Monday, August 5, 2019

Barbara Falls - Two Ways to Get There

Falls as viewed from overlook
This is a beautiful and easily assessible water falls in Eagle River. There are two ways to get to the spectacular 60 foot Barbara Falls (also called South Fork Falls.) The easiest and shortest way is to drive to the gate at the bottom of Ken Logan Circle. The falls are about a half-mile walk on old roads from the end of Ken Logan Circle in a neighborhood off Hiland Road.  No matter which route you take, be sure to bring some type of bear deterrent as this area is frequented by both black and grizzly bears in the warmer months. The noise from the falls is loud, so it's easy to surprise a bear. (See video below.)

Short Route: Take the Glenn Highway about 10 miles north to Eagle River Loop and exit toward the mountains. Turn right at the first light onto Hiland Road. Continue uphill about 3.3 miles and turn left onto River View Drive into a neighborhood. Veer left as it becomes Waterfall Drive, then follow until it dead-ends into River Park Drive. Continue right to Ken Logan Circle. Most of the circle is signed off-limits to parking so be careful where you park and obey signs, as vehicles may be towed if parked illegally.

Barbara Falls Trail starts just behind the metal gate at the end of Ken Logan Circle with signs that read “Do Not Block Gate” and “Private Property.” At the time of this post, the owner is allowing people to pass through to visit the waterfall. Please be respectful of the private property.

To get to the lower viewpoint close to the falls, take the path/trail (unmarked) on the right/south just before the bridge (as you are walking from Ken Logan Circle). This trail descends to the creek and continues upstream several hundred yards to the base of the falls. You’ll use a hand rope to cross a small section before walking through some trees. This trail has recently been improved and makes the base of the falls more assessible. (Video below taken from the base of the falls.)

Improved trail to base of falls.
To access the upper viewpoint, or the "falls overlook" cross the bridge and continue straight on the trail another 250 yards to an intersection. Go right (uphill) and keep veering right toward the creek until you see a sign that says Barbara Falls. Follow this trail (to the right ) which will take you to the "falls overlook" (upper viewpoint.) You may notice a trail to the left of the falls overlook that leads downhill. This trail is very steep and not recommended to access the base of the falls. Better to use the trail described above to access the base of the falls. Total one-way walk to overlook is about half a mile.

Long Route
You can also hike to Barbara Falls via the Lower Eagle River Trail. This is a lovely hike about six miles roundtrip. The trail can be seasonably wet and muddy and several boardwalks near the Swan Pond/wetland area were underwater when I last hiked there in July so waterproof boots are advised. Also be aware that you will need to either ford or find a log for crossing the South Fork to reach the trail on the other side to continue your trek to Barbara Falls. And don't forget the bear deterrent as the entire area (not just the falls) is frequented by both black and grizzly bears.

The Lower Eagle River trailhead (to Barbara Falls) 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. From the Briggs Bridge access, the lower Eagle River trail goes east through birch and spruce forest over relatively flat terrain. This trail is part of the Eagle River Greenbelt System. Any of the trails leading from the parking lot eventually take you to the river trail if you head east away from the bridge. As you continue east along this section of trail which parallels the river, you will cross several small streams that carry melting snow and rain. There are a number of low spots so the trail may be muddy and wet depending on the season. At approximately 1.3 miles, you will see another trail coming off the hill on the right. Don't turn, just continue forward (to the left.)

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/wetlands area. 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. 

In 1.9 miles (from the trailhead) the trail reaches the South Fork. Just before, a path to the left cuts through the woods and takes the hiker to the confluence of the South Fork and Eagle River. Don't turn left but continue a short distance and you will reach the South Fork itself. The bridge across the South Fork is long gone so you will have to ford the stream or find a log for crossing if you want to pick up the trail on the other side and continue to Barbara Falls. It may be a good idea to bring a separate pair of shoes for wading. (Note: there are times when the river level is too high to safely cross especially after heavy rain or summer melt off.)

