Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Visiting Whittier--Portage Pass and Horsetail Hikes

This was the trip I was determined to do the two hikes I've been wanting to do in Whittier for years:  the Portage Pass trail and the Horsetail Falls hike. To my delight:  they happened!

I've looked for the Portage Pass trailhead probably 4 times in the past, each time I've gone to Whittier, and I never found it. This time, there was no missing it:  a sign announced its presence as soon as you get through the tunnel.

Portage Pass trail sign with the Bear Valley-Whittier tunnel entrance in the background

The road has now been developed to allow plenty of parking
The trail starts up at an easy grade and gets a bit steeper and rougher,
but there are plenty of salmonberries to snack on along the way

Portage Pass at 800' elevation

Another glacier to the left of Portage Glacier, with an impressive amount of water flowing from it

Portage Glacier, with its foot in Portage Lake

View of Whittier from Portage Pass
The hike was a relatively easy one--about 800 feet up to the pass in one mile. Another mile takes you all the way down to the Portage Lake. The trail was a bit rough and rocky, and the day we were there the flies started becoming quite annoying.

I'm not sure what makes Portage Glacier so popular and well-visited, except that in the past it was more accessible, coming nearly to the visitor center. Now one can see it from a boat ride on Portage Lake or from this trail. 

This video is from a bench about 1/4 mile past the pass.

Horsetail Falls has been engraved in my heart as a beautiful hike, one of the earliest ones we took after we moved to Alaska. It is still beautiful, though one of my favorite features, the pools at the top reflecting the mountains around, have mostly dried up. The trail is now getting overgrown with salmonberry bushes, and some of the wood walkways are rotting. The flies were really bad by time we got to the overlook deck at the top, so we didn't stop and hang out but went plunging down the trail to escape them.

When we ran into some folks at the trailhead about to start and they asked if it was worth hiking, I definitely recommended it. It is relatively short for the awesome view, and the wood walkways on much of it make walking fairly easy.  We still don't know which fall is Horsetail Falls; there were 3 or 4 falls coming off the cliffs above the trail. The falls is not the highlight of this trial, though!

Turn right just past the Buckner Building in Whittier to reach the Horsetail Falls Trail

In some areas the trail is getting overgrown

A cruise ship in the harbor in Whittier from top of Horsetail Falls hike

May favorite feature of this hike:  the still pools at the top

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