Rain, rain, go away
On a rainy Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 3) everywhere else, the Eklutna Lake area was relatively dry.
Frank E. Baker
So, like many folks this past Labor Day, I was getting tired of sitting around the house waiting for the weather to improve. Despite wind and rain, I decided to head out into South Fork Valley for a hike. Looking across Eagle River Valley, I could see that the mountains were obscured in clouds and that it was definitely raining.
Then, I got an inspiration. Sometimes when it’s dreary and rainy around Eagle River, the weather is markedly better up in Eklutna Valley, which sits in a rain shadow. When moisture-laden clouds from the Gulf of Alaska reach the 7,000-foot mountains to the south of Eklutna Lake, they dump much of their water in the form of rain, and imminently, snow. (One of the most dramatic rain shadows I know of is in Sequim, Wash. Situated across Puget Sound from Seattle but east of the Olympic Mountains, Sequim seems to escape most of the rain from the Pacific Ocean on the mountains’ western side).
A meteorologist could probably provide precise statistics on precipitation in the Eklutna Valley compared to other areas around Anchorage — but I do know it is generally less. To some extent, the lower portion of Eagle River Valley is also in a rain shadow, but it doesn’t seem to be as pronounced as the one at Eklutna.
I changed directions and decided to head up the Twin Peaks trail, to the immediate east of Eklutna Lake. The 2.6-mile trail is gradual and switchbacks take one into a scenic bowl at the base of East Twin Peak. A wooden bench is located at just over a mile up the trail, where a vista of Eklutna Lake first opens up. The second wooden bench is only about a mile farther up the trail. From that point, a small path veers to the south for about half a mile and connects with the ridge of Pepper Peak.
I wore raincoat and rain pants for about an hour during a five-hour outing. Just below the ridge, at an elevation of about 3,000 feet, I found a place out of the wind to enjoy lunch. I snapped some photos of the fall colors, which emerge early at the higher elevations.
I looked for blueberries, but the blight brought on by the moth infestation around Eagle River two years ago was more widespread than I thought. While some of the bushes were dead, those with leaves weren’t yielding any berries. Hopefully, for the sake of humans and bears, the blueberry crop will bounce back next summer.
I was surprised not to see any Dall sheep in the bowl or on the flanks of East Twin peak, but they seem to come and go — here today, gone tomorrow.
I met a young couple hiking down from the ridge and they mentioned that they had also grown weary of sitting around waiting for better weather. From this elevation, I could see part of the way toward Palmer, and it appeared rainy out toward the Alaska State Fair.
My wife doesn’t appreciate my changing “flight plans” and going to places not indicated in my note — and I always leave a note. But I’ve learned that if you want to get outdoors frequently, it pays to be flexible.
I’d rather drive north to find sun instead of thrashing around near Eagle River or Anchorage in wet brush. Sometimes, I’ll drive more than 100 miles to find better weather — but it doesn’t always work. On occasion, I’ve driven as far as Hurricane Gulch, about Mile 182 on the Parks Highway, and it was more windy and rainy than in Eagle River.
We’re now losing daylight fast and the sun is casting longer shadows. And then there are those rain shadows. I wish I could find more of them.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. firstname.lastname@example.org