Denali AKA Mt. McKinley


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Continued from the previous page. 

The main advantage of continuing on the steeper, more gnarly trail through the tundra for another half mile above the second bench to the higher overlook is to see all this -- and more:

Above and below:  Eklutna Lake is about 12 miles long. A scenic multi-use path
follows the north shore back into the mountains toward the lake inlet in the distance.

The lake outlet is on the west end of the lake closer to the parking area.

Lake outlet (upper right)

View west over Eklutna Valley toward Knik Arm (the ocean "fjord" north of Anchorage)

The arrow above Knik Arm points to the snow-capped volcanic mountains west of Anchorage.

Looking back at Twin Peaks


Before today's hike I re-read my journaling and looked at photos from my July 25, 2012 hike on this trail and noted the abundance of wildflowers but not many leaves on the trees at the higher elevations.

Today there were noticeably more leaves on the trees and shrubs but very few wildflowers under 1,800 feet. Just below and above tree line some species were more plentiful, especially purple- and fuchsia-colored fireweeds, white yarrow, and goldenrod:

Pretty row of fireweeds above tree line on the slope of Pepper Peak

Fireweeds bloom from the bottom up. These at higher elevations
are at or near peak; ones closer to sea level have already peaked.

Berries have replaced the white dogwood-shaped flowers on bunchberries
and their leaves (among others) are starting to turn the tundra red.

There were only a few blue geraniums, cream Indian paintbrush, and white cow parsnips in bloom today and no lupines, purple asters, bluebells, daisies, bunchberries, wood roses, mountain cranberries, or dandelions.

That surprised me because I was up there just six days later than in 2012.

2011-2012 was a tough winter and cold, rainy summer. This past winter was very mild in South Central Alaska, and it's been a warmer, drier summer. Leaves and flowers both came out earlier this year.

I also noticed that some plants in the tundra were turning red more than I observed at Denali National Park at the same elevations a week ago:

Above and below:  pretty medley of leaves in transition; summer sure is short here!!


More reddish leaves on the southern slope of Pepper Peak above Eklutna Lake

Although fewer flowers were a bit of a disappointment, everything else was better this time.

  • For one thing, I could see the Twin Peaks clearly the whole time -- no clouds obscured them. The higher of the two peaks is 5,873 feet:

What a difference light and perspective make -- early morning above, afternoon below.

  • I saw more sheep than I did on this trail three years ago. A large flock was visible from the upper parts of the trail from about 9:15 to noon. After that they mostly disappeared over the side where they couldn't be seen as well.

Still about a dozen sheep visible as I descended; note the one on the rocks under the arrow.

  • And I found a mother lode of blueberries in the tundra on Pepper Peak, higher than most people are willing to hike.

I went up another half mile on a little trail above the second, higher overlook this time, hoping to see what was on the other side of the mountain to the north:



Because of time constraints -- I needed to get the truck back to Jim by 2 PM so he could get the tires rotated at Sam's Club -- I didn't continue to the top of the ridge.

But I could see a little farther in all directions than I could at the overlook:


Eklutna Lake inlet is highlighted.

Glaciers feeding the lake.

I came down through the tundra a few feet off-trail to avoid some loose rocks on a steep section . . .

. . . and discovered a large area of blueberry bushes just loaded with plump, ripe berries. Yum!


I was surprised they were ripe this early. I ate only a few before continuing my descent.  

On the way back down the mountain several people asked me about blueberries and one man had a large container he was filling. I didn't tell any of them about the large patch I found. I want the bears and birds to have some! They can't go to a store and buy some.

This group of seven people was on the hunt for blueberries.

By the time we came back to Anchorage a few days later I'd learned that there are plenty of berries to go around and it's one of the favorite activities of both locals and visitors to go berry-picking. In a subsequent entry I'll show how much fun Jim, the dogs, and I had on Rendezvous Peak when we picked blueberries with abandon.


I mentioned seeing absolutely no one on the whole way up to my high point on Pepper Peak. I loved that.

While at my high point I saw two people at the overlook below me. They went on back down before I reached that spot again. I counted another 52 people ascending the mountain while I was going down the last 2+ miles. Whew!

Here are some more pictures I took on my descent:

Knik Arm in the distance


Narrow trail through fireweeds



The parking lot was full and a bunch of vehicles were circling it, waiting to pounce on spots when others left. Maybe they should have arrived earlier on a beautiful Saturday???  

Today I hiked a total of 7.12 miles at the lake and more later in the campground with the dogs. Elevations ranged from 728 feet at the lake to 3,475 feet at my highest point, which is a pretty good gain and loss in 3.56 miles each way. Total elevation change was 5,625 feet. 

This is my GPS track:

I walked down to the gravel "beach" before going back to the truck so I could see what was going on there.

It looked like folks were having a good time but oh, my, I bet that water is cold since some of it comes from glaciers!



I could see this bright green grass (photo above) from the high overlook on Pepper Peak. The lake outlet is to the right.


Jim took Casey for a run with the bike in the morning, then rode 16 miles solo on base.

He realized late yesterday that the truck tires are wearing unevenly. He decided to take the truck to Sam's Club this afternoon to get them rotated.

One more tundra plant medley from today's hike . . .

Since we're headed in the morning to Portage Valley and Seward, where groceries and other items are more expensive, we also re-supplied this afternoon at Sam's Club and WalMart. We got gas for the generator and diesel in the truck for $3.31/gallon each, minus 5% with Visa. Fuel will also be more expensive in Seward.

In Alaska, the farther you travel from Anchorage or Fairbanks, or the more popular the area is (like Denali NP), the more expensive everything is.

Next entrycamping niRVana at Williwaw Campground n Portage Valley

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