Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hope Point Climb--Hope, AK

Pink lupine were a special treat.
We were feeling a bit beaten up by all the tough mountain biking we'd done, and we'd biked all the trails we'd set as our goal for this trip, so for our final day we decided to drive up to Hope (about a 40 min. drive from Cooper Landing) and climb Hope Point. 

This was not going to be a cakewalk:  the trail description said there was an elevation gain of 3,630 feet in 2.2 miles.  That would make this our biggest climb yet--ever!  But after all we'd been through the past 8 days (3-5 hours a day of vigorous exercise) we knew we were in as good of shape as we were going to be in.  Plus, it was just a hike!  How hard could a hike be compared to biking it?!

Up through the meadow.  It was a lot worse coming down!
The trailhead, at the end of the road in Hope, just before the Porcupine Campground on the left, was so new there was still a shovel and broom sitting out for cleanup.  The trail starts off graveled and wide.  After crossing a small bridge the trail splits, with Gull Rock trail veering off to the right and Hope Point heading left along a rushing mountain stream.

So, of course, this trail went UP!  And up and up.  What did we expect?  Well, it was steep.  And in the most beautiful section, we broke out of the trees into a glorious mountain meadow covered in a profusion of wildflowers:  lupine, geraniums, and on and on.  Hope was already far away, way down there, and Turnagain Arm was spreading out to our right.  Through this meadow the trail was gravel on top of hard-packed earth, with a pretty darn close to vertical incline.  It was challenging going, and I found myself taking lots of breaks.  Partly, though, the breaks were because the view was so stunning.  Of all the hikes I have been on in Alaska, this one TOPS my list for beautiful.  I'm afraid I have used too many superlatives in the blog entries describing this vacation, and maybe it was a result of large quantities of endorphins flooding my system from all the exercise, but the beauty just stunned me, and my family concurred.

Our route was up that ridge straight ahead, then left along the snow.  We thought we were going to the peak seen here, but it is the one hidden in the clouds.
Spectacular views of Turnagain Arm
Up, up, and up.  We kept looking up, wondering where the trail would lead us.  Once we got high enough we could see the trail traversing the slopes above us, but then we would lose it in the snow or the clouds.  It was all single track, with loose rocks aplenty.  The technique for getting up these climbs is one step at a time.  Breaks and water are good too.  One thing we did right was bring lots of water:  our hydration packs were filled to the max of 2 and 3 liters respectively, and Douglas and Aurora each had waterbottles as well.  By climb's end we'd have drunk nearly all our water.

Above the meadow the trail leveled out as it followed the top of a ridge.  Below us spread out Turnagain Arm.  We could see Anchorage to our left, the Seward Highway wound around the cliffs of the Turnagain, and far to the right was the head of the arm and the start of the Kenai Peninsula.  Of all the hikes we have taken, this was seemed the most remote, which is ironic because we were in sight of the major population center of the state.  Or perhaps because we were in sight of and yet so far away from all that busy-ness.  It was a perspective that really turned things around.

Heading down--back along the spine of the ridge ahead of us.

At one point we were following a snow chute up, hiking alongside the snow.  When we got to the top, Aurora was waiting for us, eagerly pointing out the mountain goats she'd seen.  We watched them for awhile and then pressed on.  We'd thought we were near the top, but the trail, rather than jogging left across the snowdrift to a peak, continued up to the right across the saddle and into the clouds.

We saw up to 14 mountain goats at one time:  sleeping, playing, fighting, grazing.  It was a treat!

By this time we'd been on the trail over 2 hours, climbing steadily up for probably about 3200-3400 feet.  The signs of fatigue were there:  Douglas was not drinking a lot of water, crabbiness, fuzzy-headedness, lack of decision-making.  The kids were rarin' to go and didn't want to stop, but finally I insisted on a food break.  It was our last day of camping and our snack supply was depleted so we didn't have the hearty lunches we'd had other days:  tuna or ham sandwiches, sausage and cheese.  All we had were crackers, carrot sticks, pudding and granola bars.  I had gotten onto the trail hungry that morning, so I was ravenous by this time.  The kids weren't that hungry and were just begging to push on.  Douglas was getting nervous because the clouds were rolling in quite thickly so visibility was cut way down.  We could no longer see the summit or even any false peaks above us, and below us was all clouds with occasional openings through which we could see the mountain goats wandering the snowfields and meadows below us.  Turnagain Arm was out of sight.

View of Anchorage (not much a view with the clouds)
View towards the head of Turnagain Arm.  Hope is in the bottom right corner of this picture.
We hemmed.  We hawed.  Douglas wanted to turn back.  The kids wanted to keep going.  I wanted to keep going but I was also aware of how tired Douglas and I were, how little the kids had eaten, and how far we had to go back down.  We figured we had to be pretty close to the summit, but we'd thought that a few times before and we discovered we weren't even close.  Finally I decided:  "We're heading down."  The kids were so bummed.  I was bummed too, but it felt like the best choice for the circumstances.

