Thursday was our last full day in the Cordova area.† My initial plan was an ambitious hike combining the Power Creek and Crater Lake Trails with a connecting off-trail route along Eyak Ridge.† This was one of the hikes that I was most looking forward to over the course of the entire trip.† Unfortunately, Thursday morningís weather looked just like the previous two days.† The perpetual low clouds were still in place, obscuring the upper reaches of Eyak Ridge.† I wasnít sure that wandering around off-trail in the fog was a good plan.† Plus, the hike would be a long one for a single day.† I wasnít entirely confident that I could pull it off, especially in those conditions.
I came up with an alternate plan that morning over a breakfast of blueberry pancakes and sausage.† Iíd do a shorter version of the same hike, following the trail from Eyak Lake up to Crater Lake on Eyak Ridge.† Iíd read that there was a reasonable scramble route from there up to the summit of Mount Eyak.† From the peak, Iíd follow a developed trail all the way back into Cordova.† This hike would offer much of the adventure of the longer hike, but would take less time and (hopefully) keep me out of the fog.
That morning I had quite an adventure just trying to find water.† The cabin is on a hillside, so I bushwhacked down to the bottom expecting a stream.† I found a shallow marshy area that didnít look too appealing, so I continued my search on the other side of the road.† I finally found a stream there, but it took some nasty bushwhacking to get to the water.† I managed to fill a bucket, which we ultimately used doing laundry.† We hung up our wet clothes and headed back into town.† There we stopped again at the ranger station to fill up on drinking water.†
From there we made a short drive out to Eyak Lake where we found the marked trailhead for Crater Lake.† Christy dropped me off there, as she was skipping this hike.† Instead, her Ironman triathlon training schedule called for her to run and swim.† She planned to do the swim at the local recreation center, as Eyak Lakeís glacier-fed waters didnít look very pleasant.† For the run, she planned to follow the dirt road along the lake.† Surprisingly she left the bear spray behind, even though she was running through one of the most bear-infested places around.† We made plans to meet at the Eyak summit trailhead on the edge of town at 4pm.
I started up the trail to Crater Lake at 11:30.† Early on I passed under a mossy canopy of Spruce while dodging the many fat, black slugs sliming the trail.† The climb was steady, but the biggest challenge was the wet, muddy, slippery, rocky footing.† Occasional switchbacks kept the grade reasonable as I worked my way upward.† After a mile or so, I reached an overlook with a fine view of Eyak Lake below more fog-shrouded peaks.†
The trail was easier beyond the overlook, and occasional views through openings in the forest provided inspiration.† A bit later I passed a marked junction with a trail that connects to the path I planned to take down from Mount Eyak.† Beyond the junction, the foliage began to open up, and the wildflowers and views became more abundant.† Finally I reached a minor crest and lovely Crater Lake shimmered in a shallow bowl below me.† Mount Eyak towered above, its rugged features reflected in Crater Lakeís calm waters.
I had a late lunch there overlooking the lake.† After eating quickly, I hiked down to the waterline and followed the shore around the east side.† Along here, I spotted a faint route heading northeast, up Eyak Ridge.† My feet wanted to go that way, but I knew it wasnít an option.† Instead I continued north, walking along the rocky beach adjacent to an outrageous wildflower display.
Once on the north side of the lake, I viewed my intended route up the mountain.† It looked like a straight-forward route, following the ridge southwest and then due south.† The route promised great scenery, as the topography fell away abruptly a couple thousand feet to the Pacific Ocean below.
The views became more breathtaking as I climbed.† Mount Eyak continued to tower over me as Crater Lake gradually began to look more like a small pond.† The best views though were of the ocean and Orca Inlet.† I gazed out over dark waters separated by dozens of impossibly green islands.†
The scramble was a little challenging, but not particularly hazardous.† There was no trail, but there was a hint of a beaten path at times.† There were a few places with difficulty footing, and a couple of patches of snow, but for the most part the ascent was a simple, fun climb.† Near the top the terrain grew more rugged, and at one point I contemplated what I would do if the route became impassable.† It was already mid-afternoon, and I was behind schedule.†
I reached the summit, only to find a taller peak looming ahead.† I dropped down to a narrow saddle before beginning a final, steep ascent.† Reaching the summit was a relief, and the 360 degree view was worth the effort.† Damp clouds billowed up from the valley below, occasionally obscuring my surroundings.† From there, I had to make a challenging traverse across the jagged summit block.† This featured a number of rugged peaks and notches that required considerable care.† Going from one end of the summit to the other may have been the most difficult part of the hike.
At the far end I ran into 3 guys that had hiked up from town.† Two were from Colorado and one was from elsewhere in Alaska.† They had built a small fire there on the summit in an attempt to ward off a horrific plague of no-see-ums that were swarming around the peak.† I chatted briefly with them before attempting to call Christy.† It was already 3:45, and I wanted to tell her that I probably wouldnít make it down by 4.† Unfortunately my signal was poor, and while the call went through, we werenít able to effectively communicate.† I was afraid that she might think that I was calling for help, so I tried sending a text message instead.† The text didnít go thru either, so I began a frantic descent towards town.
