to yourself you can do something, the braver you get and the easier things become! 

Oh, this view. I love you Eklutna Lake! (and Piper, of course)

Call me crazy, but I actually like to stop at the little false-summit (or whatever you want to call it) that is directly before the obvious, large, and rounded top of Pepper Peak. This little summit is slightly lower and much smaller, but you have a better uninterrupted view of the lake without having a bunch of slowly-rolling-away-hillside taking up the bottom of your view.  We stopped at the first little summit for lunch and to enjoy the views, and then again at the real summit for some more photos. 

Hey friends, you are so close! 

Below is my lovely mutt getting a drink (good time to point out, there isn't much water until you reach the creek coming down from East Twin Pass, please pack some water for your dog!) with a view of the Palmer side behind her. See the low pass just peeking out from above the rounded grassy hill we are sitting on? That is where we aim for, on the way down!

Gulp gulp, thanks Aunt Kelly for the nice water bowl and for being an awesome dog Aunt

Even though we did this hike towards the end of June, there were still some fun snowfields up there! Soraya doesn't get to play in snow much so she took full advantage of this.  The view behind her is back towards the highway/west-ish. Can I take a moment to say how awesome this lady is? I'm scared of heights and the first time I did this hike, I was not pleased to do the scrambling section. Soraya just powered up after us like she follows Alaskans up 5,000 ft mountains all the time, even though this was her first mountain like this. I have such awesome friends!

Throwing snowballs like a pro
All good things must come to an end, and we realized that if we wanted to eat dinner that night, we would have to leave the mountain at some point.

Looking back, goodbye Pepper Peak!
The way down is somewhat straightforward - continue off the north end of Pepper Peak (like you are walking towards Palmer) and keep an eye to the left hillside for a faint trail side-hilling down towards the pass. If you start heading down, turn back, and the view looks like my picture above, you are on the right track. Before you know it, you will be standing on East Twin Pass. More nice views and pats on the back, all around. Harrumph!

Are we there yet
A note about coming down off the pass, look for the creek on the left side of the valley and aim for that - there is an obvious trail on its right bank, it's just a matter of getting there!

Break on the way down, alas I accidentally lay down in blueberries and the shirt will never be the same
Take your time on the way down, soon the trail will drop you to cross the river, hump it up one last hill, and rejoin the main trail back at the second bench.  Smooth sailing from there!

Ice cream anyone?
 Trying to find Pepper Peak, correct me if I'm wrong, but down at the ice cream shop near the lake entrance, we looked back and think Pepper is the one with the snow on it. Directly center above the ice cream store. I hope I'm right! Maybe I will just have to go again and again until I'm an expert on the area.  I hope you try out this lovely hike and enjoy yourself!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Kesugi Ridge: Little Coal Creek to Byers Lake Trailhead

I know I probably say this every weekend, but this hike is the best trip I've done this summer.  I have backpacked Kesugi Ridge once before, but the fantastically sunny weather last weekend has now catapulted Kesugi Ridge from a great hike to a superlative one, in my opinion.  I was already a huge fan of this hike, due to the varied and interesting terrain you cover in only 27 miles.  But with clear weather, the views from the ridge cannot be beat and this trail turns from interesting and fun to completely blissful. In my opinion.

The trail follows the hillside on the left and eventually dips down to cross Little Coal Creek and climb to the right
Both times I have hiked Kesugi Ridge, I have started at the northern-most trailhead, Little Coal Creek (mile 163.8 on the Parks Highway, just south of Hurricane Gulch Bridge).  I like hiking north to south because you gain less elevation - though the total elevation gain from Little Coal Creek to Byers Lake Trailhead is still 9,500 ft!  So yes, even on the "easier" route you will be gaining and losing elevation like mad.  Spread it out over three days like we did. 

