By Morgan Smith
With summer upon us, it is hard to decide where and how to spend those short lived sunny days. So we all try and squeeze as much out of our summers here, taking advantage of our long lasting light. The trail systems here in Girdwood are an integral part of us getting outdoors and enjoying a little of the short lived sunny days because sometimes you don’t have enough time to travel far to get out and into nature.
Standing tall at the center of it all is Mount Alyeska. With multiple trails up, there is no right or wrong way to hike this beautiful landscape Mon.-Thur. when the lift accessed downhill bike park is closed. On Fri.-Sun. use caution because the downhill bike trails are closed to foot traffic.
Also, the downhill coarse is open from 12-6 p.m., and with the last download of the tram at 9:30 p.m., there is always time to get a hike in. If you need a trail map for reference, you can access one at alyeskaresort.com, and you can check out the mountain conditions page for current weather and more to ensure you packed the proper gear for the day.
As the snow melts and we watch the trails open up for hiking, the countdown is on and we all wait. The North Face Trail seems to be the most eagerly awaited of all the trails on Alyeska. It’s open, but the very top is still closed due to snow, so the usual 2.2 mile hike is now about a half mile longer to cut though Spoonline to reach the top.
I decided to hike the North Face once again to help show you why it’s worth a look if you with its everchanging landscape. I took my 10-year old son Luca with me, knowing it wouldd be a challenge, but doable. His eagerness was adorable and I had to remind him to pace himself because the elevation gain of this hike is the hardest part, but worth every step.
The North Face trail starts right under the tram terminal at the Resort. Starting as a wide gravel path, it seems mellow to start and as you slowly climb, you can turn and see the ocean only a short distance in. Even if you only hike a little way up the trail, you get rewarded with spectacular views.
About half a mile in, you really start to climb. This part of the trail is heavily forested and there are lots of things to see. The berry plants are just starting to produce buds and it makes me eager for them to be in season in August. Luca and I also saw bear scat through this area, making us extra bear aware.
As you continue to wind through all the brush, it starts to open up to a water logged meadow. With boarded walkways placed for your convince, this part of the hike is fun and is interesting to see the vegetation change. We even saw chocolate lilies, one of my favorite flowers. With flower season only lasting a short while, I stopped to appreciate their beauty.
With snow-capped peaks all around us, it was hard to not stop and take in the views every few minutes. Next we crossed New Years Creek. With its own bridge, this creek was thrilling to cross and equally exhilarating to look up the mountain to see the source of the water and take in the magnitude of its journey. Following this creek are several more small creeks ands streams to cross. On hot days, the cooler air and water is always welcomed.
Above the creeks, you arrive to an open meadow filled with snow. Great place to take a break and cool down before the final push. We saw several robins and fiddle head ferns still viable to eat. Once rested, we took off to take on the Stairway to Heaven, which is such a sweet name for one of the hardest parts of the trail if your legs are tired.
At the top of the stairs, you get a great view of the tram from underneath its path. You can also see the resort from this eagle eye view, making you realize just how high you’ve climbed.
After a few minutes of switchbacks you arrive at the closed trail marker that veers you to the Spoonline Trail detour. Here the trail widens again and you can stretch your legs a bit as it levels out before your final climb. Spoonline puts you on Zug’s Trail, which leads you through open snowfields to your final destination, the Roundhouse.
From here you get the most mesmerizing views of the day. You can see the entire town, the Turnagain Arm and the ocean paralleling it. At this point our out of shape legs were like jello, yet we both agreed it was worth the effort.
The best part of the whole day, besides the view, getting a reward at the Bore Tide Deli and Bar. Whether you want something scrumptious to eat or a stiff drink to treat yourself, there is something for everyone here. When you are finished resting, the tram awaits you. For every person who hikes up gets a free tram ride down, unless you want to hike down. It is a wonderful ride filled with more jaw dropping views, including the glacier inlaid mountain peaks surrounding it.
What a perfect way to spend a few hours of your day, and that is only one of Alyeska’s many trail systems. I can’t wait to do them all and pick a favorite. Regardless of which one I choose, I know this majestic mountain filled with so many wonders because there is always something new to discover. There are even hidden secrets amongst its trees, keeping us forever exploring.