The Chugach National Forest is the second largest national forest in the United States, protecting 5.4 million acres (the largest is the 17-million acre Tongass National Forest, also in Alaska). Chugach is also the most beautiful national forest we’ve seen on our trip, with snow-covered mountains, countless glaciers, and lots of pretty blue lakes. The photo above shows the northwest end of Kenai Lake from Copper Landing, a very popular launching spot for salmon fishing expeditions.
The Kenai River has the same turquoise color as Kenai Lake. As we’ve mentioned before, this unreal color is the result of glacier silt in the water that absorbs all colors except for this intense blue. The Kenai River is popular with both fishermen and rafters.
There are two major mountain ranges in Chugach National Forest: the Chugach Mountains and the Kenai Mountains, shown above. Many of the peaks have one or more glaciers hanging on them.
The hike up to Hope Point was one of the steepest we’ve ever done. It gained nearly 1500 feet in a mile, and this particular hill was the steepest part of all. Many hikers would only make it up partway, stop on this hill to enjoy the view, then turn back. If you think climbing up is hard, coming back down is even more challenging and punishing on the knees. But we didn’t mind taking our time because beautiful wildflowers carpeted the hill and filled the air with perfume. Theresa said to me, “This is one of those special days on our trip that I want to remember forever.”
From the Hope Point trail we had a nearly 360-degree view that included the lush Kenai Mountains. The end of the trail was actually the peak on the far right in the photo above, another two miles and a thousand-foot climb, but we decided the view was just fine from right where we were. It was a good decision, because after we enjoyed our lunch here, the clouds moved in to obscure the peak, and a chilly wind blew in from the east.
At one point it rained for 72 hours straight. We know this because rain makes a rather loud sound on the roof of our RV, and that sound didn’t stop for 3 days. But we cannot sit in our RV for that long, as we’d go stir crazy. So we try to get outside everyday regardless of the weather. On miserable days like this 43-degree cloudy/foggy/rainy day, we generally pick low elevation hikes in the trees to escape the elements and because there’s no reason to climb high for views we’ll never see. So we hiked along the Resurrection River, which was overflowing its banks from all the rain.
But it was sunny on the day we travelled across the Kenai Peninsula from Anchor Point to Seward. We have mixed feelings about travelling on sunny days, especially in Alaska and Canada where sunny days are more rare. On one hand, we don’t like wasting a sunny day driving in the RV when we could be out hiking in the beautiful weather. On the other hand, sunny days allow us to see all the incredible sights as we’re driving along. Typically we try to schedule our travel days for poorer weather, but it doesn’t always work out that way. The photo above shows the southeast end of Kenai Lake (i.e., this is the other end of the 40-mile-long lake shown in the first photo).
This mountain goat was munching the foliage just off the hiking trail in the Chugach Mountains below Crow Pass. He didn’t seem to mind the hikers at all, even when they came within 20 feet of him. But when a dog off the leash started chasing him, the goat immediately jumped into a sprint, ran across the valley, and leaped a 10-foot wide raging stream to reach a rocky outcropping. I have the whole thing on video, except unfortunately his incredible leap because it was in a small ravine just hidden from my view.
There was still quite a lot of snow on the mountains in mid-July. As you may have seen on the news, this past winter pounded most of Alaska with lots of heavy snow. Here Darby is walking along a large snow field that covered the Crow Pass Trail. The dogs really love the snow, especially on warm days like today. After a week of lousy weather, we had four straight days of bright sunshine and temperatures in the low 70s.
Thus far on our trip, we’ve seen 25 black bears (including this one in the Chugach Mountains) and 8 grizzlies. We’ve spotted most of the bears from the safety of a vehicle, but we’ve seen a few of the bears while hiking out in the open. Fortunately this young black bear was situated across a deep ravine from our hiking trail, so we got to watch him do “big important bear things” for about 10 minutes without disturbing him or worrying about our safety. He must have been only 2-3 years old because he still had some playfulness and adolescent clumsiness in his mannerisms.
We had hiked the trail to Crow Pass in the Chugach Mountains a few days before, but it was cloudy, foggy and cold, so we decided to do it again. It’s the only trail we’ve hiked twice on our trip, but it was certainly worth the repeat trip. We consider this as one of the most spectacular hikes we’ve ever done.
At the top of Crow Pass is a public cabin that people can rent for overnight stays. This is where we placed a laminated card with the photo of an American soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. We had met his father while hiking in Muncho Lake. He gave us the card and requested that we place it somewhere special, then email him with the location and photos. It was an honor for us to fulfill his request. His son is a hero who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
We enjoyed our lunch with a view of the amazing Raven Glacier. It was such a stark difference from a few days earlier when we could barely see the base of the glacier as it peeked in and out of the heavy fog and we had to eat quickly because it was so windy, wet and cold. However on this day we stayed for over an hour and soaked up the warm sun and terrific views.
Every year there is an organized race across Crow Pass. It’s 24 miles long, over 3,000 feet of elevation gain, and has numerous stream crossings including one that is waist-deep. This year’s winner ran it in 3 hours, 40 minutes, 27 seconds. That’s crazy fast! However, we hiked only the first 8 miles (round trip) in a leisurely 6 hours. Here Theresa is sitting at our lunch spot in front of the Raven Glacier (just off-picture to the right) with an amazing view of the Crow Pass Valley in the Chugach Mountains. When I think of Alaska, this is the vision that I see in my head.