Foggy Flattop

Foggy Flattop

Daniel has been itching to climb a mountain ever since he arrived for his visit.  When we drove to Cooper Landing to float on the Kenai River, he marveled at the mountains in Turnagain Pass, claiming how he could hike to the top of one of them in an hour.  When we were up in Denali, we hiked behind the Polychrome Pass stop, down a ravine and up a scree slope to a ledge below a ridge line.  While Michelle and I rested and had lunch, Daniel hiked up to the top of the ridge line.  When he returned, he admitted that he had underestimated how long it would take to get up to the top of those much taller mountains in Turnagain Pass.

Even then, he was still up for a hike up to Alaska’s most frequented mountain, Flattop Mountain in Chugach State Park just above Anchorage.  Easily accessed from the Glen Alps parking lot, Flattop rises – according to “55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska” by Helen D. Nienhueser and John Wolfe, Jr. – a total of 1,260 feet from the parking lot trail head.  The high point of the mountain – 3,510 feet – gives any hiker one of the more spectacular views of the entire Anchorage bowl area.  Well, it provides a great view when the mountain isn’t socked-in by low clouds like it was for our hike.

There is a three-part approach to Flattop Mountain.  The first part takes you around a lower hill called Blueberry Knoll, which is mostly level all the way around once you make the modest ascent from the parking lot.  Once you reach the back side of Blueberry Knoll, you connect with the main trail around the eastern slope that takes you up to what I like to think of as Base Camp.  If you think of a base camp in mountaineering terms, you can understand what I mean.  Base camp is the staging area from which you make your final push up to the summit.  In the case of Flattop, it is a bunch of railroad ties staged as benches on a flat area at the base of the steep final ascent to Flattop.

As we approached the parking lot on the gravel Glen Alps Road, it became clear that the mountain was completely enshrouded in low clouds.  There were periodic bouts of clearing, leading me to hope that perhaps we would get lucky along the way.  Not that having a view is a prerequisite for a hike, but it sure helps to have one when you complete the journey – a little reward like that goes a long way.  It also gives you something to look at while you catch your breath and rest for the challenging descent.

As we worked our way around the eastern side of Blueberry Knoll, I stopped occasionally to photograph the landscape.  There were still abundant flowers blooming along the trail, and the clouds moving in and out around Flattop provided some nice drama to accent the view up to Powerline Pass.  As we started our climb up to Base Camp, we started to head into the clouds.  I noticed several patches of flowers along the way, adorning the base of lichen-covered rock faces, and made a mental note to stop on the way down to photograph.

But as we made the much slower push up to Base Camp, I noticed Daniel’s demeanor change a bit.  Perhaps he was starting to question the wisdom of his desire to climb another mountain.  My perception of his mood was reinforced with each switchback, each turn, each additional steep step (this part of the trail is reinforced with rail tie steps for erosion control), and each stop he took to rest along the way.  I think that he was relieved when I stopped to rest, as perhaps he felt that he would otherwise need to keep pushing in order to live up to his talk about scaling Alaska mountains with little effort.  When we reached base camp, the mountain was still enshrouded in thick clouds; the steep, rocky trail up to the top was only visible halfway up.  We munched on our snack bars we packed and sipped some water.  After we rested for a while with no sign from Daniel in being interested in moving on, I gave him the option: move on, or turn back.  Without hesitation, he indicated he was ready to turn back.  He had seen enough.  That was fine with me, as my left knee was starting to throb from the hike. On the way back down, we stopped to photograph those flowers I had spotted on the way up.  I had Daniel pose for some hiking shots on the trail, where he started to disappear slightly in the mist that still enveloped the hillside.

In the end, I don’t think that the experience doused Daniel’s passion for climbing mountains, but I am certain it gave him a dose of reality that will help him appreciate more what it takes to get “out there” in Alaska.

Leave a Reply