Bird Ridge’s Beauty
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Cinco de Mayo turned out to be a fine day for an ascent of Bird Ridge. The clear, sunny day allowed for fantastic views of the Chugach Mountains, Turnagain Arm, the Kenai Mountains and a variety of other sights.
Bird Ridge Trail is a rewarding endeavor if you’re physically prepared for it. According to the Chugach State Park trail guide, the hike has 3,400 feet of gain in 2.5 miles or 1,360 feet per mile. This feature makes it attractive to trail runners, whom you will likely see on this popular trail.
Trailhead is accessed from the Bird Ridge parking lot at Seward Highway MP 102 or Bird Creek access at MP 101.5. Bring $5 for parking or have a yearly parking pass.
After an easy initial section, the trail begins a relentless upward ascent that never quits. There are no switchbacks. It helps to have a state of mind that embraces the slow, steady grind that challenges the quadriceps and lungs.
Further up the trail, the sounds of Seward Highway traffic gradually recede. Small planes buzz over Turnagain Arm while airplanes on the descent into Anchorage emit a muffled roar overhead. Two paragliders popped into view after launching from Bird Ridge Point. Twisting and turning with orange chutes in the steady breeze and even doing flips, the paragliders eased their way down to the Arm.
Also in the sky were two golden eagles. They circled overhead a few times before drifting on elsewhere.
The further one gets up the trail the view becomes more expansive. The tide was out in the Arm, exposing the mud flat’s water carved texture. Looking toward Cook Inlet, the Alaska Peninsula was faint in the distance. Hope was visible beyond the mud flat on the Arm’s southern side.
There was still snow in places. Around mid-way there was a 200-yard patch that had to be navigated. A trail through it had been created by countless footsteps that preceded mine.
Then it was time for a break to rejuvenate my slightly aching thighs. I pulled out a snack of landjaeger sausage, emmentaler cheese, mixed nuts and a cara cara orange. The real treat was putting ice in the water bottles for chilly, refreshing drinks the rest of the hike. There are no water sources along the trail, so bring what you’ll need.
Because the trail is so steep, it’s difficult to see what lies ahead for very far. About ¾ of the way up is when Bird Ridge Point becomes visible. You get to see what you face to reach the destination. The point looks close, but there is still more needed to reach the ridge.
Once there, temperature change was noticeable and the wind picked up. What was warm and sweaty near the bottom had become brisk and breezy on the ridge.
The trail becomes easier at this point since the grade is not as demanding. That section of the hike was snow covered with a trail going through. It was slippery in spots, and there was postholing in places.
The 360-degree view from Bird Ridge Point is special. It ranges from the Chugach Mountains across the Arm to the Kenai Peninsula, with Indian Valley and Bird Creek Valley in full view below. The Seward Highway winds its way through the Arm. The view is the reward for all of the physical exertion required to reach the point.
There is still a physical toll to be extracted on your thighs during the descent. The fatigue of 3,400-foot elevation gain must be fought while resisting gravity’s pull on the steep trail. The sight and sound of the Seward Highway straight below tells you how close you are to the trailhead, yet still at a tantalizing distance away.
The relatively level finish to the trailhead is a refreshing break for muscles that have been exerting or resisting for many hours. I reached Bird Ridge Point in 2 hours 40 minutes, returning to the trailhead in 2:05, a nearly 5-hour hike.
Having physically worn myself out on Bird Ridge during Cinco de Mayo, I awoke the next morning with a clear head, aching thighs and no regrets.