Once across the South Fork, continue on the trail to the right (south) uphill to get to Barbara Falls. In about .5 mile (2.4 miles from start) the trail passes under a set of power lines. To get to the falls overlook, turn left at the four-way intersection. Continue on this path veering to your right until you see a sign that says Barbara Falls to the right. This trail takes you to the falls overlook (upper viewpoint.)

Llama looking at moose in the Swan Pond
To get to the base of the falls (lower viewpoint) turn right (west) at the four-way intersection, and follow the directions above. Note: the unmarked path to the base of the falls will be on your left after you cross the bridge going this direction (west) toward Ken Logan Circle.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Llamas in Bear Country

When out in the woods even in the suburban areas around Anchorage, hikers and walkers should always be "bear aware" and have some type of bear deterrent, whether that be bear spray or a gun. The debate goes on as to which is more effective against a bear. Here's an interesting article by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Bear Spray vs. Bullets Which offers better protection?. And of course no deterrent is effective if not readily available (i.e. stored in your backpack). So whatever you choose as a bear deterrent, be sure you can easily access it when needed. This ADN article provides helpful information on how to effectively use bear spray. How to Use Bear Spray Effectively.

I'm often asked "Do llamas attract bears?" Bears have been known to attack llamas but my experience has been that llamas don't attract bears anymore than any other pack stock or pets.
In fact the llama's "alarm call" may act as a good deterrent for bears. Llamas are instinctively alert and aware of their surroundings, and usually draw attention to an intruder by making a startling "alarm call" when it senses danger. A llama is usually aware of a bear long before we can see or hear it and will let off their "alarm call" when the unwanted intruder is around.

Click on the hyperlink to hear what a llama alarm call sounds like - Llama Alarm Call.

Camping with llamas even helped one couple with their bear anxiety. "But when the only thing shielding us from Mother Nature is a thin layer of opaque fabric, our imaginations run roughshod over rational thought. Bears are the problem. Our fear of bear attacks is equal parts nebulous and irrational. We logically know we’re not going to be eaten by one, but our adrenal glands still need convincing." Here's a link to the article. On Backpacking with an Anxiety Llama

That said, I would not recommend leaving llamas tied out unattended while camping. In that situation llamas would not be able to defend themselves from predators such as bears or even an aggressive dog. There are both brown and black bears in the Anchorage area and our neighborhood (in Eagle River) is no exception. We have used an electric fence for many years and that works well to keep the bears and other predators away.

Alaska Department of Fish &Game (ADF&G) has additional information on bear safety on their website. 

For those of you in the Anchorage area, the Municipality of Anchorage has a website where you can report a bear sighting. This website also features the bear activity maps that show black and brown bear habitat as well as areas of frequent bear encounters. MOA Bear Activity Maps

Some tips to keep you safe in bear country (from the MOA website):
  1. -Buddy up. You are safer in a group.
  2. -Make Noise. This will prevent you from surprising a bear.
  3. -Use your senses to stay aware. No headphones!
  4. -Carry bear spray. Have it accessible and know how to use it.
  5. -Don’t feed bears. Handle food, fish and attractants responsibly.
  6. -Slow down. High speed equals high risk in bear habitat.
  7. -Leash your pets. Off-leash pets can bring bears back to you.
  8. -Never run from a bear!

Related articles at links below.
Afraid of bears? There are far more dangerous things in the Alaska outdoors
The Essentials for Traveling in Alaska's Bear Country.
A brown bear killed a hiker in Eagle River. A man searching for him was mauled.

    Thursday, July 18, 2019

    "Get Your Hike On" with an Alaska Hiking Group

    Looking for a hiking buddy or group? Here's a list of Alaska hiking groups compiled/copied from various Facebook posts and websites. The groups range from easy family-friendly to more challenging for experienced hikers. Some welcome anyone; others are women only and are geared for various ability levels. I included website and/or Facebook links if available. If you know of others, just send me a message and I will include. I hope this helps and that you find the group that is right for you. Get Your Hike On!

