Party: Lilly, Ray, Sara, Jenn (organiser), James, Juneau, Coco and Felix (author)
Photos: Ray, James, Felix
With one week left in Alaska I seem to be trying to fit in as many day trips as possible whilst utilising the time in-between to make myself ready to leave the country. Jenn posted up a trip on the Anchorage Adventures Meetup group and I quickly joined after noting it was located in the Hatchers Pass area.
Sara, a bubbly local offered me a lift and we headed north discussing various hikes including her recent stint on the PCT. With some uncertainty, we parked at the Hatcher Pass Summit and didn’t have to wait long before a car pulled up beside us confirming we were in the right spot.
Soon, the last of our party (including two dogs) joined us, and after some discussing possible changes to trip plans due to snow, and the position of sun on the ridges, we proceeded up the obscured trail.
Some of those with microspikes put them on… not only had I not brought spikes but I had also forgotten my hiking boots and put some plastic bags over my feet, as my socks would be quite exposed seeing I was wearing Keen sandals.
The easiest way for me was straight up hopping from rock to rock, linking sections of the exposed tundra where possible. But even with microspikes it was a little tricky and we almost decided to head down to head up the sunny ridge that now had a couple of other hikers part way up. We pressed on a little further and found that the going got easier and soon we were up at a frozen lake. Whilst up in Fairbanks I had walked on a frozen beaver pond which was pretty amazing, and now I got to walk on my first lake. Peering through the murky ice you could see bubbles trapped in the ice – perhaps consisting of methane?
It was pretty cold, and as we ascended further the wind picked up worsening the situation. But the views just got better and no mater were you looked grand mountains were there. To the South you could see the Chugatch whilst north lay the impressive Talkeetna Mountains. The valleys in the distance were quite hazy; apparently there were a couple of forest fires burning.
We had regular breaks on the way up, often seeking refuge in the small rock shelters that people had constructed along the ridge. Whilst we were all a little on the cold side, the dogs were having a ball; eating snow now and then and even rolling around to cool down.
As the wind chill set in, many of the group added extra layers of warmth. Jenn was quite pregnant and made extra care that she kept nice and warm.
The three largest peaks in the Alaska Range were visible over the tops of the Talkeetnas. Foraker, Hunter, and on the right Denali – the high one,
We soon reached Hatch Peak and after some discussion decided to turn around. Some of us headed down an alternate ridge, whilst some descended the way we had come up.
Soon we had dropped down to the level of the lakes. James lay down on the ice… the lake had a concave surface! I hadn’t noticed it until he pointed it out. I think this is because the body freezes from the edges, and before the centre freezes, some water drains from the lake dropping the level of the ice as it freezes.
After heading back to grab my dropped camera we crossed over the figure eight lakes and didn’t have far back to the cars. The alternate ridge had taken somewhat longer so the others were already dropping down the last steep section.
On the way down, Sara pointed out a frozen waterfall I hadn’t noticed. The frozen ice reminded me of flowstone in a cave. I still find the similarity between ice and calcite formations amazing, the only real difference when looking at it is the colour.
Having cut the initial trip short, we were keen to try something else. Ray pointed out that the Gold Mint trail should be fairly protected from the wind… we decided to head down there to check it out and make further plans.
We got out and were happy to find it not only warmer, but the car park was quite sheltered. I sat down to have some lunch. The bread I had was some I had made overnight. It very tasty but the inside was quite crumbly.
Soon we were on our way up the valley, the lower altitude made for an obvious change in scenery. With many small trees and shrubs that had pretty much all lost their leaves in preparation for winter.
I had hiked up this valley a month or two ago, so it was interesting to see the changes. The beaver dams were all frozen over. I walked out to one of them, and was tricked into thinking the beavers would come out and attack me!
As we continued up the valley we socialised stopping now and then to inspect some interesting feature, such as rocks that seemed to have dropped into the ground, though this phenomenon was more likely due to the expanding ground and the rock being warmed by the sun.
Bear safety was also one of the topics. I had talked to many people on this topic and found it interesting that many people are against bear spray, or at least don’t view it as the best option. There were some very experienced people in the group, and I listened attentively to stories of bear spray not being effective, and that flares were the answer. They also seem more universal, operating as a signal device, or even to start a fire!
We were soon safely back at the TH and were soon back on the road. I though it great how everyone was just out to have a good time. We stuck together and were not really in a hurry to get anywhere in particular.