Denali AKA Mt. McKinley


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"The climb rises above Eklutna Lake into Dall's sheep country and ends with a   
panorama of Eklutna Lake Valley and Knik Arm. There is good berry
picking on the upper trail in fall and the open tundra invites exploration."
~ Chugach State Park website description of the Twin Peaks Trail

That's a good description of this trail and several of the reasons why I like it.

A well-maintained trail rises 1,500 feet from the trailhead and ends at a bench just below tree line in about 2 miles. You can see Twin Peaks just fine from there (unless they are partly under clouds like they were when I hiked the trail in 2012) but you don't get the best views unless you climb even higher.

On that first hike I continued up a more gnarly trail through the tundra for another half mile to the high overlook where you can see the whole lake and valley out to Knik Arm. The views are spectacular from there on a sunny day!

View east to Eklutna Lake and glaciers in the Chugach Mountains

View west toward Eklutna Valley and Knik Arm, the water you can see in the distance

Today I decided to hike even farther up Pepper Peak above the overlook. (I didn't know the name of the mountain when I wrote the 2012 review.) It was on one of those upper slopes where I found the mother lode of blueberries -- and it's not even fall yet.

I was hoping to get to the highest point on Pepper Peak but ran out of time. Maybe I can do it when we come back to Anchorage later this month.


This was another beautiful day in the Anchorage area, with fewer clouds in the afternoon than yesterday. Temperatures ranged from about 52-76 F. at JBER and a little cooler at higher elevations on my Twin Peaks hike.

The next several days look good here and in the Portage Valley and Seward, where we are headed next. The long-range forecast is for warmer than normal temps in Alaska the next three months, and perhaps next winter, too: http://www.adn.com/article/20150801/another-unusually-warm-winter-forecast-alaska

The Twin Peaks were beautiful in this morning's low light.

Hiking three miles up the Twin Peaks Trail was one of my favorite hikes in 2012 so I was really looking forward to doing it again today. I was hoping to see lots of sheep and perhaps some larger critters (bears or moose!), lots of flowers, and the gorgeous mountain and water views I remembered from my first time up there. 

I took Cody with me on that first Twin Peaks hike but now that he's 12 years old, I thought it would be too much for him today. Casey can do the distance. However, the trail is too steep in places for me to hike with her safely on a leash. So I went solo this time.

There were only about a dozen vehicles at the Eklutna Lake parking area when I arrived about 8 AM. The lot is usually full on weekends by mid-morning. I put my $5 Chugach State Park day use fee in the envelope and got on the trail within a few minutes.


Lots of pretty birch and aspen trees in the first mile

The trail begins to narrow and the trees aren't as tall as you climb higher.

The trail is mostly wide and rather smooth the first mile and a half up to a wooden bench with the first unobstructed views down to the lake :



Then you're back in the woods again and climbing on the other side of the mountain for about a mile.

Although you can't see the lake on that side, you do have great views of Twin Peaks as you climb higher and higher:



The trail narrows as you climb higher and it is fairly overgrown this time of year before reaching the second bench just below the tree line :


That's where I like to take a short break to eat a snack, take in the views, and get ready for the  steeper, more gnarly section of trail to the higher overlook.




Looking back at the Twins; the lighting was more natural above tree line.

I believe I was the first one this morning to reach the bench at 2 miles, where many people turn around, and the higher lake overlook at 3 miles. I didn't see anyone coming down and didn't see anyone in the tundra on Pepper Peak, where they'd be obvious.

When I was approaching the higher lake overlook I thought I saw two people but as I got closer, this is what looked like people from a distance:

People at the overlook?

Nope, just rock cairns.

It was nice to have the place to myself until I started back down. I know there are both black and grizzly bears in the area, and moose, so I carried bear spray and called out "Hey, bear!" all the way up the mountain. I didn't see anything except ground squirrels, a marmot, and some birds.

Oh, and a flock of about 30 sheep below the twin peaks:




I could see them before I reached the bench near tree line and as I continued up through the tundra on Pepper Peak. They were spread out enough that I haven't shown all of them in these photos. My camera has a 50x optical and 50x digital zoom but without a tripod I wasn't able to get any good close-ups of the sheep, just white sheep-shapes that I could count.

Fewer sheep were visible when I came down a couple hours later so I was glad I got to see them on my ascent.

A woman who lives nearby and often climbs the mountain said that when she and her husband started up the mountain about 10 AM, two hours behind me, a mama moose and calf came running down the trail toward them and almost bowled them over. When I got back down to that area two other couples said they'd just seen the calf a few feet off the trail but I didn't see either it or the mom. Phooey.

Continued on the next page:  photos of flora, more views, exploring the tundra, and lake-front activity

Happy trails,

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

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2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil