By Matt & Agnes Hage | HagePhoto
Our home in Anchorage sits up above the city right next to Chugach State Park, a 500,000 acre park of craggy mountains, alpine glaciers and Dall sheep. A handful of trailheads just minutes from our house offer easy access to these peaks. This is where we often work and play when we’re home in Alaska.
The small town of Girdwood (home to Alyeska Resort) sits on the other side of the park, about 40 miles as a raven flies. We’d been wanting to do a trek from our house in the Chugach Front Range to the Crow Pass Trailhead near Girdwood. This wouldn’t be easy: One of the things not plentiful in the Chugach Mountains are trails. Full on cross country travel starts after about six miles and the valley bottoms are thick with brush. In spite of that, plotting a route between the two points on a map is what we live for. Especially if there’s a degree of uncertainty to how things are going to turn out.
A ridge of high pressure moved in over Southcentral Alaska, promising a week of splitter summer weather. It was go time. We packed the Ozonic 50’s with supplies for three days, plus a few luxury items, and powered up over a high pass into the Ship Creek valley. Lupine was waist high and in full bloom.
Our first camp was a on a high bench of tundra overlooking a group of peaks called Bird Ridge Overlook, The Wing and The Beak. It was the week before solstice, which means that the sun was not really going to set on us. We don’t pack headlamps this time of year up north. Dinner came late and we sat out in our jackets (the men’s Strecker Lite and women’s Desna Grid). Both proved comfortable and perfect for the 50-degree temps with a light wind. They also offered some armor against the gathering horde of mosquitos.
The next day’s fun began with a thousand foot climb up a craggy ridge which led to a couple high passes. This was new territory for us and we were excited to see how the terrain would pan out. A network of sheep trails led us across the steep mountains down into a perfect creek draining alpine lakes. But that’s where the type one fun ended for the day. We dropped down into Ship Creek’s North Fork and committed to five miles of brush, mud and bugs.
It was just as many hours before we broke above the brush onto a tundra bench for camp. Surrounded on all sides by peaks chiseled from the Chugach, we enjoyed a snow-chilled IPA with dinner under the blazing Midnight sun before climbing into the Skyledge 2 DP tent. It’s mostly mesh body let in a nice breeze while protecting us from a few thousand mosquitos.
The crux of our route appropriately came on the final leg of our little adventure. Standing in the cirque of a dying glacier, we inspected the wall of vertical chose for any weakness. Turning back now to explore another option would cost us a half-day of rugged travel. Finally we located a finger of steep scree connecting the lower glacier to the pass above. A fifty-degree scree slog is not something you normally celebrate, but at least we had found a reasonable route of ascent.
Cresting the knife-edge pass, we were finally able to see down into the Raven Creek valley and across to the wall of glaciated mountains guarding further access into the Chugach. We celebrated our success too soon as we were finally cliffed out minutes later as we descend to the Clear Glacier. It was one of those 500-foot cliff bands so common in these mountains and we gingerly down climbed the fourth class terrain for a little over an hour. Even though we knew our finish at the Crow Pass Trailhead was very close, we held back on the celebratory cheer. The shoulder of another mountain blocked our view, leaving us unsure of what difficulties still lay ahead. Just as it should be on any good adventure.
Matt & Agnes Hage live in Anchorage, Alaska and operate HagePhoto, a small footprint production team for outdoor imagery and storytelling.