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  • Writer's pictureKarl Sander

A Run-In with the Locals on the McHugh Creek Trail

With the weather forecast looking good for this past weekend, I decided it would be a good time to hike. Of course, the adventure-mobile was also overdue for a thorough cleaning, so I had an appointment Saturday for a full detailing job. And, predictably, Saturday turned out to be the nicer of the two days.

The Kenai Mountains across Turnagain Arm hiding behind a low overcast layer.

That didn't stop me from heading out Sunday, even if it was grayer than I'd have liked. I headed down the Seward Highway to the McHugh Creek trailhead, conveniently close to Anchorage. A six mile trail heads from the trailhead at the mouth of the creek between two mountains up to Rabbit Lake and McHugh Lake, two alpine lakes. Alaska Hike Search, which in addition to a handful of books I've collected over the past couple years, warned that sections of it were steep and that you should plan on at least six hours.

Granted, I might not be in the same hiking shape I was in a couple years ago when I was getting to ready to climb Mt. Adams for grad school (true story), but a six hour round trip quickly started to seem optimistic. I also broke enough of a sweat to start to feel bad for the car's freshly detailed interior. The good news was that the clouds were starting to clear, offering glimpses of the rising valley ahead and, soon enough McHugh and Rainbow Peaks (the latter of which of I bagged a couple years ago) on either side of the trail.

Clouds part revealing McHugh Creek valley and the Suicide Peaks.

The other piece of good news is that the trail, while still going uphill, wasn't as steep, and I harbored delusions of making up time heading to the lakes where I figured I'd eat lunch, get more water, and have a downhill trek all the way back.

That's until the trail rounded a stand of shrubs and I saw, with some surprise, this guy hogging the entire thing.

Oh, hi there.

Apparently I wasn't the only one with lunch plans. He didn't seem interested in leaving, and I was already running late enough to not have a lot of time to wait him out, so it was pretty clear who was giving way to whom. Pleasantly, though, the clouds continued to clear and I had a much better view of Turnagain Arm and the Kenai Mountains as I made my way back.

Hardly seems like the same trail I came up.

Part of the trail cuts though an area that burned during a large widlfire last year. On the way up, it was actually a little too easy to lose the trail and I found myself putting in a little more work than I would have had I stuck to it (which is probably also part of why my first couple miles were so slow). It was easier to keep to the trail on the way down, and with brilliant sunshine replacing the overcast from earlier in the day, the green that was already returning to the forest was vibrant. The sense of the forest renewing itself so soon chased away whatever frustration lingered from not making it to the lakes.

New growth in the area burned in last year's McHugh Creek fire.

All in all, I covered 8.9 miles and ascended 2,500 feet from the trailhead. And, for all the moose I've seen in downtown, on some of the urban trails, and on the military base, it was the first time outside of Denali National Park that I'd encountered one out actually out in nature. After more than two and a half years, better late than never.

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