Hiking Mount Baldy: Eagle River’s hometown hill
(Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story about hiking on Mount Baldy. This week’s story talks about basics of hiking the 3,218-foot mountain near Eagle River, while next week’s will deal with access and maintenance issues facing the popular hiking area.)
Hiking Mount Baldy is a rite of passage for Chugiak-Eagle River residents. Peeking protectively over the town, the 3,218-foot mountain is everything from afternoon workout spot to weekend getaway for locals, who flock to its slopes in summer.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, more than 50 cars lined the small parking area atop Skyline Drive, the overlook above Eagle River that doubles as the Baldy trailhead. Families with small children, hunters carrying heavy packs and shirtless mountain runners could be seen almost everywhere along the milelong trail that runs roughly straight up the mountain’s western face.
The trail’s proximity to Eagle River and accessibility to alpine terrain make it an ideal location for hikers. After reaching the trailhead atop Skyline, hikers follow a wide, well-defined trail that begins at nearly 2,000 feet above sea level. From there, the path winds through alders and meadows as it crosses through the treeline and into alpine terrain.
There are several switchbacks along the lower section of the trail, up until about the 2,500 foot elevation, where it begins to get rocky. One of the trail’s drawbacks — like many paths carved into the mountains of Chugach State Park — is that it can be steep and slippery, especially when wet. Good hiking shoes are a must, and poles aren’t a bad idea for people not comfortable scrambling on steep slopes.
From the trail, hikers get increasingly good views of the Eagle River Valley, Knik Arm and — on clear days — Denali.
The trail has become more and more popular over the years, leading to erosion. There have been some efforts to create a more sustainable trail, but several issues have prevented anything from being done.
(In next week’s edition, read about the unique history of the trail and what — if anything — is being done to protect it.)
Although rocky and a bit steep, the trip to the summit isn’t difficult, and several children and pets could be seen making the trip up Sunday. At the top, about a dozen people took in the view and rested after their uphill hike, a climb of about 1,200 feet that can take anywhere from 15 minutes for top mountain runners to over an hour for casual hikers.
Omaha, Nebraska natives Beth Beberwyk, Jacquie Beberwyk and Gabe Belcastro made their first trip to the top of Baldy Sunday, and said they’d recommend the hike to anyone.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” Belcastro said, taking in the views of the Chugach Front Range spread before him. “It doesn’t even seem like a real place.”
The trio said the footing on the way up was a bit tricky, but nothing they couldn’t handle.
Eagle River locals Kevin and Brittany Keener said they get up Baldy several times a summer. They compared the hike to Flattop in Anchorage, and said it’s nice having a place so close to home to get out for a good hike.
“Living in Eagle River it’s much easier to get to,” Brittany Keener said.
She said they often take the “back side” trail up Baldy, a winding path that can be accessed from the same starting point by going through a gate and heading left instead of straight up the hill. That’s a popular route to the top (and often even more coming down), although it does cross private property.
The Keeners said they prefer Baldy to other popular hiking trails in the park due both to its proximity and relative lack of people.
“It’s a lot less crowded,” she said.
Even with dozens of fellow hikers spread out on the mountainside below them, the Keeners said the trail still has a much less congested feel.
“There’s lots of room,” Kevin Keener said.
After reaching the summit, more ambitious hikers can use Baldy to access other mountains along a long, rising ridge that continues on to Black Tail Rocks and Round Top. The ridge can also be used to connect with Ptarmigan Valley. A map probably isn’t necessary for getting up Baldy, but anyone planning to travel into the Chugach backcountry should have a map and compass before heading out. Detailed trail maps for the Chugach State Park can be found online at dnr.alaska.gov.
Contact Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected]