The trail up Bear Mountain from Peters Creek Valley was muddy in spots, but on the morning of November 12th of this year, the temperature was just below freezing and travel over the hardened ground was easy.
My friends Paul Forward, Scott Sims and his son’s dog Bailey got on the trail at first light to take full advantage of November’s waning daylight. Our goal was to transit over the 3,100 summit of Bear Mountain, overlooking Mirror and Edmonds Lakes, and follow the long ridge northeast down to the Thunderbird Creek Trail and finally to its trailhead – a distance of about six miles.
The trip required two cars — one left at the Thunderbird Trailhead and the other at the beginning of the Peters Creek Trail.
After a succession of cloudy and blustery days, forecasters promised some partly cloudy weather for November 12th. We started on the trail about 9 a.m. and an hour later, sun was above the horizon, beaming its warmth. With only a gentle breeze and hardly any snow, it was turning into an excellent day.
After pausing to admire the views of Chugiak, Peters Creek, Wasilla, Palmer, the Knik Arm and the Alaska Range giants far to the west, notably Denali, we crested over Bear Point and hiked down the ridge to find a lunch spot.
The journey down the ridge was a bit strange for me, in that I hiked up it 35 years ago when I lived in Thunderbird Heights Subdivision. On that summer day, rather than returning the way I came, I descended the biggest gully on the face of Bear Mountain and ended up in someone’s yard near Mirror Lake. Fortunately, I crept away before anyone saw me, except a fenced-in horse that looked at me curiously.
Taking in the day: From our lunch spot we could look southeast toward 4,271-foot Mt. Eklutna, and east of it, Peak 4,040, or “Flag Mountain,” where I once maintained a primitive flag. During the 12 years I lived in the Thunderbird Heights subdivision, a few pilots from the Birchwood airstrip told me they used my flag to gauge wind direction.
After lunch and moving down the ridge, it was apparent that very few people, if any, hike in this area. Hiking was half trail, half bushwhack, often in tall, dead grass. Moose sign, however, was quite abundant. Having only climbed up the ridge once, and so long ago, I felt a bit nervous on the descent. We were startled when a couple of Spruce grouse furiously flapped their way out of a tree, only feet away.
Farther down, the ridge steepened. By looking at Scott’s GPS, we learned I had guided us a bit to the left, or west, closer to the cliffs. We quickly angled to the right and were soon on track to intersect a trail the follows the bluffs of Thunderbird Creek all the way down to the main Thunderbird Falls Trail.
Glancing up the mountain to the trail onto which we finally connected, albeit late, I recalled my climb 35 years ago, when I was only 40. “Even back then,” I thought, “it seemed difficult.”
Once on the Thunderbird “bluff” trail, it was an easy half hour back to the car, arriving about 4 p.m. Even on a day when the ambient temperature barely reached 40 degrees F., our exertion on the steep descent made us sweat, continually peeling off layers. Some cold drinks awaited us and were quite a treat.
While not epic, some of these shorter hikes are quite rewarding, especially with good company and mild weather like we’ve enjoyed so late in the year. I love to ski, but I’ll hike as long as possible when nature doesn’t provide any snow.