The blueberry bushes were rolled out across the mountainsides like red carpets on the morning of September 13 as I crossed over Mt. Eklutna at 4,110 feet and followed the ridge east toward point 4,040– a prominence I’ve called “Flag Mountain” since the 1980s when I installed a flag there.
It takes a bit more effort to get over to this point, but the view opens up to the east to include Pioneer Peaks, Twin Peaks, Eklutna and Thunderbird Valleys, Eklutna Lake; and on a clear day, the 7,000-foot mountains south of the lake. Also on a clear day, the Talkeetna mountains to the northeast are quite spectacular, as well as the Alaska Range far to the north. Unfortunately, on this day all those distant peaks were obscured by thick clouds.
I sacrificed a t-shirt to create a flag, but did a rather poor job affixing it to the pole. “Maybe it will survive the winter storms until I get back up here again next spring,” I thought.
“And then again, maybe it won’t.”
An ultralight pilot who flies out of Birchwood Airport once told me that he often used the flag to determine wind direction. He was surprised when I told him it was mine– something that I installed back in the mid-1980s when I lived in Thunderbird Heights Subdivision. There have been several years when the sturdy flag has been severely ravaged by the wind—a reminder of how ferocious weather can sometimes become in the Chugach Mountains.
In its monthly member magazine, Scree, the Mountaineering Club of Alaska (MCA) adopted the name ”Flag Mountain” for this point, at 4,040 feet,
A flash of nostalgia swept over me as I sat in the warm sun. I’d once camped up here with my son and on another occasion came here with both he and my daughter. Our lives change so much over the years, the world changes, yet places like this remain essentially the same. There is a permanence, a continuity in these wild places that I treasure. And they draw me back, again and again.
‘Our lives change so much over the years, the world changes, yet places like this remain essentially the same’
It wasn’t getting dark until about 8:30 p.m., so I took my time crossing back over Mt. Eklutna and down toward Peters Creek. I walked up on a lone Rock ptarmigan, who acted like he didn’t know what I was. I told him to go find his friends, and continued the descent. From this vantage point I had a great view of the entire Four Mile Creek drainage and Its confluence with Peters Creek. A few years ago friend Pete Panarese and I circumnavigated the entire Four Mile drainage, a 17.5-mile hike that took about 16 hours.
With this year’s bumper crop of berries, surprisingly still on the vine, I fully expected to see a black bear chowing down on the south-facing slopes. I’d seen them in this area in the past. On one trip with my Newfoundland “Charlie,” I spotted a black bear just below the ridge at this spot and diverted our route to keep the dog from seeing it.
On autumn hikes in other areas, such as Kesugi Ridge (in Denali State Park) I’ve enjoyed watching black bears foraging for berries. It’s interesting to see how they use their claws as strainers, as we do with our hand-held devices. If the wind is right and they have no indication humans are near, it’s fun to watch them blissfully and methodically chomping down on berries to gain weight for the long winter.
Moving along the ridge to the east, I kept my eyes peeled for any motion. It wasn’t long before I spotted a large eagle below, flying due east over Four Mile Creek. The bird was large enough to be an eagle, but too distant for me to determine what kind it was. The top of its wings glistened in the morning sun. With no snow remaining on the mountains and no creeks on this ridge route, I carried a full quart of water and nearly an equal amount of coffee in a thermos. (Yes, I’m a coffee addict). There was little wind, and with the temperature rising up to 60 degrees at mid-day, I was quite comfortable with a couple of light layers. There must have been a significant amount of moisture in the air, however, because even with the relatively warm temperature, I could easily see my breath. If friend Pete Panarese had been with me, he’d undoubtedly have some comment about me emitting “hot air.”
It had taken 2-1/2 hours to reach the top of Mt. Eklutna from the trailhead and in about two more hours I stood on “Flag Mountain,” topped by a firm pole but sans a flag.
Arriving at my car about 6:30 p.m., a Park Ranger had posted a sign about a moose kill at about Mile 3 on the main Peters Creek Trail. A bear hadn’t been spotted, but the gut pile and other remains of the moose (apparently from hunters) would be a magnet for bears, he reported.