Although at lower elevations spring is in full swing, at Lost Lake in the Chugach National Forest, pictured above, winter conditions prevail, making for ideal conditions for one last blast on snowshoes.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Itching for a way to get into shape for the summer hiking season? Got the shakes for an outdoor adventure without a lot of traffic on the trails? Craving one last chance at some winter recreation before all the white stuff disappears? Then perhaps an overnight snowshoe excursion to Lost Lake in the Chugach National Forest is a prescription that needs to be filled.
"In one word exhilarating. That's what this trip is," said Brent Lubbock, a tourist from North Carolina that recently made the trip to the lake with some local friends.
The Lost Lake Trail closes annually to motorized use on May 1 due to thin snowcover at lower elevations, yet a thick, consolidated snowpack remains in the high country.
This round trip of 14 miles makes for a perfect combination of snow-covered summits on which to recreate safely, without worrying about being hit by snowmachines and without having their sounds and smells taking away from the outdoor experience.
"It's total solitude and that's the best way to enjoy the outdoors," Lubbock said.
"You can really appreciate nature without any distractions. The solitude brings you in tune with yourself and your surroundings. It's very important," he added.
Hiking and snowshoeing on the Lost Lake trail at this time of year can be tricky to plan for though, since wide fluctuations in temperature, terrain and trail conditions will be encountered.
The trail begins in the Lost Lake subdivision at mile 5.3 of the Seward Highway. After crossing a babbling brook, the trail begins to climb gently through coniferous forest.
The trail forks, with the path to the right following a moderate climb compared to the more strenuous grade of the incline on the trail to the left. The two paths merge above a steep climb.
Greenery abounds from the thick carpet of moss and sprouting plants such as devil's club, false hellebore and a variety of berry bushes on the ground, to the tall trees of spruce and hemlock overhead.
The temperatures are warm and trail conditions are a little muddy at these lower elevations, and can make for some slippery footing for the first mile or two of the hike. Spruce grouse are frequently encountered in this section of trail.
As the hike gains elevation, ice and hard-packed snow will begin to be intermittently encountered, and before long the trail will fork a second time between the summer and winter trail branches a sign marks the intersection.
Following the winter trail route which branches off to the right the snow begins to get deeper and softer and within a mile after the fork, snowshoes will be necessary to continue.
"It's really odd going from forest to frozen tundra on the same hike," Lubbock said.
The trail continues upward and 4 miles into the hike the Dale Clemens Memorial Forest Service Cabin will be on the right.
Hikers ascend through the forest on the trail up to Lost Lake, but the trail quickly heads to the snow covered high country where snowshoes carried on their backs become a necessity.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
This can be a great place to stop for a snack or to take a lunch break, since it offers sweeping views of Resurrection Bay and the city of Seward.
However, if you are interested in staying any longer, contact the Chugach National Forest to make a reservation and pay the $35 fee to rent the cabin.
It sleeps up to 10 people, has a table and counter space for food preparation inside and there is also a well-maintained privy close by.
As the trek continues on past the cabin, the trail will over the next mile ascend and descend sometimes several hundred feet over some rolling hills.
"There are a lot of false summits. You think you're just about to the top, and then you get there and see more uphill. It's physically and mentally challenging," Lubbock said.
After the fifth mile, the trail climbs above brush-line to its highest elevation of 2,200 feet, 6 miles from the trail head. From this point on, the trail is an alpine ridge walk, and Lost Lake should come into sight.
To the left, across Box Canyon Creek, are steep, jagged, snow-covered mountains, including Mount Ascension at 5,710 feet. The view to the right offers large, smooth hills cloaked under a sparkling mantle of snow as far as the eye can see, broken occasionally by the tips of trees sticking out.
"There's no sign of civilization for miles and no one can get to you. It's an amazing place to be," Lubbock said.
Lost Lake is reached 7 miles into the hike and offers numerous options for pitching a four-season tent. The lake is still frozen and although the creek at the south end of the lake is open, the snow pack along the banks is steep and too dangerous to attempt to collect water. Be prepared to melt snow for water with a reliable stove and cook pot.
Also, if camping overnight, be sure to bring sleeping bags rated for cold weather, as well as other winter hiking essentials like plenty of dry socks and enough food to stay for a few days longer than expected in case the weather changes unexpectedly.
Above the shrub-line and completely exposed, the winter weather conditions can be deceiving to those not in the know.
In the early morning hours with low light conditions, temperatures hover around freezing. The trail conditions are firm and snowshoes will float smoothly and efficiently over the crust of surface ice that remains frozen from the night before.
However, as the sun comes out and temperatures rise, the effects of solar radiation become intense. Stripping down to a short-sleeved shirt and shorts can help beat the heat of the day. Drinking plenty of water can help prevent dehydration or over heating.
Sunglasses are an essential piece of gear, as is sun-block. Sensitive areas like the backs of ears, bottom of the nose, and under the chin need protection as well since the suns rays don't just come from overhead, but are reflected off the snow as well.
"Despite being surrounded by snow, it can get amazingly warm during the day," Lubbock said.
The snow conditions also begin to break down as the day progresses and the trail can become soft and slushy in the afternoon. Thighs and calves will burn and knees and ankles will ache as the snowshoeing becomes more challenging. It can quickly become fatiguing, especially when carrying a heavy pack on your back.
"As it warms up and things begin to melt, you have to be even more careful," Lubbock said, adding that overhanging cornices and embankments heavy with snow that could lead to avalanches both large and small, are just a few hazards that hikers should be mindful of.
"It's a trip that everyone should experience, but that no one should attempt without experience," Lubbock said.
For more information on the Lost Lake Trail, consult the United States Geological Survey maps: Seward A7 NE and B7 SE. To reserve the Dale Clemens Memorial Forest Service Cabin, call (907) 271-2282 or go on the Internet at www.ReserveUSA.com/cabins.
Joseph Robertia is a reporter at the Peninsula Clarion. Comments can be e-mailed to joseph.robertia @peninsulaclarion.com.
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