As the plane descended over the mountains I wondered what we got ourselves into. My forehead was glued to the window as I gazed out at the smooth emerald green mountains. They were so beautiful, but also rugged and desolate. I got butterflies in my stomach and a huge smile on my face. We were on our way to Anchorage for our first backpacking trip.
We planned for five days in the Chugach State Park just outside of Anchorage. We bought a brand spanking new tent, thankfully free of the suffocating wet dog smell of my husband’s hand me down tent of his youth. I suffered through a few car camps in the thing but I refused to spend a good portion of week in basically a leaky, smelly tarp, not to mention that it weighed approximately ten pounds.
So with our shiny new tent and lightweight gear we headed to REI to pick up fuel, bear spray and some dehydrated meals. We stopped next door at the Middle Way Cafe to get breakfast before hitting the trail. At that nondescript cafe nestled in a strip mall I had the best breakfast in my life: french toast with whipped blueberry butter and fresh blueberry compote. We were ready.
We took a shuttle van to the Glen Alps trailhead with other tourists looking to hike the popular Flattop Mountain. We waded through the people to find the Powerline Trail. We hoisted our packs and started our journey. The trail winds through low vegetation with a few stream crossings, gradually climbing up the valley. Not long into the hike some people told us there was a moose with her calf up ahead and to be careful. About ten minutes later I looked over and saw two brown humps poking out of the bushes. The moose looked up at me nonchalantly chewing leaves. I screamed and ran away, then returned to take a picture. Not exactly what you are supposed to do. Luckily the moose didn’t seem to mind.
We took a side trail to Hidden Lake and set up our first night’s camp. We blew up our sleeping pads for the first time (how luxurious!) and cooked our first dehydrated meals. We explored the rocky arm above the lake and wandered on the lichen rich scrub. We took in the alpine view and waited for a sunset that never came. We finally went to sleep in our cozy new outdoor habitat. It was comforting to know that the wildlife could not approach unseen and there was no darkness to be scared of.
On the second morning we packed up and headed to Ship Lake Pass. We set up camp before heading over the pass and down to Ship Lake so we wouldn’t have to carry our packs back up the pass. We decided not to keep the food in the tent but we were above treeline and there was nothing but rocks in all directions. We decided to bury the food under some rocks so a bear would not get to it and took off for the lake. We crested the top of the pass and were blown away, literally it was quite windy but the lake and the mountains towering behind it were breathtaking.
We wandered in the flowers around the lake for what seemed like hours. There were no trails here, it felt truly wild even though in reality we were not all that far from downtown Anchorage. We climbed back up to the pass and to our campsite. As we approached we saw that our things were disturbed. There was no sign of the much dreaded bear, but rather the tiny chew holes of the ground squirrel.
They chewed through our towel, our large collapsable water jug and chewed tiny holes through my backpack. Luckily the damage was minimal. Then we remembered the food we buried in the rocks nearby. We rushed over to see if they breached our cache and sure enough they did. We were horrified to find the remains of our tastiest meals and our big bag of gorp. We took inventory of what was left. Would there be enough to continue or would we have to turn back, cutting short our first backpack trip ever? Stay tuned for Part 2!