All day long, from the beginning of our 12-‐mile trek until the end, the wind was in control. It dictated how many layers of clothing to wear, where we’d stop for rest breaks, how we’d move through the valley and once at 4,100-‐foot Ship Lake Pass, how long we would linger—with gusts out of the southeast at 60-‐70 miles per hour-‐-‐making standing difficult.
Starting at the Glen Alps parking lot in south Anchorage on the morning of October 1st, Pete Panarese and I biked the first three miles south along the Powerline Pass road. We then stashed the bikes, crossed the South Fork of Campbell Creek on the German Bridge, and began our three-‐mile hike to Ship Lake Pass—a popular hiking area, but one I’d never visited before.
On the ride in we observed several moose in the valley to our left, or east, and as we moved up the trail, we spotted four Dall sheep on the cliffs below O’Malley Peak. A couple of fleet-‐footed runners passed by us like we were standing still, making me feel like a mule with my pack full of extra clothing, water, first aid kit, ample lunch and of course, a thermos of coffee.
We moved slowly up-‐valley, stopping behind a windbreak of Hemlock trees to gear up for the increasing wind. A trail to the left would have taken us to Hidden Lake, which is true to its name. Located in a deep bowl, it is not visible until one is nearly on top of it.
Emerging from the Hemlock thicket we surprised the four sheep at about 60 yards, which apparently had moved our direction when we were out of sight. The band included three ewes and this year’s lamb. They quickly ambled up the ridge above Hidden Lake and moved parallel to us as we traveled farther into the valley.
With a very gradual, ramp-‐like approach, Ship Lake Pass was farther than I thought it was. But as we moved into the snowline, I could tell we were probably about ½-‐mile away.
Canine interloper: Glancing back down the valley, we saw a tan creature dashing quickly toward us, about 500 yards away.
“Could be a coyote,” I told Pete. “I’ve seen them that color.”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Maybe a wolf?”
But we soon saw two human figures farther down the valley and recognized it was a dog, a very young yellow Labrador. He was happy to see us, jumping up, creating quite a commotion. We were wondering if the dog would follow us for the rest of the day, but the couple caught up to us, who we learned were from France, and got the dog under control.
Pete and I and the couple from France reached the pass about the same time, and in the shrieking wind, with strong, unpredictable gusts, we were all having difficulty standing.
“I’ve never been here—I just want to see over the pass and get a photo of Ship Lake,” I shouted to Pete above the wind. “Then let’s get the heck out of here!”
After snapping a couple of photos we quickly retreated off the divide and noticed that the couple did the same. A side trip east to the Ramp (5,240 feet) or to climber’s right (west) to the Wedge, (4,660 feet) would not have been pleasant in the raging wind, which is common in this area, so we decided to save one of those climbs for another day.
Moving back down the valley we angled to our right and found a sheltered spot for a quick lunch break. With the unrelenting wind at our backs, we then edged up onto the ridge overlooking Hidden Lake and followed that trail back to the main trail on the valley floor.
We met several hikers lower in the valley as we approached the Powerline Pass trail. The bike ride out was mostly downhill and shortened our return trip by about an hour.
Over the years I’ve purposely avoided very popular areas in Chugach State Park such as Glen Alps. But I can clearly see the appeal of hiking there – from Flattop mountain to Powerline Pass to the Campbell Creek drainages. Like our back-‐ yard hiking venues such as South Fork and Eagle River Valley, these trails offer spectacular vistas -‐-‐ and if we’re lucky, we’ll spot some wildlife to enhance the experiences.
Note: The Glen Alps Parking Lot requires a $5 parking fee (bring exact amount). The price for an annual parking pass is $40. You can purchase a pass at the Federal Building at 4th and F or the Atwood Building on 7th and E, 12th Floor.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and an ECHO Alaska team member who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank: firstname.lastname@example.org