Denali AKA Mt. McKinley


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"The South Fork Eagle River hike is a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' book in trail form.   
But unlike the popular children's series, there aren't any wrong turns on the
surprising and scenic trek, only decisions about which epic odyssey to undertake."
~ Matt Tunseth, Alaska Dispatch News online article dated June 23, 2015

It was sunny when we got up, so Jim and I both decided to do some major exercise today. As we left about 9:45 AM it was sprinkling . . . but fortunately, that soon stopped and it was mostly sunny again for the rest of the day.

Jim rode his bike from JBER to the air museum downtown, which we first visited in 2012, and on the Coastal Trail for a total of 38 miles.  

I chose to do a scenic 12-mile hike that's new to me -- the South Fork Eagle River Trail to Eagle and Symphony Lakes, which I've seen several times from Rendezvous Ridge. I took the next three pictures of the valley and lakes from the ridge in July and August of 2012:

This view of the South Fork Eagle River valley shows some of the houses and a closer lake
on private property.  Eagle and Symphony Lakes are at the far end of the valley.

Eagle Lake is on the left, Symphony on the right.

A rather steep trail goes down from the south end of the ridge to the river trail:

The arrows mark Eagle and Symphony Lakes in the distancve. I've never gone down that trail to the valley because it's a very long way from the Arctic Valley trailhead I've always used to reach Rendezvous Ridge -- and I'd have to come back up it on the return.

There are several options for other hikes along the South Fork Eagle River trail, such as the Hanging Valley Trail, Hunter Pass Trail, access trail to Rendezvous Ridge,

and smaller paths to mountains and glaciers at the end of the valley. I didn't have the time or energy to do any of those other spur trails today.

This map from AlaskaHikeSearch.com shows some of the trail options. I marked today's route in orange:

I couldn't get the whole map on here so click on the link if you want to see the other trail options. The trails up to Hunter Pass and Rendezvous Ridge aren't shown on this map.

You can see another more detailed topo map on the Chugach State Park web page re: the South Fork Eagle River Trail.

It was interesting to go back almost six miles into the valley to see the two lakes close up, especially since the color of the water in the adjacent lakes is different -- Eagle Lake is more of an aqua green from glacial silt while Symphony Lake is deeper blue and more clear from snowmelt and rainfall. I'll show several pictures of both lakes later in this entry.

I've only seen the far end of the valley from up on Rendezvous Ridge during four or five previous hikes. It was also interesting to get a different perspective of Rendezvous Ridge, including Gordon-Lyon, Rendezvous, and Little Teton peaks, from the valley below:

View of Rendezvous Ridge from about 3 miles out the S. Eagle River Trail;
Mt. Gordon-Lyon is the pointed peak in the far distance.


The trailhead is about eight miles back Hiland Drive, a windy, curvy paved road that's fun to drive.

The parking lot, which is in a residential neighborhood, holds about twenty vehicles and reportedly fills up very quickly on weekend mornings. There were only four other vehicles there when I arrived (next photo) and a lot more when I got back.

The first 2.3 miles to the bridge over the river are wide and pretty smooth, part of a controversial remodel of the trail several years ago (neighbors wanted it to stay more rugged and unappealing). Bikes aren't allowed on the trail, just pedestrians, dogs, and horses.

The trail goes up from the parking lot, undulates along the mountainside for a couple miles, then drops to the river after passing the intersections with the trails up to Hunter Pass and Rendezvous Ridge.

The next set of photos shows some scenes from the trailhead to the bridge over the river. Some are from this morning, some from this afternoon when there were fewer clouds. Most show the view outbound (south) toward the lake end of the valley:



This is the last house below the trail.  I love the lake; it's shown in one of the
photos above that I took from Rendezvous Ridge.  What an idyllic setting!



Above and below:  You can see more of the glaciers from several miles out
than you can near the lakes at the end of the valley.

Mountains in the background are Hurdygurdy, Eagle, Cantata, and Calliope, all approximately 6,000 feet high. There are some glaciers, including Fluke, that drain into Eagle Lake to the left.

You can see the river from the trail for a couple miles before you drop down to it


A sturdy bridge crosses the river. The water comes from both lakes, a combination of the glacial silt-laden grayish turquoise water from Eagle Lake and clear snowmelt-rain water from Symphony Lake.



The river still looks more like a creek here;  above = upstream/south and below = downstream./north.

The next mile of the trail past the bridge is pretty good, although it is more wet, a bit rocky, and narrows to single-track.

It continues to undulate through the scenic valley on the east side of the river:

Nice, long set of steps -- but you have to ford the little stream at the bottom.


In mid-August the fireweeds, grasses, and other deciduous plants are turning pretty fall colors.



Photos continued on the next page.

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