Hiking up Flattop Mountain was near the top of my list of things I
wanted to do while we were in the Anchorage area.
How could I resist a challenging hike with superlative views?
I figured there has to be a reason this trail is so popular with
residents and visitors. Today Jim and I discovered lots of
reasons why. The only downside was all the company we had but we had a
great time anyway.
View of Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm from the
relatively flat summit of Flattop Mountain
The first day we arrived in Anchorage we gathered information about local
hiking and bike trails from the downtown visitors' center and Public
Lands Information Center.
We got maps of Chugach State Park and a brochure describing the Hillside
Trail System, a variety of routes that crisscross the rugged terrain of
the western Chugach Mountains that border Anchorage's city limits. A
couple of those trails take hikers to the summit of Flattop.
It was a set of summer solstice
photos and a gorgeous weather prediction that prompted both of us to
climb the mountain today.
THE SUMMER SOLSTICE FROM
We heard about some summer solstice activities in Anchorage on Wednesday
night but didnít participate in any of them because they were so late at
One was a bike ride on the Coastal Trail, which we did yesterday
there were fewer people on the greenway. Another was the annual hike to
the top of Flattop Mountain to watch the sun set at about 11:45 PM. Cool!
Summer solstice on Flattop Mtn. Photo
by Loren Holmes at link below.
There is still snow on that trail, we heard on the news, so we hadnít
tried going up Flattop yet.
Yesterday I read an online article about the Flattop solstice hike on
website. About 100 people participated. In hindsight I wish we
Summer solstice on Flattop Mtn. Photo by Loren Holmes at
The sunset photos by Loren Holmes that accompany the article are stunning. I've
included two of them here and hope I haven't violated any copyright laws
Those photos and
knowing that a hundred people made it up the mountain OK on Wednesday
night prompted us to get out there and do it ourselves today.
FINALLY, A REAL SUMMER DAY!
This was our first mostly sunny day in Anchorage and we took advantage
of it. There wasnít a cloud in the sky as we headed to the Glen Alps
trailhead at 9:30 AM, although some puffy white clouds gathered in
the afternoon as we were finishing our hike.
Temperatures reached the upper 70s F. at the campground later in the
day. Sometimes itís warmest in the evening in Anchorage, not late
afternoon. We were plenty warm on top of the mountain, too.
View of Flattop (R) from the Blueberry Loop Trail
Flattop is one of many mountains in Chugach State Park on the
east side of Anchorage but it's also the most popular one. In fact,
all of the promotional materials we've gathered confirm that it it the most-climbed mountain
summit in the entire state (and Alaska has a ton of
Since it was a
gorgeous day for a hike
I was concerned that we wouldnít be able to get a parking place at the Glen
Alps trailhead parking area. Thankfully the large lot was only two-thirds full when we got
there about 10 AM. It was packed when we left four hours later at 2 PM,
though, with people waiting to claim spots vacated by folks who were leaving.
Unless you have an
annual Alaska state park pass the parking fee is $5 per vehicle at Glen
Alps, one of the busier trailhead parking areas for the Hillside Trail
System in the Chugach Mountains. You can self-pay with cash, a check, or
a credit card in a nifty machine that spits out a receipt to display on your dash.
Jim wasnít sure if he wanted to go with me on all or part of this hike.
He figured heíd have to sit and wait for me for a couple hours while
Cody and I did the 3Ĺ-mile round trip hike.
He looked on the bike map to see if there were any nearby bike paths but
there arenít, and today he wasn't interested in the 2,200-foot elevation
gain on city streets to the Glen Alps parking area.
Mountain avens? Whatever they are,
I like them.
Two hours was our guess re: how long it would take us to go a mere
3Ĺ miles (total) up and
down this 3,541-foot mountain. Not a big deal, since we
started at about 2,200 feet.
I had read the trail was ďdifficult,Ē
however, with a rise of 1,300+ feet in 1ĺ
miles and Iíd seen photos
of some of the wooden steps and rocky terrain:
This is just a few of the wooden steps going up
Short sections of smoother trail near the top were
much appreciated but didn't last long.
