Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) to Heritage Falls

The Historic Iditarod (aka Crow Pass) Trail which spans the Girdwood Valley to Eagle River is considered one of the best trails to hike in the Chugach mountain range and offers diverse scenic sights including glaciers, waterfalls, wildlife. It’s not only a great hiking/backpacking route, but it's also an historic portion of the Iditarod Trail that led from Seward to mines in the Interior. A bit of trivia not known by many is that this trail was rebuilt in the 1970s with girl scout labor.

Current Trail Conditions (as of 11/25/18.) The trail is icy and microspikes are helpful. See recommendations below.

There are a number of hiking options from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) parking lot. You can hike the entire twenty-three mile traverse, hike portions of the Crow Pass trail (as I often do) or take other shorter trails that start from the ERNC. Follow this link for more on these shorter trails. Eagle River Nature Center Trails.

If you elect to hike the entire twenty-three mile traverse you can start from either Girdwood or the ERNC. The Elevation Gain is 2,100 feet from Crow Creek trailhead; and 3,100 feet from the ERNC so most hikers start from the ERNC. 

Specific directions to the ERNC and more details about the hikes can be found in these books.

New trail from the Perch.

ERNC to Heritage Falls
One of my favorite sections is the trail from the ERNC to Heritage Falls.  It's about a 10.5 mile round trip (RT) from the ERNC and makes for a nice day hike. The trail from the Nature Center to the Perch (mile 4) and then on to Heritage Falls (mile 5) can usually be hiked all times of the year including winter.

(Note: this is not true of the Cross Pass end where avalanche danger is a concern during the winter months.)

As of November 25th (2018) the trail was icy and some type of traction device is helpful. Both styles of ice cleats below work for me.

(1) PECO 24117-PE Kahtoola Microspikes  Kahtoola MICROspikes (above) are a bit pricy but worth it because (1) they stay on your boots better than other (cheaper) cleats and (2) they work well in most icy conditions.
(2) Hillsound Trail Crampon Traction Device For extremely icy conditions, these are the best cleats I have found. They are more aggressive than the Micro-spikes, but are still comfortable for walking/hiking.
View from new trail above the Perch 
From the ERNC, this section of trail meanders through the woods until it meets up with the Eagle River at Echo Bend (mile 3) where it generally follows the river from this point forward. At about mile 1.2 the hiker gets a first glimpse of the Eagle River below the "Rapids Camp." (There is a short trail down to the river opposite the Rapids Camp.) It's not uncommon to see moose, sheep, goats and bear on your way to Heritage Falls depending on the time of year you are hiking. During the fall, you have the added bonus of stunning fall colors. 

Due to erosion the trail (that once ran adjacent to the river at approximately mile 3) has been rerouted above the "Perch." Outstanding views of the Eagle River can be had from the new trail above the Perch. During the winter months when the river is frozen, the hiker can alternate between the river and the trail. I usually hike the river from Echo Bend (when frozen) to the Perch, and then get back on the trail and hike to Heritage Falls.  The trail from the Perch to Heritage Falls is more direct than following the river on this section. There are several camping spots at Heritage Falls and it's a great place for a lunch break (or overnight).





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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Lower Eagle River Trail or River Woods Trail


Boardwalks in the pond are
The lower Eagle River trail (also called the River Woods Trail) runs along the Eagle River in Chugach State Park and can be hiked all times of the year including winter. Often overlooked, it's just minutes from downtown Eagle River. It's an easy walk that offers convenient access with intermittent views of surrounding mountains and opportunity for wildlife viewing.

Note: The trail can be icy during the winter (as it is now), so you may want to consider wearing a footwear traction device.  Both ice cleats below work for me and are available on Amazon for a good price.

PECO 24117-PE Kahtoola Microspikes Large Fits Sizes 11 to 14 Shoes/9 to 11 Boots Fits Sizes 12+ Shoes/10 to 12 Boots

Kahtoola MICROspikes (above) are a bit pricy but worth it because (1) they stay on your boots better than other (cheaper) cleats and (2) they work well in most icy conditions.

Hillsound Trail Crampon Traction Device, Black, Medium
I have tried quite a few different ice cleats, and for extremely icy conditions, these are the best cleats I have found. They are more aggressive than the MICROspikes, but are still comfortable for walking/hiking.

The trailhead can be accessed from the south side of the Briggs Bridge off the Eagle River Loop Road where there is pubic parking and a boat launch. More details about the hike itself, as well as specific directions, parking and trailhead access can be found in these books available at Amazon at the links below.

50 Hikes in Alaska's Chugach State Park.
Best Hikes Near Anchorage (Best Hikes Near Series)


From the Briggs Bridge access, the lower Eagle River trail goes east for through birch and spruce forest over relatively flat terrain. The old section of trail skirting the private land has been improved over the years and is now clearly marked. (See photo on left.)  Boardwalks have been added to a marshy section next to the Swan Pond. Remains of charred trees and scorched ground remind us of the wildfire that burned about 25 acres in this area over the Memorial day weekend in 2016.  More info on the May 2016 wildfire at this link - Hiland Road Wildfire. 

May 2016 Burn Area
In about 3 miles the trail reaches the South Fork stream.  A trail to the left cuts through the woods and takes the hiker to the confluence of the South Fork and Eagle River. If you walk a short distance beyond the trail to the left, you will reach the South Fork itself. The bridge across the South Fork is long gone so you will have to ford the stream if you want to pick up the trail on the other side and continue to Barbara Falls, also called South Fork Falls.


Llama gazing at moose in the swan pond.
Since our destination today was the Eagle River, we took the trail to the left. It's a short hike (maybe 1/4 mile) from here to the Eagle River. When salmon are in the river be particularly "bear aware" along this stretch as you could surprise a bear due to river noise. At the confluence, there is a grassy area and exposed gravel bar where you can take a break and enjoy views of the river and surrounding mountains.

The trail is open to biking as well as hiking so it's not unusual to see fat tire bikes on the trail. It is also common to see rafts and kayaks floating by on the Eagle River at this location.

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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Symphony Lake - Ship Creek Loop


This hike through the beautiful South Fork Valley and over the mountains into Ship Creek offers stunning views of alpine lakes (Eagle and Symphony), tarns and valleys surrounded by rugged, glaciated mountains. During September you will have the added bonus of vibrant fall colors.

To get there, take the trail to Eagle and Symphony Lakes from the South Fork trailhead parking lot. Specific directions for the trailhead and hike to Eagle and Symphony Lakes can be found in either book (available at Amazon through the links below.)


Proceed to the west side of Symphony Lake where there are several camping spots if you decide to camp here for the night. Once on the southwest side of Symphony Lake, look to the mountains directly west for a broad mostly tundra slope with a saddle at the top. After a 1600 foot climb you will reach the saddle where you can see the North Fork of Ship Creek. At this point you can either drop about halfway down to Ship Creek to find an old horse trail. Follow the horse/animal trail to Rendezvous Pass where you will climb over into the South Fork. Once over the pass, the trail will take you back to the parking lot.

The other option is to turn northwest to follow the ridge(s) and eventually drop down into the South Fork Valley. Depending on where you drop from the ridge, you should eventually intersect with the trail to the South Fork trailhead parking lot where you started. This is a hike for clear weather as you will need to have good visibility to see the route on the ridges. There are a number of ways to go. You will need to be adept at route finding and navigation as there are no trails on the ridge. The horse trail below is badly overgrown in areas and very difficult to follow. Happy Trails!


More photos at  Alaska Llamas Facebook Post - Symphony-Ship Creek Loop


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Williwaw Lakes and Long Lake - Chugach State Park, Alaska


Walrus Lake (Uppermost Williwaw Lake)
The hike to Williwaw Lakes is one of my favorites in Alaska's Chugach State Park. This trek which is a short drive from  downtown Anchorage, offers a variety of options including day hikes, overnight or multiday adventures, In the winter, it is also popular ski trail. The lakes are alpine jewels situated in a mountainous valley above Anchorage at the base of craggy Mount Williwaw (elev. 5,445 ft.). The trek to the lakes takes the hiker through alpine tundra amid a variety of alpine flowers, grassy meadows and scrub hemlock. The pristine lakes offer the hiker an alpine paradise with spectacular views of surrounding mountains with the added bonus of wildlife viewing of dall sheep, moose, coyotes, fox, and various waterfowl. There are plenty of camping opportunities around the Williwaw lakes.



Saddle SE of Near Pt.
There are several ways to access the lakes. For the more gentle but longer route, take the Middle Fork Trail from the Prospect Heights Parking lot. For a shorter but more rugged trail option, start from the Glen Alps trailhead/parking lot to connect with the Williwaw Lake Trail via the Ball Park. For more detailed information on the trails, driving directions to trailheads, and maps refer to the following books. (Both are available on Amazon at the links below.)

The Loop/Traverse to Long Lake
From the pass above Walrus Lake (upper most Williwaw Lake) you can opt for a longer (possibly two day trip) to Long Lake and the valley of the North Fork of Campbell Creek. By the way "Williwaw" means “very windy” so be prepared for high winds, and secure your tent well (if camping.) The weather can change quickly and drastically at these elevations. I have also encountered very windy, wet and wintery conditions while camping around Long Lake in late summer. It is best to do this traverse June through August if you want to avoid adverse weather.

