Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Hike to 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.)

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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!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Less Traveled Way to Raven Creek, Chugach State Park


This is a pleasant spring or early summer hike which can be done in April, May and early June depending on weather and trail conditions. The trail from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) to Heritage Falls can usually be hiked all times of the year including winter. However, this hike to the head of the Eagle River valley is best done spring or early summer due to the river crossing.

This hike along the Historic Iditarod Trail starts from the ERNC parking lot and is about 9.5 miles (according to my GPS) to the confluence of Raven Creek and the north fork of the Eagle River where there is good camping on the river bar. The Eagle River was exceptionally low this year, so we could still easily make the river crossing in late May.

From the ERNC, the first section of trail meanders through the woods. 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 and also an established campsite.)  In about three miles the trail meets up with the Eagle River at Echo Bend where it generally follows the river from this point forward. The trail once ran adjacent to the river around the "Perch" (Mile 4). However, due to erosion the trail has been rerouted above the "Perch" and outstanding views of the Eagle River can now be had from the new high trail.

View of Eagle River from the trail above the Perch
At Echo Bend the hiker may be able to alternate between river and trail depending on river level. However, after the Perch the trail is more direct than following the river, so it's recommended that you stick to the trail until you reach the river crossing roughly seven miles from the ERNC. It's not uncommon to see moose, sheep, goats and bear along the trail so be sure to bring some type of bear protection.

Once you've hiked about five miles on the well established trail from the ERNC, you will notice some camping spots near the river. (See a previous post for more detail on the hike to Heritage Falls.) At this point, look across the river, and you will see Heritage Falls. This is a great place for a lunch break. In another quarter mile, you will arrive at Icicle Creek. Cross Icicle Creek and continue on the trail for another 1.5 miles or so to reach a spot where you can ford the Eagle River. 

After Icicle Creek, the trail crosses several small streams with rickety wooden bridges, one being Yakety Yak Creek (Mile 5.8). After these bridges the trail becomes more faint and can be difficult to follow. After the last bridge, don't take the trail/turn to the left but continue ahead in the direction of the river. The trail becomes very faint and overgrown from here in some spots. Just keep going until you reach the river.

During the spring and maybe early summer, the hiker can usually ford the Eagle River somewhere at a point about 1.5 miles beyond Icicle Creek.  Look for a spot where the river widens and the current is slower. (See Facebook video below.) 

Note: If the water level is too high to safely ford the river, the main trail (not far away) continues up valley and eventually to Girdwood. There is camping at Twin Falls (Mile 8.1) and Thunder Gorge (Mile 10.3). See Trail Map.**

Once across the river, the hiker can walk the river bar for several miles to the confluence of Raven Creek and the Eagle River. As you walk up the river bar, you can see Twin Falls across the river on the left. If you want to continue or take a side trip to Thunder Gorge, Eagle Lake or the Ford Site, you will need to cross the river again. Usually the lowest water is near the confluence of Raven Creek and the Eagle River where the river widens. 

Confluence of Raven Cr and Eagle River
There is good camping and great views of surrounding mountains all along the river bar. Since this is the less traveled route, it is not likely that you will see other hikers or campers, only the occasional bear hunter in the spring. However, wildlife is usually plentiful so look for moose, sheep, goats and bear on the surrounding mountains.  Above all else, enjoy the beauty and solitude this valley has to offer!


*Note: avalanche danger is a concern during the winter and spring months on the Girdwood end of the Crow Pass trail. An update on Crow Pass trail conditions may be found at Crow Pass Trail Updates Facebook

**Note:  For a detailed description of the Historic Iditarod Trail or driving directions to trailheads see "50 Hikes in Alaska's Chugach State Park, 55 Ways to the Wilderness or the online hiking apps.

Facebook video of fording the Eagle River at approximately Mile 7.



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Llamas in Bear Country ---Deterrent or Attractant?

(Updated 5/30/19)
It's that time of year again and the bears are out and about in southcentral Alaska. 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.

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 on the effectiveness of bear spray - The Cold Hard Facts of Bear Deterrents: Bear Spray vs Firearms. 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. 

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):
  • Buddy up. You are safer in a group.
  • Make Noise. This will prevent you from surprising a bear.
  • Use your senses to stay aware. No headphones!
  • Carry bear spray. Have it accessible and know how to use it.
  • Don’t feed bears. Handle food, fish and attractants responsibly.
  • Slow down. High speed equals high risk in bear habitat.
  • Leash your pets. Off-leash pets can bring bears back to you.
  • Never run from a bear! 

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

Related articles at links below.