My quest to find snow-free spring hiking, other than the Butte near Palmer or the Turnagain Arm Trail, was answered April 24 as I tromped over smooth, round boulders on Granite Creek, just past Sutton on the Glenn Highway at Mile 62.4.
On many road trips over the years I’d looked curiously at this rocky, glacier-fed stream, which swells during Spring runoff, carving new branches and channels. It always appeared to me that a person could simply walk upstream along the side, over the boulders.
There was high overcast, a slight wind and the temperature felt like it was in the upper 40s, perhaps touching 50. After so many weeks of sunshine, I think we all had begun a bit spoiled. I was glad I brought along a wool shirt and a windbreak.
After about half an hour I glanced to my right and saw a well-worn four-wheeler trail, so opted for the path of least resistance. But after about 20 minutes I encountered a “No Trespassing” sign, so opted to stay close to the stream – which is public domain.
From somewhere near Sutton, to the west, came the sound of someone firing a gun repeatedly, perhaps target shooting. Ahead of me, to the north, were the faint calls of ravens.
As I hiked along, the area’s most prominent feature, 6,729-foot Granite Peak, grew larger in my view. I have friends who have climbed this ravaged-looking peak – accessed via the Jonesville Road and four-wheeler trails. It is one I have yet to try.
I was surprised to find moose droppings everywhere, and in abundance. In an area so accessible to four wheelers, so close to Sutton, I felt surprised there were any moose left in a 50-square-mile radius. But the tell-tale, clipped off willows were evidence that indeed, the large ungulates were in the vicinity.
I moved away from the milky-colored stream and discovered the four-wheeler trail had now disappeared. But to my immediate right, or east, was a high bluff where I’m sure the track continued. Another “No Trespassing” sign, however, warned me that the area is off limits.
I sometimes wonder how far people’s private property stretches. It makes me speculate that they sometimes post signs beyond their property lines simply to keep people off their “private” trails. But that’s only speculation. I always respect private property wherever I roam, even when it no longer appears to be “private.”
Granite Creek continued due north and I could see where it would become enclosed within steep banks a few miles farther upstream, perhaps making hiking more difficult. Sometimes getting atop those high banks is much easier travelling than remaining low at stream level.
A couple of advantages to hiking at this time of the year: It was cool, there were very few bugs, and since the bushes hadn’t yet leafed out, it was easy to weave in and out of them along the stream banks. Lastly, there was good visibility in case and bear was wandering about.
I found an open area along the creek about two miles upstream from the Glenn Highway bridge and stopped for a snack. I could no longer hear traffic from the highway as I admired the view of Granite Peak, with its rugged flanks of sharp ridges, deep gullies and couloirs.
An oddity came when I stumbled upon a Coleman barbecue grill set up on a sandbar as if it was waiting for someone to come along and cook dinner.
Who knows, perhaps local folks carry charcoal to that spot for picnics!
The return trip was uneventful, but with all of the moose droppings, I fully expected to see one of the critters responsible.
I’m always looking for new areas to explore, and to the northeast of Palmer there is Moose Creek, Chickaloon, Kings River, Permanente Trail, Hicks Creek, Purinton Creek, Pinochle Creek, Caribou Creek, Lion Head, Gunsight Mountain and Squaw Creek Trail—among many other hiking opportunities.
Granted, there might be a lot of four-wheeler activity in some of these locales. But outside of hunting season, traffic subsides and these places often become good candidates for hiking and exploring.
Editor’s Note: Frank E. Baker is a member of the ECHO News team, an avid outdoorsman and a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife, Rebekah, a retired Anchorage School District teacher.