Sunday, July 26, 2015

Climbing Hope Point

Wildflowers on trail up Hope Point trail

Friday evening while our family was flopped out in the living room after a busy day, Denver consulted his iPod and announced that the weather for Hope on Saturday was sunshine. Both kids looked at me expectantly, and I knew what question was coming:  "Can we climb Hope Point tomorrow?" I mentally took a deep breath and said, "I'm game." 

A few years ago we climbed Hope Point at the end of a 10-day mountain biking and mountain climbing vacation. We were near the top, with the actual top an unknown distance above us, when the clouds rolled in and obliterated our view. We made the executive decision to go down rather than push on to the top since we were tired--exhausted from days of breaking down our bodies. The kids have never forgotten it, and every summer summiting Hope Point comes up as a goal. Each summer we watch the weather on the weekends to see when we might make it happen as we didn't want a repeat of being socked in by clouds, and the trail is way steeper than anything I would want to do when it is slick.

Trailhead for Hope Point and Gull Rock 
So Saturday morning we left Homer at 8 and were on the trail by 11:35. The weather was warm:  I rarely start a hike with shorts and my short-sleeved shirt, but this time I did, and I only put on a long-sleeved shirt for a few minutes near the top when I took a break and was sweaty and the wind was chilling me.

The trailhead is for both Gull Rock, a 5.7 mile one way hike (the most non-descript, boring hike we have done in Alaska), and Hope Point (probably one of the most beautiful hikes we've done in Alaska). Shortly after we crossed the bridge and turned up the hill for the Hope Point trail, we were puzzled. None of us recognized the trail, which was unusual. I have a mind for trails and they tend to be imprinted in my mind. I couldn't figure out why it was completely unfamiliar. 
Trail construction sign:  rolling rocks
Then we came across a sign:  Trail Construction; rolling rocks. What? Rolling rocks? What rocks? We were in the middle of the woods; there were no rocks in sight. Right around there it was clear there was significant work on the trail. Trees were cut, the trail widened, and there were switchbacks that hadn't been there before. It made for some easy hiking. The switchbacks  were at such a gradual grade that I could dash right up them without a rest. We saw where the old trail had been, the part of the trail that kept me off it when it was wet:  steep and straight up the side of a mountain meadow. Now there was a virtual expressway up the mountain, or as Aurora put it, "What is this? An elevator to the top?!" While the kids were extremely vocal about their displeasure with the trail "upgrades," I just felt a bit queasy in my stomach. What was once a remote mountain climb was now a highly accessible trail. The sense was confirmed as we ran into group after group of people, many of them quite old and not your typical Alaskan mountain climbers. While it was nice to be able to dash up the mountain, it was positively overwhelming how many people were up there. What we had loved about that hike and what drew the kids back was how remote it seemed. With 10 other groups up there at the same time we were (busier than any other Alaskan trail I've been on besides Flattop in Anchorage and the Russian River Falls) as well as the trail crew that was putting the finishing touches on two years of work, it was anything but remote.

Lower trail, below treeline

Climbing up higher; substantial cuts for the new trail

Feeling like a highway across the once-remote meadow

Eventually the scars of the trailwork will grow over

A nice touch:  stone steps through one tricky area

The meadow that a few years ago one had to climb straight up

Once we got above treeline the trail improvements stopped and it was the "old trail" and while there were still plenty of folks up there, it felt slightly more remote. The herd of wild goats weren't grazing above the saddle, which wasn't a surprise. The views are still amazing.

The trail heading up with the goal the peak on the right

Turnagain Arm and the view towards Girdwood

More trail up, from the saddle. The last 15 minutes to the top

The view of Anchorage from Hope Point

The view of Hope from Hope Point
So while the beginning of the trail used to be more challenging and steep with the meadow climb, now the second half is more difficult. It took us an hour to get from the trailhead to the top of the meadow, and then another hour to get to the top. That was moving at a pretty steady pace. The top has a marker so that we knew we'd arrived.

We were sharing the top with some other folks. Amazingly there was barely a whiffle of a breeze and it was warm, so for one of the first times ever I sat comfortably in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt on top of a mountain in Alaska. Aurora's new thing is to bring her juggling balls up and juggle at the top of mountains we climb or hikes we go on, so we got the requisite picture of her doing so.

And for those who aren't inclined to make the 3630 foot climb, here is a video of the view, starting with the view to the north and Anchorage. On a clear day Denali would be clearly visible from here.

The spec sheet about the trail seems to have been updated since the trailwork began (it says 6/14, and they have been doing improvements for a couple years).

The trail specs appear to be updated with the new trail

There are plenty of other beautiful mountain views in Alaska. I am not sure why this particular mountain was chosen for such extensive trail renovations. I am so mixed about it. The joy of climbing a mountain is tempered by the fact that it was way easier than climbing any mountain should be. The meadow that was the glorious highlight of the hike is now criss-crossed by switchbacks and piles of dirt from the cuts. Time will soften those scars. I'll get used to the "new" trail and it will keep it accessible to be as I get older and climbing mountains gets more difficult. But I will still treasure the time we hiked it and it was the prototype of  what climbing a mountain in Alaska means to us.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Beautiful hike! I understand how you feel about the trail "upgrades". It will never be the place that you remember.