Down we went.  Back past the mountain goats, past the snow chute, down out of the clouds, along the ridge, through the meadow, along the stream to the trailhead.  When Douglas and I walked up to the car, the kids looked like zombies.  They were tired.  On a clear day, with better food we might have pressed on, but for that day, it was what it was.  The view was stupendous, the mountain goats were a treat, the workout was beyond words and the sense of remoteness disquieting.  The kids and I made a pact to come back and complete it--all the way to the top.  It was a stunning and awesome grand finale to our vacation.


Monica Devine said...

Ah...sure enjoyed this post. I haven't been to Hope for years, but we used to bike and hike in the I want to go back!

Michelle Waclawski said...

Every few days my son asks me when we're going to go back to hike to the top of Hope Point. I look at my calendar and shrug...!

Unknown said...

Hi, Michelle. I stumbled on your blog when looking for info on the Caribou Lake trail...thanks for the great info. I'm stationed on the CG cutter Hickory, pictured on your home page. I LOVE that picture and have never seen it before. Can you send me a copy to Thanks!

Unknown said...

I still consider this the most rewarding hike I've ever been on. Lots of work, lots of view, lots of wildflowers, lots of memories.

Michelle Waclawski said...

I'm with you. I'm looking forward to getting to this hike this summer!

Nathan said...

I hiked this trail with my girlfriend in August 2017. Theres a trail that zig zags up the meadow so it’s not as steep. We started up the steep path option but decided to take the easy way since we weren’t sure it went to the same place and it was very steep and foggy. We were also a little on edge since a bear had roared at us on the lower trail, about 20 minutes into the hike! It definitely freaked us out but we didn’t see the bear or hear from it again after that. We bear called continuously the rest of the hike (will wear bells next time!). At the top of the zig-zag trail it flattens out and there’s a big pile of rocks. It had been very foggy the whole way up the meadow but while we were standing by the rock pile the clouds suddenly cleared away gloriously revealing the Turnagain Arm in crystal clear daylight. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. We kept going and got to the alpine section. I’m amazed at how casually hikers in Alaska seem to take these narrow rocky ridges. A few days before we had hiked the Falls Creek trail and met some hikers who had just come over the mountain ridge. See ridge here They said it wasn’t bad so we decided to try it. In retrospect they may have been messing with us but they seemed nice. We made it to maybe 200 feet from the top of the ridge when I basically started having panic attacks. The fear of falling would grip me momentarily and make it hard to breath, causing me to groan. So we turned around and sadly didn’t make it to Falls lake. These other hikers had seemingly done it casually with their dog but they were clearly experienced hikers... still though, anyone can misstep or slip and it’s siyonara. Side note: every other hiking group we saw on this trail was carrying a firearm which made me feel even more out of my element. I later learned that a 16 year old boy was stalked and mauled to death by a black bear during a mountain race up the neighboring trail (bird ridge) about two months prior. That may have had people on edge. Anyways back to Hope Point; the hike features an alpine section that is not as steep as the Falls Creek ridge which we were able to manage by staying to the left since the right side of the ridge is a rather steep fall into Turnagain Arm. After that section there is a skinny dirt trail up the tundra. Once we made it up that we thought we were close but not so. Continuing to the right, the trail circles around the back of the mountain to the peak. There were at least three times we said “ok one more peak”. I was getting really tired and wanted to turn back but we pressed on to the summit and I’m glad we did. You can see all the way to Anchorage! We also found a plastic tube tucked into the rocks with paper and pencil inside to sign your name etc. Right as we turned around to head back down some clouds rolled over the neighboring peak. I got momentarily spooked, remembering all the stories of people who get caught in unpredictable weather at high altitude. There was also very few people on the trail. Luckily the wind coming up the mountain face from Turnagain Arm carried the clouds away and I don’t think they were even rain clouds to be honest, I was just on edge from being so high up and very aware of the potential for danger. Speaking of, we didn’t plan well and had very little water. I was pretty dehydrated on the way down. I had to take my shirt off and stop due to nausea several times but once we got below the tree line and out of the sun I felt better and we made it back to the car safe and sound. We weren’t even planning to hike Hope Point that day but stopped in Hope for gas and the guy who pumped the gas for us recommended it. Glad we found this gem!

Michelle Waclawski said...

The first time we did the Hope Point hike, we were not prepared, the clouds rolled in and we couldn't see anything, and we had no clue where the top was or how close we were. The kids did not forgive us for turning back. Due to how groggy we were (maybe the kids weren't, but we were! And they were too young to push on by themselves like we would let them just a few years later), it was the smart choice. We were probably about 20-30 min. from the top still at that point we turned back. But yes, it is just a casual jaunt to roam over the mountains...but 11 years here has made us much more comfortable with the heights and dropoffs!