Jim ascends through the rocks.
Well, let me tell ya, this trail IS difficult in some sections near the
Conditions for this time of year are also more challenging
because of the record amount of snow Anchorage received last winter and
the unusually cool spring theyíve had. Iíve heard estimates of snowmelt
and plants being three to four weeks behind this spring/summer.
Although there isnít any snow at sea level here, as in Valdez last week,
there was snow in the shade and on the north side of the mountains at
less than 2,000 feet.
We encountered snow on the trail just up from the trailhead, and
intermittently to the top:
We ascended CCW on the Blueberry Loop. The trail
follows the base of that line of snow above.
Looking back at the trail we're climbing past the
We definitely got our moneyís worth today! I can see why this is such a
I was surprised by how difficult the last few hundred feet
of bouldering were, and by how many young kids made it all the way up to the top.
One young lady carried an 18-month-old child in a pack on her
back; she reached the top just as we were leaving. Her husband had a
child no older than three with him. I know he had to have carried that
child quite a bit both up and down the mountain.
A group of hikers rest at a plateau about halfway
up the mountain.
There are several plateaus along the trail, all
with great views.
It was great to see
people of all ages enjoying the mountain today.
There were folks who appeared to be in their 70s, lots
of younger folks, and lots of dogs off-leash like Cody was. Dogs are
supposed to be on-leash in the state park but thatís tricky when youíre
bouldering and stepping carefully across steep slopes on narrow snow paths.
All the dogs and kids we encountered were very well-behaved.
Cody had as much fun as Jim and I did. He loved the soft snow we hiked
on or near and found lots of new scent sensations.
Jim had fun
tossing snowballs to Cody and throwing snow on him.
Cody loves rolling around in soft snow. He'll have
plenty of opportunities this summer.
enjoyed greeting lots of other Labs, Golden retrievers, and smaller dogs
on the trail. He was very good and got some pats and praise. I never
worried about his ability to stay with us as we clamored up and down
boulders. Heís like a mountain goat on rocky or steep slopes. Heís still
agile, strong, and sure-footed at age nine.
I was very pleased that Jim made it all the way to the top.
Heís had trouble with his knee and hasnít been able to go on
other hikes with me for more than a mile or two.
A young man offered to take our picture at the
first plateau on the way up the mountain.
Despite his bum knee
Jim made it all the way to the top on this treacherous trail and back down,
all with more grace and ease than I had. My knees hurt less than his but
they donít bend well and Iím a little paranoid about falling down and
hurting them on steep descents (going up is rarely a problem).
We could see people ahead of us most of the time and knew when they were
going up the rockier or steeper pitches:
With all the other people it was easy to follow the
trail through rocky sections.
We could also see the large, rather flat top of the peak and knew how
much distance and elevation gain was ahead of us.
The last 500 feet of elevation were gained over a very short distance
(i.e., the grade was pretty steep). You'll see that in some of the
photos I show you later looking down from the last half mile.
On the Blueberry Loop about 1/3 mile from the
parking area; Flattop is in the distance.
I turned around to take the next two photos as we climbed above yet
another plateau that is approximately 3/4 mile from the summit. We
didn't go on the side trails on the "knob" but I'm sure there are good
views from there, too.
Two runners descend the switch-backing trail
(above) as we climb higher (below).
We could see deeper into the valleys in Chugach State Park as we
On the way up we quickly reached treeline, the sub-alpine area, and then
the tundra. It was interesting to watch the changing terrain as we
The final yards to
the top were more gradual:
Here's a photo looking back down the trail as we neared the summit:
It was interesting to keep looking back to see where we'd been.
The parking area looked quite far away. The city and Cook Inlet were
even farther. We could see much of the Blueberry Loop clearly, the
"knob" we passed via lots of wooden steps, the last plateau where
several people were either stopping or taking a breather, and the
steeper, rockier slope we'd just climbed.
Continued on the
next page: views from the
summit and descent
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil