Whittier, Turnagain, Anchorage Front Range

After Alyeska Spring Carnival we stuck around the area Sunday night planning a hike the next morning. Monday morning was a dedicated dog day so explored the Winner Creek Trail, which in the summer has a cool hand tram across a river. Unfortunately the hand tram is not open in the winter so in order to get the longer end of the hike we went back to the Alyeska Hotel and started our hike from there. Sara read somewhere that this area is America’s northernmost rain forest and at times it definitely felt like it. The hike out to the closed hand tram was about 5 miles round trip.

Nice sunny morning for a hike with an air temp in the high 30’s to low 40’s. The trail was all snow and ice so we were fortunate to have our micro-spikes with us.
About 2 miles out the trail crosses this super narrow gorge.
Bridge across the gorge.
Inspecting the hand tram and looking at the river canyon it crosses.
In the icy stream the first chance he got.

After our hike we wanted to go visit Whittier. Whittier is in the Prince William Sound and was previously a very important port for off-loading military supplies and soldiers. They would travel to Anchorage by rail through a 2.5 mile tunnel. About 20 years ago they decided to rebuild the tunnel so that cars could also drive through. It is a one-lane tunnel and the cars drive over the tracks. It is open one way for 15 minutes, then closed for 15 minutes to make sure all the cars exit, then open the other direction for 15 minutes. Sometime they also let trains through. The tunnel has a fascinating history you can read here.

This is the view heading into the tunnel on the return from Whittier.
One lane with some pullouts for emergency safe rooms.

Whittier itself is just a small port but it has an amazing view as it is completely surrounded by mountains or the ocean.

Panorama of the small boat harbor and the mountains behind.
Across the bay is a Kiitiwake Rookery with thousands of birds on the water, the cliffs, and in the air. A Kittiwake is just a slightly more interesting sea gull.
We found a small park where the creek leads down to the ocean and we could enjoy the amazing view.

Monday evening we drove out officially onto the Kenai Peninsula and up Turnagain Pass.

It’s almost like Kenai has come home!

Our plan was to just look around at the pass and find a place to camp. Then if we felt like hiking in the morning we would find a place to go.

The next morning was not nearly as warm as the previous days but it was the last day down that way before some more serious weather was forecast to come in so we decided to hike in our snowshoes and carry our snowboards. Turnagain Pass is apparently the single most popular backcountry ski destination in AK due to its huge snowfall and close proximity to Anchorage, but in mid-April there were only a couple other cars at our chosen hiking spot called Tincan Trees.

Kenai waiting patiently for Sara.
Still going up.
Geared up and ready to head back down.

In the parking lot and then at the top of ridge where we turned around we met a woman skiing with another guy. We ended up coming down pretty much together as we didn’t know any particular route down so we just kind of followed along near where they came down. They had two dogs so Kenai was in heaven having someone else to chase. The conditions were … sub-optimal, but we had fun anyway. I would describe it as edgeable crust. At least it was not so icy that we could not make turns. Still, we ended up in pretty dense, steep trees a couple of times so we had to just slide through the openings until we came to a place sufficiently open to make careful turns.

We continue to find ourselves enjoying the hiking and backcountry touring, which for me at least is a little surprise as I am much more interested in the turns coming down. I don’t know if it is the scenery or getting in slightly better shape but even the climbs have been completely enjoyable. To that end we had decided to take advantage of the local sales and buy our own splitboards. The day we rented them at Hatcher Pass was a lot of fun and, although the hike in Turnagain on snowshoes was completely fine because the crust was so solid, further backcountry touring on snowshoes was not going to cut it.

When we got to the bottom of our run that day (yesterday, whatever day that is) the woman, Jackye, said she and the guy, David, were headed back out in the front range around Anchorage the next day and invited us to come. That was perfect timing if we could get our splitboard setups by then.

We could. After getting everything set up (boards, bindings, and climbing skins) and shoved in the van (technically that makes nine snowboards in the van) we headed out to Eagle River and the Upper South Fork Eagle River Trailhead. Jackye and David and previously scoped out a line they wanted to ski. It was a super fun ride, but a fair hike to get there so I suspect they were taking it easy on us on the hike. I don’t know the names of anything in the area (I’m not sure they even knew the name) so I can’t further describe where it was, but we were on the ridge between the South Fork of the Eagle River and Ship Creek.

Starting up the South Fork of the Eagle River valley.

I forgot to take any more pictures on the way up the bowl we hiked.

Once we gained the ridge there were patches of windblown/melted like this.
Discussing the objective in the distance along the mildly corniced ridge.

Heading out the ridge. Our goal was the snowy face just left of the peak in the distance.
The cornices were bizarre. One section would be facing one way and then the next would be switched 180 degrees. None of them were too large so we were able to walk the ridge and cross over the cornices to the other side when necessary.

As I said above, the view from the top was amazing.

Admittedly it doesn’t come out so well on an iPhone picture, but that is Denaii some 150 miles north. Even though we were under clouds, the entire Alaska range was bathed in sunlight and we could easily see Denali, Hunter, and Foraker. One more check off the AK-trip bucket list.
Getting ready for the descent.

The ride down was surprisingly good because it was not sunny and not too warm so it was not corned up at all. The slope was a mix of windblown and an edgeable crust with a couple of inches on top. In a few places it was just the crust, but overall it was a decent ride down.

Sara making turns.

The snow back in the valley is quite melted out so there was some bushwacking and riding over mossy ground to get to the bottom.

This was still the easy stuff.
So Sara leaves her phone in the van. Walking up does she ask for my phone to take a picture of me? No. Walking out the ridge does she ask for my phone to take a picture of me? No. Riding down does she ask for my phone to take a picture of me? No. Catch one edge and fall backwards into a bunch of alders…”Give me your phone.”
Our line was down the face to the left of the bare ridge in the middle of the bowl, then down through the moss, trees, grass, and bushes. Almost made me feel like I was backcountry skiing in New England.

So now we are in the parking lot at Fred Meyer to get some groceries and catch up on the blog. I’m pretty tired, Sara is pretty tired, and Kenai is sound asleep. Even Tanzi, who slept on our bed all day because the hike would have been too much for her is asleep. I’m not sure how much more of this #vanlife we can take!

One thought on “Whittier, Turnagain, Anchorage Front Range”

  1. Glad you are conditioned to enjoy the uphill hiking. I won’t mention your feelings of long, long ago when we first backpacked together. I wish I had been more patient. Kenai must be quite the climber now. Hope he can adjust to flat land when he returns. Those split boards are definitely an excellent investment,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *