Spring sun glaring off the snowy slopes made Skyline Trail like a walk through a solar cooker Saturday.
We wore snowshoes and T-shirts, and we were hot.
But it was well worth the climb.
Halfway up the final slope, a flock of snow-white ptarmigan burst from a rocky outcrop.
From the top, we could see the chain of volcanoes up that rims Cook Inlet -- Iliamna, Redoubt, Spurr -- and beyond them, Sleeping Lady and McKinley. We could even make out the tall buildings in Anchorage. The weather never gets any better.
The trail head is across the Sterling Highway from the turnout at Mile 61. It's a steep climb -- about 1,800 vertical feet from the trail head to a saddle between two peaks, and 900 feet more from there to the ridge on the high side of the saddle. It's a two- or three-hour hike.
About halfway up, we started sinking to our hips in the snow. We donned snowshoes and left the trail -- which climbs through the trees -- for the open snow to the east. From there, it was a clear path through the snowfields to the saddle.
There was plenty of snow -- grainy spring snow, and melting fast. But beyond the saddle, the ridge that leads to the top had blown clear.
The Skyline hike offers views of Jean and Skilak lakes.
Photo by Doug Loshbaugh
It was easy to pack the snowshoes and follow the rocks to the summit.
The route up the ridge leads to three peaks in a triangle a little more than 3,200 feet above sea level. Between them, the snow was drifted 15 or 20 feet deep. There was no snow on the eastern slope, though, and that made a clear path across the next saddle to a 3,295-foot summit. Just short of the top, a stone cairn marks the logbook where hikers can record their accomplishments.
The hardy can follow the ridges through the Mystery Hills to descend by the Fuller Lakes Trail, which returns to the Sterling Highway at Mile 57. Plan on a very long and strenuous day.
A handful of hikers Saturday took an easier route down -- sliding and skating down the snowfield from first peaks to the saddle 900 feet below. If you plan to try that, bring an ice axe for brakes and know how to use it.
Consider the possibility of an avalanche.
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