On a Clear Day

On most days in Anchorage, you can view the Alaska Mountain range, an impressive string of snow-covered, jagged peaks.

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There’s a fantastic bike path that runs along the waterfront, which we biked for about six miles and back, with views of those mountains in the not too distant west.  We found one placard that showed the mountains visible from the bikeway, given appropriate conditions, and among them was Denali.  Somewhere out in that cloud stood Denali.

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Our campground was urban.  It was located right next to the train tracks, and we discovered returning from one outing that the town’s homeless population hangs out within two blocks of the campground.

Anchorage is a big city.  Its population exceeds 300,000 and comprises almost half the states residents.  There are some tall buildings, fine restaurants, a brewery that serves a good IPA, and a handful of cruise ships and the souvenir shops that cater to their thousands of passengers.

There’s an airbase near the campground, I think it was Elmendorf Air Force Base, although the jets that roared by in the morning and late afternoon looked like Navy fighters to me.  Or maybe they didn’t.  They had delta wings.

EB1A8241Every morning we were serenaded by a muddled recording of reveille blaring from the air strip, and at five every afternoon the same muddled loud speaker bade us good evening to the strains of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

The advertised hike for Anchorage is Flat Top Mountain.  There’s a shuttle that will drive you the dozen miles to the trailhead for $25/each round trip.  We decided to drive it ourselves.

The ranger in the downtown National Forest visitors’ center, one of many attractive, lithe young female rangers we have encountered over the course of our travels, suggested to me (after I was almost strip searched getting into the room since, it turned out, the building houses a federal courthouse) that we should take a different trail from the Flat Top trail head (I’ll call it the O’Leary Peak trail, for want of a more accurate memory), in order to avoid the masses who attempt Flat Top.EB1A8275

So we drove to the trail head, in Chugach State Park, and we were in for a rude awakening.  The trail went straight up.  The 1200-foot elevation change over 3 miles was compacted into the first half mile, and there were no switchbacks.  Somehow we made it to the top, but then we had to get back down, and it was like stepping over the edge of a cliff to take that first step down.

We did make it back down.

Oh, by the way, it was a clear day, and the views were astounding.  And there was this really big snow-covered mountain rising to the north.  Upon inquiry of other climbers, we were assured of the mountain’s identity.

Denali.

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