Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gastineau Peak

View to Juneau from the Mt Roberts Trail
There are some absolutely fabulous trails near Alaska’s panhandle boroughs. From late spring to early fall there are actually more tourists in this region than residents. Not that I ever like to think of myself as a tourist, but in this case, it’s appropriate. I’ve never been anywhere else before where you can find such dramatic and pristine landscapes within walking distance from a town. In our local area where we live, we have a great many trails to choose from, and I never get tired of getting outside to spend the day at some wild space preserve or another. But if you really want to experience awesome inspiring scenery, and have a world class hiking experience, you really need to get away for awhile. At the very least, you would need to drive for hours just to get clear of the sprawling anthill that is the bay area metropolis. However, in Juneau, for example, you can be walking down a city street past shops, restaurants, hotels, homes, etc; hang a right, and climb a flight of stairs; and there is a trail head heading up into the temperate rainforest at the base of the steep alpine terrain of the mountains that loom above the city. In this neighborhood, the wilderness areas begin right at the doorstep of the largest center of human habitation for hundreds of miles. It’s enough to make you want to miss your ship, and stay lost until your money runs out.

Snowy peaks
There are quite a few choices, but the hike we decided on was the same hike we had done back on 2008. We were hoping for clearer weather than we had last time because we had never made it to the summit of Mt Roberts, but the conditions were about the same. There was still packed in snow along the narrow ridge heading up into the low clouds. I would not have wanted to try it without crampons and an ice axe, so we still have never made the summit. But even without setting out for Mt Roberts, we had the most amazing day. The other fork to Gastineau Peak is a really gorgeous hike.

We began by walking out of town on Basin Road to the lower trail head of the Mt Roberts Trail. Many people skip this section by taking the tram from the harbor area up to the Visitor’s center located about 1750 feet up the mountain. There are some nice view points up there, and some short nature trails. You can even have a meal at the restaurant and enjoy the nature center up there before heading back down. The tram tickets have gone up in price to $27. Hikers have another option though. You can pay $10 for a down only pass on the tram. Or if you make a purchase at the gift shop, you can use your receipt as a down only pass. The lower trail has some steep and muddy sections, but hikers are more likely to enjoy the rain forest hike more than wimping out on the tram.

Rainbow in Silverbow Basin
When you reach the visitor’s center there will be lots of people around, but the tram can only bring a limited number people. As you continue to hike up the trail, the crowds thin out, and before long, a trail signs indicates that you are entering the wilderness area. Above the tree line, the terrain opens up, and the trail gets steeper and a little rougher. The open terrain supports lots of plants, grasses, wild flowers, and wildlife. At this time, many of the hillsides were covered in white bunchberry (ground dogwood) blossoms. There was also lots of purple lupine and yellow cinquefoil. The higher you hike, the better the views. On a clear enough day you will enjoy the most amazing views. The visual panorama takes your breath away. Gorgeous textured green mountain sides flowing into deep basin valleys with lingering white snow fields adding lots of contrast, and lots of gentle peaks, some of which are literally reaching into the clouds. Far below to the west is Gastineau channel, and across its depth are distant peaks and islands along the inside passage. The Chilkoot range to the north and layers of peaks in all directions highlight the glacial carved landscape. Lots of small animals are scurrying around, and we got buzzed by several bald eagles. The trail junction to Mt Roberts was too snowbound, so we headed for Gastineau Peak at about 3460 feet. When you get there you can sit and gaze into Silverbow Basin which has a mining history, many cascade waterfalls, several avalanches, and on this trip we got treated to a really nice rainbow. We spent some time on the peak before the skies started drizzling rain. We donned our GoLite umbrellas and headed down, taking advantage of the down only free ride on the tram for our patronage of the gift shop to purchase some nice waterproof over-gloves. I would highly recommend this trail if you happen to be in Juneau.

Click here to see my photos on flickr
Click here to see my trip report and GPS track on Every Trail


Katie (Nature ID) said...

Thanks for your Alaska posts. It helped me remember my own 2-month backpacking trip through Alaska. In Juneau we mainly kayaked around Douglas Island. It didn't occur to me at the time that there might be good hiking trails there. As much as I want to see other places in the world, I may go back to Alaska with older eyes and a fresh sense of knowledge and wonder of nature.

Waypoints said...

Kayaking sounds like fun. That's a great way to see wildlife. I hope I can do that sometime.