When we discovered our food stash had been raided by ground squirrels we panicked a little. But after taking inventory of our remaining stock we found we had enough meals to continue with no extras and little to snack on. We were thankful that we threw in some emergency ramen noodles when we packed. We spent our second night just below Ship Lake Pass relieved that we could continue.
The next day we wanted to climb a couple peaks before continuing on to the next camp. The Ramp and the Wedge rise above either side of Ship Lake Pass. We started with the Ramp, the higher of the two, and then traversed over to the Wedge like traveling from the horn to the cantle of a saddle. Ship Lake glittered below us like an aqua bike seat shaped jewel. Clouds clung to the tops of the high peaks around us saturating the vibrant green of the valley below.
Our destination for the day was Deep Lake in the next valley parallel to us. We could follow the trail back down the way we came and then climb up to a pass and up the Ball Park to Deep Lake or we could stay up high and traverse the scree around O’Malley Peak to meet up with the trail at the pass. We were hesitant to walk back down and then up another steep climb so we decided to off-road it in the alpine for a shortcut. Anyway, it didn’t look far to the pass.
Looks can be deceiving in Alaska. Things that look close are actually quite far, slopes that look gentle end up steep, rock that looks solid from afar can end up being unstable. I was cursing this land as I took two steps in the scree only to slide down three. Meanwhile the bottoms of my feet felt like they were being sheared off and my ankles ached from traveling perpendicular to a steeply sloped mountain for hours. We gingerly circumnavigated massive boulders in the scree. It was slow going to say the least. We didn’t get to the pass until early evening. I praised the joys of a level trail on my aching feet as we climbed the gradual trail through the Ball Park to Deep Lake. That night we longed for that extra food we lost to the squirrels. We made a list of all the food we could eat: pizza, burgers, snickers and faded to sleep.
On the fourth day we left our base camp at Deep Lake and took a day hike to the Walliwaw Lakes. We made our way to another pass and descended to Black Lake, a good description for this dark water lake. As we were walking down from the pass we saw some black dots moving above us. We took out the binoculars and watched two wolverines chasing each other in the snow.
Then we explored the Williwaw Lakes. The chain of picturesque lakes is nestled at the feet of colorful mountains. The lakes had a top layer of crystal clear water and below they were a pure blue. It was as if glacial silt had settled to the bottom of the lake and stayed undisturbed for millennia.
We returned for another night at Deep Lake (which should really be called lake in a deep, steep hole) and the next day returned to the busy trailhead. As we arrived some clean tourists were looking at something excitedly through the binoculars. A bear! they exclaimed. We laughed and exchanged knowing glances. We knew that the real threat out there was those darn ground squirrels. We got a ride back to town from a nice man and his young son and finally got the pizza we were craving at Moose’s Tooth.
It was quite an adventure for our first backpacking trip. We prepared the best we could- we studied the map, brought bear spray and extra food, but still there were issues unexpected. I don’t regret anything we did on this trip but rather remember it as creating an important foundation for life in the outdoors. I know I must take risks, make mistakes and learn in order to make myself a better person, both in outdoor endeavors and in life.
If you have ever flown into the Anchorage International Airport then you’ve probably flown over Chugach State Park. Although these mountains dominate the skyline of the most populated city in Alaska, they are often overlooked by tourists. They are predominately visited by locals and few have witnessed the most remote parts of the park. This book shows off the beauties of this area over all four seasons, highlighting just some of the stunning scenery, plants, and wildlife in the park. I picked up this book in a tiny bookstore in Anchorage just after our backpack trip, it is now a treasured part of my book collection. Click on the title link above to see a slideshow of some of the photos in the book. You can also purchase a signed hardback version of the book on the website.
The great Alaskan photographer Carl Battreall is currently working on an ambitious project to document the entire Alaska Range for a large format photo book which has never been done before. You can see his photos and follow his story on his blog, The Alaska Range Project.
Car Camp, Day Hike or Backpack?Car Camp
This large format book displays Carl Battreall’s photos beautifully.