Keeping an aggressive pace proved difficult.† The initial descent was steep, rugged, and eroded.† A fixed safety rope was in the place, and I had to work my way down carefully.† Beyond this stretch, the trail was better, although it featured lots of rocks and scree.† There were many small ponds, lots of wildflowers, and more fine views along the way down.† Unfortunately, I was racing the clock and didnít have much time to enjoy it.†
I thought I was getting close to the end when I reached the TOP of Cordovaís only ski slope.† I redoubled my efforts, and ran some stretches of the descent.† It was 5:20 when I finally spied our rental car in the trailhead parking lot just below.† I was 1:20 late, and Christy was definitely worried.† I felt bad about this.† My hike had been everything except leisurely Ė unfortunately, I had simply underestimated its difficulty and the time it would require.
Mount Eyak was a cool hike, despite the pesky clouds.† Iíd love to go back and do it again on a sunny day.
We headed back to the cabin, where we grilled chicken for dinner.† A campfire and some Moose Drool rounded out the evening nicely, although we spent quite a bit of time packing everything up and loading the car.† We had to get almost everything ready that evening, since our ferry was scheduled to leave early the next morning.
We woke to light rain the next morning.† The good news was that the car was mostly loaded, and we didnít have to take down a wet tent!
We drove back to Cordova and on to the ferry terminal.† We checked in for the 8:30 ferry to Valdez before lounging around.† We had a breakfast of cold cereal in the lobby while waiting for the boat.† Boarding seemed to take forever, but somehow we still left on time.†
We sat up front where we could enjoy the scenery despite the rainy weather.† This was a good choice, as this ferry featured a ranger from the U.S. Forest Service that narrated the trip.† She described much of the aquatic wildlife of Prince William Sound, and pointed out some Dall Porpoises and Sea Otters along the way.† Aside from the wildlife, the main highlight of the journey was passing through abundant icebergs shed by the Columbia Glacier.† We also passed a marker on a reef that identified the spot that the Exxon Valdez had wrecked, resulting in the infamous Valdez oil spill.
The scenery of Valdez Fjord was lovely, featuring steep, green mountains decorated with small glaciers and high waterfalls.† Happily, the weather was nicer here, and we were actually treated to some blue sky when we arrived in Valdez on time.
Our first stop in Valdez was at the local museum.† The museum airs a movie about the oil spill that Christy wanted to see, but we had just missed the beginning of it.† We decided to skip the movie and save the $10 in entrance fees.† From there, we made a brief stop at the Visitorís Center before having a good lunch at a Thai restaurant.† Here I discovered that I suddenly had internet access on my phone.† I hadnít had any access since shortly after our initial arrival in Anchorage.
I took that opportunity to check the weather forecast for the next few days.† The forecast suggested sunny weather through the weekend, followed by lots and lots of rain.† This was discouraging, but I neednít have worried.† It turns out that long range weather forecasts in Alaska are pretty much worthless.
We left town and took a scenic drive out through Mineral Canyon.† The dirt road was pretty rough, and when we reached a point where we had to ford a big stream, we decided to quit while we were ahead.† Fortunately, we were just downstream from a major waterfall.† The cascade was one of several in the canyon, but it was only one we succeeded in getting close to.† I took some photos of the falls, and Christy spotted several Bald Eagles circling above us.† Between the scenery and the wildlife, we found Mineral Creek Canyon to be worth the brief visit.
We drove back to town and stopped for groceries.† Then we took another side trip to see the Valdez Glacier.† We were able to drive almost to the base of the glacier, and we ended up getting a fair view of it from the end of a dirt road.† Our last diversion in Valdez was a brief visit to a salmon hatchery.† We saw pink salmon spawning there, but didnít see any of the bears that frequently visit the area.
We regretted leaving Valdez so quickly, but I hadnít left much time in our schedule to explore that area.† Prior to our trip, I didnít realize how much it had to offer.†
We took the Richardson Highway out of town towards Thompson Pass.† First we passed through Keystone Canyon.† We passed two more waterfalls here, including impressive Bridal Veil Falls.† We also checked out an old railroad tunnel, which was interesting despite being marred by graffiti.†
The drive to Thompson Pass was lovely under suddenly sunny skies.† Views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers opened up, and the highway was lined with brilliant wildflowers.† Shortly beyond the pass, we stopped at the developed recreation area for the Worthington Glacier.
We parked the car and made a short walk out a paved path to the base of the Worthington Glacier.† The glacier is pretty impressive, and it was worth a brief visit to check it out.† We couldíve done a longer hike here, along and above the glacier, but it looked like it would be fairly challenging.† We still had quite a ways to drive, too, so we elected to skip that and continue on our journey.† Next, we planned a short visit to McCarthy and Kennecott in Wrangell St. Elias National Park.
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