August is a tricky time of year for hiking in the Chugach. The early-season excitement of May and endless daylight of June are long past, and the weather tends to turn a little moody. It’s easy to look up at the mountains from Anchorage, see the churning clouds and scattered trails of rain, and decide that the day is better spent on more productive things.
But if you can manage to get yourself out the door, you’ll find that scattered through August are some of the finest days in the Chugach. Snow is near its lowest annual level on the high peaks, and the weather–including the occasional snappy chill of winter breeze–can be exciting and dramatic. Also: berries. With that in mind, Josh Lofgreen, Brett and I picked a decent-looking weekday weather window and set out on a traverse from Eagle River to Peters Creek, over an accessible but rarely-visited pass above Falling Water Creek.
We started at the unofficial Ram Valley trailhead, at the top of Blythe Way. Access to Ram Valley has been a mess for years, but the current solution is pretty workable. We climbed a steep trail up the public easement under the powerlines, turned right and walked a few hundred feet when we hit the road, and then picked up the slightly overgrown hiking trail toward Ram Valley. A scratched-up and bent metal sign a little way up the trail says that the trail is provided as a public service across private property. To whoever owns this land: thanks!
Most hikers follow this trail up to the mouth of Ram Valley, but we split off in a field of red fireweed and grasses, and headed up a light trail toward Falling Water Creek. Brett’s dog Nuna charged back and forth up the meadows, barking at squirrels, us, or nothing in particular.
The trail wound up a tundra bench on the west side of the valley. We followed it for a while, but as soon as it started to really climb, we dropped off of it onto the open tundra of the Falling Water Creek drainage. Low clouds streamed above and around us, sometimes parting just enough that we could see the rock glacier paving the floor of the canyon above Falling Water Creek. This would be a fun place to explore, maybe next year when there are still some summer snowfields over the enormous piles of loose rock.
We turned sharply north toward the steep pass below Peak 5320, but before we’d climbed a hundred feet we ran into a thick mat of perfectly ripe blueberries, and the hike hit pause.
As we reached the top of the pass southwest of Pt. 5320, we finally broke through the cloud ceiling and into the sun.
The broad pass southwest of Pt. 5320 looked inviting but potentially brushy at lower elevations, so we decided to gain the summit of 5320 and then walk down its northwest ridge. The summit was taller than it looked and getting up it probably wasn’t necessary, but the view from the top was August Chugach gold. We added layers and stopped for a long lunch break, taking in the panorama of peaks and clouds.
We headed north down the rocky spine toward Pt. 4905, stopping now and then to grab a blueberry or point out the huge crop of not-quite-ripe alpine cranberries.
From the rocky nub of Point 4905, we were glad to see that a long tundra slope led nearly all the way down to Peters Creek. No bushwacking there. But a new question emerged: would we actually be able to cross the creek? Even from nearly 3,000 feet above it, we could hear water rushing and see small white rapids where it swung around deeply cut banks. I’d easily crossed Peters Creek a little higher up a few years ago, but the rain and warm temperatures probably had the creek running high. Turning around and hiking all the way back up over this pass would be a true slog, but we decided to chance it and at least try the creek.
We bounded and slipped down the broad tundra slope, only stopping to raid the blueberry bushes. The berries here were rich and candy-sweet, almost like a cross between a typical Alaska mountain blueb’ and a Concord grape. Across the Peters Creek drainage, we had a clear view of Thunderbird, Bee’s Heaven Peak, and the rocky western bulwark of Mount Rumble.
We bushwacked the last hundred yards or so down an old creek cut, through groves of birch and marshy brush, and to the edge of the creek. It was deep–but not too deep. Fast, but not too fast. After test-wading a few times, we all lined up, and crossed the creek in a line. Brett somehow managed to carry Nuna, who didn’t seem too happy to be held inches above the cold rushing water. The stream rose nearly to our waists, but our three-person block held strong and we made it to the other side safely.
We dried off a little and then bushwacked up to the Peters Creek Trail. The trail here is definitely… there, but it receives so little traffic that every time it came to a downed tree, it would fade off as people took different routes around it. We lost the trail a few times, and then eventually found it again. Josh reminded us in passing that he had a going-away party to get to tonight (his). We put our heads down and pounded out the miles.
The trail became bigger and bigger as we headed down-valley, and eventually turned into a dirt road. We got to the car right as darkness fell, piled in, and headed for home for showers, parties, and sleep.
Trip: August 26, 2016. Writeup: October 11, 2016.