Heading towards the boulder-field-crossing of Little Coal Creek
We started our hike at 6pm (could only get half days from work!) and managed to hike until 10:30pm at night, to get some mileage in.  It was so fun to hike through the evening, when it was so hot out!  It had to be in the upper 70's to low 80's.  The entire weekend.  I never wore anything heavier than a long-sleeved wool shirt for three days.  My fleece jacket came along for the ride and was only used as a pillow!  Our first evening, it took a little over an hour to get out of the trees and into lovely alpine country.  The trail makes a sharp turn south once you are out of the trees for good, and heads towards the crossing of Little Coal Creek.  

My friend is excited to cross these boulders!
It is easier than it looks to clamber over these boulders.  Fun too, to hear Little Coal Creek flowing somewhere beneath all those tons of rocks.  We blasted up the little bowl after the boulders, and made it to the ridge proper.  Suddenly, the view opens up!  

Friends hike into the evening
It was so bright with the sun setting over the mountains that I had a hard time getting photos in that direction, shooting straight into the sun!

My hiking food for three days.  Thank goodness everyone shares!
One fantastic thing about Kesugi Ridge is all the water availability along the trail.  I never carried more than one nalgene of water because I knew there would be another creek or lake to pump from.  There were a couple dry areas where I wish I would have carried a little bit more, but even in those areas it was my own laziness stopping me from hiking off trail a ways to get water, rather than there being no water at all.  Our first night, we stopped for a late dinner/snack break by one of these little creeks.  Pictured above is my food choices for the weekend.  May I recommend Stingers?  You will never want to eat normal fruit snacks again after Stingers, that is how good they are.  

Adventure Appetites, you rock!
I also really want to tell everyone about Adventure Appetites, an awesome Alaskan-made backpacking food company my sister found.  She and her boyfriend ate well this trip - our second day, they pulled out their vacuum-packed lunches and I tried not to drool in jealousy.  Their lunches were so good we all ate them too fast for me to get pictures. One was an ancho chicken wrap:  separate little packets of goat cheese, black bean spread, ancho-chile seasoned chicken, and even fresh red onion to wrap in a tortilla!  Their other lunch was the mufaletta sandwich: black forest ham, mozzarella, homemade black and green tapenade, and my favorite, juicy roasted red peppers.  I couldn't believe my bites of sandwich - it tasted like it came fresh from the deli!  Luckily I managed to get pictures of the Adventure Appetites trail mix and mountain cookie, at least, on our first nights' snack break.  The mountain cookie was a bar of chocolate pecan deliciousness.  

Dinner break on our first night
The ridge walking is so easy on this segment of trail, we walked until 10:30pm. We would have walked further if we weren't losing daylight!

Easy ridge walking
Since we wanted to be able to set up the tents in the light and watch the sun set, we chose a nice flat-ish area above the trail before it got too late.  Still, we were up until near midnight, admiring the mountain views and attempting to get low-light photos of Denali and surrounding mountains.  

A reason to keep evening-hiking in July!
In the morning, I had another boring snacky breakfast while my sister pulled out her Sleeping Bag Hashbrown burrito from Adventure Appetites.  What?! Never fear, dear readers, friends and family always swap bites-for-bites.  I was glad that somehow I got away with not having to carry my stove, but still getting bites of warm food.  

Fancy breakfast
Next up, a 15-mile day!  We were determined to cover serious ground on our second day, since we got such a late start our first day.  It was completely foggy for the first couple hours of the morning, so we didn't mind our fast march.  Even on the more rocky part of the trail, where it would be easier to get lost without a deep dirt track, the rock cairns kept us on track.  Before we knew it, we were breaking out of the fog on top of Stonehenge Hill, and dropping back down to the west-facing ridge line with its views of Denali.  

 Stonehenge Hill
The approach to where the ridge trail meets Ermine Hill trail is my favorite part of this whole hike.  The white rocks under your feet are so bright, they create a gorgeous contrast to the green tundra that surrounds. Unlike earlier parts of the trail, where you may be hemmed in on one side by nearby mountainsides, the trail before you get to Ermine Hill is wide-open.  I would have loved to camp here for days and just explore! Ermine Hill trail is another access point to the Kesugi Ridge Trail.  It is only 3.1 miles from the trailhead to the ridge, but if you take this option then you miss the entire northern section of trail between Little Coal Creek and Ermine Hill.  If the weather or bugs are driving you mad, Ermine Hill Trail makes a good escape route back down to the highway.  

Approaching Ermine Hill trail junction, see how pretty?
The ridge trail drops steeply to meet the Ermine Hill trail.  Make lots of noise through the tall brush/shrubs!

Dropping down to Ermine Hill trail confluence
You have to gain some elevation again to get to my absolute favorite part of the trail, but it is worth it.  We hung in there so we could have our late lunch break at an awesome spot.
The trail goes through this fantastic rock formation
It is a bit disheartening to have to climb up again after just dropping down so much, but trust me, it's worth it.

From our lunch spot, looking back at where the ridge trail meets Ermine Hill (trail back to highway is on left side of lake)
I have never seen anything like this in the Anchorage area!  All these rock formations are gorgeous and really fun to play on.  Definitely worth the effort of getting out of town.

Doesn't this just invite you to come play?
We couldn't resist some jumping photos, even though our feet/shoulders were already sore.  Did I mention it was hot and lovely out?

This took a couple tries
Sadly, from here the trail drops down into a large valley, skirts a swamp, and takes a long climb back up to Skinny Lake.  We talked and sang a lot for this segment, since we were all sorta paranoid with the thick brush closing us in.  We missed our awesome open ridge line!

From the awesome lunch stop, take a sharp left off the hill and descend into the trees!
We were in such a hurry to get back to the ridge, I didn't take many pictures.  When you finally start climbing up over open rock faces again like the one pictured below, be happy, because it means you are almost at Skinny Lake.

Shot over my shoulder, so I wouldn't have to stop and turn around.  Impatient!!
Skinny Lake, a very welcome long lake, has some camping spots and even the only outhouse on the trail! We simply stopped for a snack break and a quick dip before continuing on.

May I recommend Skinny Lake for a refreshing swim?
The trail climbs very steeply away from Skinny Lake and through some more hated brush before finally reaching Golog, a high point of 2,970 feet.  Excellent dinner stop, with a view of three small tarns below.

Hiking buddies on Golog!
We were so eager to stay on top of Golog and admire the views awhile longer, we made it our dinner stop though we were almost out of water.  Never fear, we had enough to make another Adventure Appetite dinner!

Chicken Satay, yum.
Directly after Golog were a couple of beautiful tarns.  This would have made some nice camping as well.

Beautiful Lila in a beautiful tarn
We had another gorgeous, hot night of hiking from here out.  There are multiple places that would make good camps, all with views of Denali!

Evening hiking is my new favorite time of day to admire the views
We all seemed to come to the conclusion that we had done enough for the day around the same time, and picked out this lovely spot around 10pm for our final camp:

Again, the sun makes it hard to get a picture of the mountains!
We thought we were lucky to witness a second sunset over Denali.
Evening views our second night
 The true treat came the next morning: completely clear views of the mountains!

Packing up camp our last morning
We had hiked far enough on our second day, that we only had about four hours of hiking left for our final morning.

Heading towards the Byers Lake Trail confluence
Two years ago, the trail down to Byers Lake was miserable.  Very eroded with steep drops, I used my hands and butt-scooted a lot.  This year, the trail was amazing!  The park service went through a lot of hard work to put in some nice switchbacks. I think it added some length to the already-27 mile hike, but the extra miles were worth it for our poor knees and ankles.  I'm guessing the mileage has to be around 29 total now?

We love you, switchbacks! Descending to Byers Lake
I ain't gonna lie, we were ready to be done once we started the descent.  After three days of glorious, sunny ridge walking, it's hard to be back into trees without a view.  The walk seemed to last forever, but we were back to the Byers Lake Campground around noon!  May I suggest parking at the actual Byers Lake Trailhead in the campground if there is space.  We parked up by the war memorial and so had an extra half mile or so to walk on very sad feet.

