2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   PANORAMIC VIEWS FROM FLATTOP MOUNTAIN,
ALASKA'S MOST-CLIMBED SUMMIT
+ SUMMER SOLSTICE PHOTOS

FRIDAY, JUNE 22

 
"The 500,000-acre Chugach is the third-largest state park in the country and is 
Anchorage's backyard playground. The park is great for hiking, camping, 
mountain biking, wildlife viewing, and fishing. From the Glen Alps parking lot,
it is an easy walk to the Anchorage overlook, offering panoramic views of the city,
Cook Inlet, and the Chugach Mountains. It's also the trailhead for Alaska's
most popular hike, Flattop Mountain, and many other day hikes."
 
~ 2012 Alaska Visitors' Guide published by Anchorage Daily News.com, p. 17
 
 

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 FLATTOP

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 night. 

One was a bike ride on the Coastal Trail, which we did yesterday (Thursday) when 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 the AlaskaDispatch.com website. About 100 people participated. In hindsight I wish we had, too.


Summer solstice on Flattop Mtn.   Photo by Loren Holmes at link above.

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 too egregiously.

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 mountains). 

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 Flattop.


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 summit.

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 snowfield

We definitely got our moneyís worth today! I can see why this is such a popular hike.

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.

Cody 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 climbed higher:

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 gained elevation.

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

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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