To make the traverse/loop from the pass to the Prospect Heights trailhead, continue around either side of Long Lake and follow the North Fork of Campbell Creek downstream about 2.5 miles beyond the last lake. At this point look for a trail on your left which climbs about 800 ft. (up the northwest ridge of Wolverine peak) to a notch/saddle on the ridge sou
Climbing from Long Lake (below) to the pass above Walrus Lake.
theast of Near Point. From here you can connect to a trail that goes back to Prospect Heights by (1) continuing on the trail up and over Near Point or (2) bushwacking from the saddle to the trail (that goes back to Prospect Heights.) The second (2) is my preferred option to avoid climbing over Near Point. Again, for more details on this trip, refer to the books cited above. What I like about the Williwaw-Long Lake traverse is that it is a delightful and very accessible "wilderness" trip in Southcentral Alaska right at Anchorage's back door.
Long Lake

*When I do the traverse, I prefer to take the trail to Near Point and proceed over the saddle/notch into the North Fork Valley of Campbell Creek and camp at Long Lake. The next day, we climb the pass and descend into the Williwaw Lakes hiking out mostly downhill to the Prospect Heights parking lot. The photo above (left) shows us heading down from this saddle into the North Fork of Campbell Creek.


 Hiking along Williwaw Lakes on trail through alpine valley.


Click here for photos of "Williwaw Lakes" trek and Facebook Post


Click here to download a map of Chugach State Park, Chugach State Park Map - Alaska DNR

Monday, July 30, 2018

South Fork Eagle River Trailhead Update



As of July 30, 2018 the Southfork trailhead is now open after being closed due to the fatal bear mauling in the area. There were very few cars in the parking lot when we left on Monday afternoon.  (Follow links below for more info on bear attack.)

State tests show 3 bears shot in South Fork weren’t involved in June attacks

Fish and Game still seeks bear in Eagle River Maulings

On July 30th, we headed into Ship Creek for several days.The horse/game trail in Ship Creek which you can pick up after climbing over the pass on Rendezvous Ridge is quite overgrown and difficult to follow in spots.

We did have two bears come into camp (separate encounters) so be sure to take some type of bear deterrent if hiking in this area.



For more on hiking Ship Creek, see my July 1st blog post "Hiking Upper Ship Creek, Chugach State Park."



Taking a break on the ridge above Ship Creek with a view of the mountains above the South Fork valley in the background (top). Climbing over the ridges into upper Ship Creek affords spectacular views and fireweed in full bloom makes for nice photo opportunities (above).


South Fork Valley
Heading to the north fork of Ship Creek.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Hiking Upper Ship Creek, Chugach State Park (Alaska)


Camping in upper Ship Creek
If you want to get off the beaten path for a more wilderness experience close to Anchorage, take a hike in the upper Ship Creek drainage in Chugach State Park. To avoid snow and harsh weather in the passes and upper reaches, I generally hike there June through mid-September. My preferred access point is the South Fork trail head  (although there is access in Arctic Valley.) To get to the trail head, take the Eagle River Loop/Hiland Road exit off the Glenn Highway just past the weigh station. Turn right at the traffic light onto Hiland and continue about eight miles up the road. Take a right onto South Creek and follow it to West River Drive and take another right. The parking lot is on your left.

The trail starts out on a boardwalk for a short distance and then turns into a trail that traverses the right side of the South Fork valley as you head away from the parking area. (If you continue on the main trail, it eventually drops down to a bridge that crosses the South Fork of the Eagle River and continues to Eagle and Symphony Lakes at the end of the valley.) 


To access the Ship Creek drainage, continue ahead on the trail (past the main trail on the left that drops to the river.) This trail climbs steeply into a pass on the ridge above. Continue over the pass and descend into the Ship Creek drainage watching for the horse/game trail that heads up Ship Creek drainage (on your left.) (This route will take you into the upper reaches of Ship Creek if you choose to go that far.) We generally stay higher on the hills to avoid the brush choked areas closer to the river which can be difficult to negotiate. Once you are in the Ship Creek, drainage, the hiking possibilities are limitless. Hiking Alaska: South Fork Eagle River offers many grass-roots options You can limit your outing to just a day hike or take an extended trek to the North Fork of Ship Creek and beyond. But don't expect signs, mileposts or even trails here, just enjoy the wilderness. 

You can find more detailed information on hiking options in Ship Creek and Arctic Valley in the books below. These are my "go-to" books and have a wealth of information on hiking in Southcentral Alaska and Chugach State Park. (Both are available on Amazon at the links below.)

50 Hikes in Alaska's Chugach State Park
55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska
Click here to download a map of Chugach State Park, Chugach State Park Map - Alaska DNR

Rendevous Ridge with view of Cook Inlet
 
Llamas trekking on the ridges and benches above Ship Creek.