Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Exploring the Flattop Area--O'Malley Gulley

The Flattop/Glen Alps trails criss-cross the hillside.

The Flattop/Glen Alps area is a huge attraction in Anchorage: miles and miles of hiking trails and a nice, wide graveled mountain biking trail up the powerline too. We've driven up there a number of times, having discovered it by accident once when driving around exploring town. I was in Anchorage for a week for a silent retreat last week, just minutes away from Flattop, so I got up there a couple times.

It was not your typical silent retreat type atmosphere: cars were circling the parking lot like piranhas, waiting for a parking spot to come open in the packed lot, masses of people gathered around the pay pipe to pay their $5 (I think) fee to park in the lot, more masses of people qued up at the bathrooms. I ended up parking down the road a ways and hiking back up the road. It saved me my parking fee and added to my workout.

The first time I went up there I was going to hike up to Flattop, a 1280 foot climb (according to Wikipedia; a van giving tours of Flattop advertised it as a 1320 foot climb) in 1 1/2 miles, but there were so many people I didn't think I could stick to my silence so I opted to hike the powerline trail, which is mostly flat and heads straight up the valley. There were masses of people along there too, but I got through with a smile and a wave, even though every group I met verbally said hello to me (Jeepers! The one time I wouldn't have minded people NOT saying hello, everyone did!).

A couple days later I headed up to the trailhead again. This time I decided to take a trail less traveled, but it was only slightly less traveled! I headed up the gulch trail, and discovered it reminded me of Mt. Marathon in Seward and Skyline in the Skilak Lake area: hard packed trail with loose gravel on top of it. Yuck! To add to that it was HOT out. I had a plastic glove on to protect my burnt hand (from my 2nd/3rd degree burns in March) from the sunshine. Each time I stopped for a rest I would take off the glove and sweat would pour out of it.

The O'Malley Gulley winds its way up the side of this slope to a snowdrift at the saddle.

I put my head down and plodded up steadily. A big snowdrift marks the top of the saddle. Trails continue to the left (to overlook Anchorage) to the right and straight on along a face. I was there more for the solitude than the hike, so I opted to go left to an area overlooking Anchorage. In looking more online, the trail that goes straight heads to O'Malley Peak, and there is an excellent description of these hikes at http://www.summitpost.org/o-malley-peak/536178.

Minutes after I found a comfy rock to enjoy my silence, a dog came panting up and two couples sat down behind me. So much for solitude! Ironically, when I headed down later and was soaking my feet in a stream at the bottom of the trail, the same dog brushed by me and stood at my feet in the stream, and the same group took photos at the bridge.

I blogged about Kincaid Park awhile back, saying that if I lived by Kincaid, I could stand living in Anchorage. Now that I have discovered all the trails at the Flattop/Glen Alps area, I would love to live near them. Even with the crowds of people, the hiking is just incredible, the views outstanding and the workout potential extraordinary. I actually have an ache in me with disappointment that I don't live by Flattop. I want so badly to go explore all those trails! What a gem to have all those trails so close to a city! And to top it all off, I found ripe crowberries to munch on before I headed back to my car. What a treat!

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