A smoky-haze limited our long-distance views, and the heat was sometimes oppressive as we made an 11-mile hike south from the summit of Hatcher Pass to the summit of Government Peak and down to the recreation area. But great comradery among friends – all with a good sense of humor – made the 8-1/2-hour-outing quite enjoyable.
We began the hike July 7th at 10 a.m. from the top of Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Mountains, starting on the popular April Bowl Trail. In addition to myself, the group was comprised of Eagle River’s Pete Panarese, retired with Chugach State Park; Scott Sims, M.D., retired; and Paul Forward, a retired forester.
A few days earlier, Panarese and I had made a late-evening hike on the April Bowl Trail and noticed that the ridges connect, albeit in a circuitous way, to 4,781-foot Government Peak. We knew that noted hiker Shawn Lyons and others had made the transit, and other than distance, the route didn’t look that difficult.
I first thought that the smoky air might cause some lung or eye irritation, but it didn’t seem to bother any of the group as we worked our way upward and past the April Bowl’s tarns. Along the way, a few snow patches offered a respite from the heat and allowed us to make more water. We were blessed by a light breeze from the north that continued for most of the trip and usually kept the mosquitoes at bay.
A few times along the ridges we came upon families of Rock ptarmigan. But other than a few parka squirrels, a marmot and a couple of eagles soaring in the distance, no other wildlife was sighted.
While some parts of the ridge route presented cliffs or gendarmes, there was always a way around them and most often, a slightly worn path indicating where others had gone. Government Peak, it’s summit silhouetted with a box-like building (used for weather recording) seemed far away. But slowly, methodically, we worked our way closer, and after a while, the destination seemed to be within our grasp. No other hikers were seen throughout the day.
We were aware that afternoon thunderstorms aren’t uncommon in the area, wondering if through the dense haze we’d be able to see the formation of thunder clouds. On a mountain hike several years ago, I was in close proximity to thunder and lightning and it wasn’t pleasant. Luckily, there were no close lightning strikes and the only disturbing effect was the hair on my arms standing up. I’m still not sure if that was from fear or static electricity. Probably both.
A last patch of snow helped us refill our water bottles before making the final push up to the Government Peak summit. While resting on top, a very determined parka squirrel kept pestering us for food, which we denied. Feeding wild critters, we agreed, was not the right thing to do.
The steep trail down to the Government Peak Recreation Area Chalet turned out to be one of the most difficult parts of the hike. Worn smooth over many years by runners in the Government Peak Race (held in early June) it was almost impossible to gain footholds. The lower trail on Seward’s Mount Marathon is worn similarly, and becomes a muddy nightmare with the slightest rainfall.
Near the bottom, we crossed a small stream, and a few of us soaked our heads. At this point, the heat seemed almost unbearable.
Pushing through fields of fireweed in full blossom and dodging the cow parsnip, we reached the Recreation Area Chalet about 6:30 p.m. Waiting for us in Sims’ car were coolers filled with ice-cold drinks, which we gulped with gusto.
We unanimously agreed that despite the haze, heat, and mosquitoes, it was a great day to be in the mountains on a hike none of us had done before.