My group, at the end!
To sum it up, if you have two nights, preferably three days (though you could do it in two and a half, like we did) and you know the weather is going to be good, go to Kesugi and hike this thing!  Ridge walking is always a blast, especially in good weather, especially when there are views of Denali, fun lakes and rocks to explore, and especially when you can do it with a group of loved ones.  What are you waiting for?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ship Lake Pass to the Wedge

If you are at Glen Alps Trailhead and don't feel like battling the crowds up Flattop, why not try Ship Lake Pass?  This pass, at an elevation of 4,050 feet, is an easy 5.5 mile hike from the Glen Alps Trailhead.

Dropping to cross the south fork of Campbell Creek, looking up the Powerline Valley
Simply follow the wide, easy Powerline trail from the Glen Alps trailhead.  After two miles, turn left at an obvious fork in the trail down to a very nice bridge crossing the south fork of Campbell Creek.  Keep following this trail up the hills towards Ship Lake Pass.

Looking up to Ship Lake Pass, right before another small stream crossing
You will need to cross one more stream, this time without a bridge, but it is small and you can hop across on rocks.  Once across the small stream, it's up to you how to get back to Ship Lake Pass.  My hiking book recommends hanging to the right side of the valley immediately, but I have always stuck to the left side and followed the obvious trail up until it peters out.  From there, it is easy walking straight up the middle of the valley to the pass.

Pausing to look back towards the trailhead and Anchorage
As the photo above shows, lovely alpine walking! The moss, so squishy under our feet.  The views, so open. 

This is what it will look like as you head up to Ship Lake Pass.  The Ramp is the pointy peak on the left. 
It took us three hours to hike to the top of Ship Lake Pass, and that included 2 breakfast breaks, some breaks while I texted people, and some "I have to use the bathroom where can I hide in this open valley?" breaks.  Can you tell we like to take it easy?

The Wedge from Ship Lake Pass
When you get to the windy pass and are trying to decide whether to hike up the Ramp or the Wedge next, the Wedge will look a lot easier. It is further away, but less steep.

Getting closer to the Wedge
Once closer to the Wedge you can see the easiest way up is following the left side.  It took us about 30 min from Ship Lake Pass, including lots of photo stops.

The view of Ship Lake below!
The view from Ship Lake Pass may be nice enough to tempt you to just sit around, but don't! It's too windy anyway, and the Wedge is such an easy peak to add in to your day.  I personally liked the view of Ship Lake better from the slopes of the Wedge than I did just from the pass, anyway.

Looking south at the Powerline Valley
The top of the Wedge is surprisingly long and flat, you can walk its ridge for a bit back towards Anchorage. I like that it is south facing so we could get some sun for our lunch break.

Looking down into the valley we just walked through, back towards Anchorage. O'Malley Peak ridgeline on right.
The views from the top, while not the most stunning thing I've seen this summer, are still lovely, especially considering the small amount of effort involved to get there.  The Wedge has an elevation of 4,660 feet. Not bad, considering you can get there in three and half hours of easy hiking!

Atop the Wedge's wide summit
Though we greatly enjoyed our time on the Wedge, I think I liked the views of Ship Lake as we headed back down the Wedge best of all for this hike.  Ship Lake is a stunning lake tucked right underneath Avalanche Peak. We loved to watch the wind ripple its shores and imagine the adventures of tired backpackers coming around the corner from Indian Valley.  We saw a very large group of them climbing the hillside up from the lake towards us. Suckers!

There are awesome large rocks on the hillside for sunning/lake gazing
In conclusion, I recommend hiking the Wedge in addition to Ship Lake Pass.  If you've already made it that far, another thirty minutes of uphill won't hurt you!  If you feel like you have more energy, try the Ramp on the other side of Ship Lake Pass.  That will be our goal next time we are in the area!