    Anchorage Trail Walkers -
    Website says - We get out 2-3 times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays DURING THE
    DAY, usually at 10am.

    Women Who Hike Alaska -

    Hike Like A Woman Alaska: Typically women only, but may host “family style” events where everyone is welcome. All skill levels, though the hikes will vary in difficulty

    Thick Chicks with Hiking Sticks (slower pace) 

    She Hikes - Matsu / Anchorage (females only, moderate/difficult hikes, faster paced) (Anchorage) (Matsu)

    Website states: We host a wide spectrum of outdoor activities. Many of our events require strong safety awareness, good personal fitness, advanced skills, and quality outdoor gear. Our core participants are older adults (age thirty and up) with a fair amount of outdoor experience. We are not geared toward beginners or those just thinking about getting fit. Our events are generally not suitable for children.
    AK Wild women hiking and backpacking (female only, various levels)

    Kenai Peninsula Outdoor club on Meetup (Very active - open to all)

    Wehikealaska Palmer hiking group -

    Alaska Outdoors
    As per website, hosts 2 hikes on Monday and Thursday year around .

    Hike it baby (lots of different areas) - 5 miles or less, hiking with baby/toddlers
    Anchorage-Matsu Tiny Trekkers - Families with kids of all ages, ++kid-paced

    For more groups in Anchorage at this website - Outdoors & Adventure Groups in Anchorage

    ***I am not endorsing these groups one way or the other, just providing info on hiking groups.

    Wednesday, July 3, 2019

    Hike Williwaw and Long Lakes - 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.

    Walrus Lake

    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, start from the Glen Alps parking lot to connect with the Williwaw Lake Trail via the Ball Park. For more info on access points and driving directions, see the hiking books such as "50 Hikes in Chugach State Park" or "55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska" and/or the online apps such as "AllTrails."

    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. 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. 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 early August if you want to avoid adverse weather.

    Lower Williwaw Lakes and Valley
    To continue with the traverse/loop once over the pass (above Walrus Lake) to the Prospect Heights trailhead, hike 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 distinct trail on your left which climbs about 800 ft. (up the northwest ridge of Wolverine peak) to a notch/saddle on the ridge southeast 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) hiking cross-country from the saddle to the trail (that goes back to Prospect Heights.) The second (2) is my preferred option so as to avoid climbing over Near Point.

    Long Lake
    *Note: When I do the traverse, I prefer to hike the direction/trail to the Near Point saddle and Long Lake because the hike out from Williwaw Lakes in this direction is mostly downhill to the Prospect Heights parking lot. There is good camping at Long Lake. The next day, we climb the pass between Long Lake and Walrus Lake and then hike to the Prospect Heights parking lot.

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

    Tuesday, June 18, 2019

    Rendezvous Ridge, Chugach State Park

    Here's a great hike in Chugach State Park (Southcentral Alaska) for a sunny summer day with spectacular views. I like to access this hike from the South Fork trailhead although there is access in Arctic Valley.

    To get to the South Fork trailhead access, 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 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 Rendezvous Ridge, stay to the right at the junction where the main trail turns left to the river. At this junction there is a sign post that points to the Rendezvous Ridge trail.

    The trail will climb toward a saddle (Hunter Pass) on the ridge above. Near or at the saddle, take a trail to the left (south) which continues climbing to the ridge. This trail is less traveled and may be faint. (However, if you want to climb Rendezvous Peak, take the trail to the right. For info on climbing Rendezvous Peak and Arctic Valley access, see any of the online apps such Alaska Hike Search.)

    Add caption
    Once on the south ridge, there are any number of route possibilities.You can follow the south ridge up valley and ultimately descend to Eagle and Symphony Lakes below. For more on this route see my post "Symphony Lake - Ship Creek Loop" posted 9/30/18. You can also drop from the ridge into the Ship Creek drainage at several points along the way. (For many hikers, these routes would be multi-day hikes.)

    However, if you are just looking for a day hike, stay on the ridge and enjoy the views!