From the top of Langille Mountain, Cooper Landing looks like an aerial photograph.
To the east, Kenai Lake glows turquoise between snowy ranges. To the west, the Kenai River runs like a ribbon between the mountains to Skilak Lake. Beyond that are the Kenai lowlands and the mountains of western Cook Inlet.
A ptarmigan, still white from winter, explodes from the drifts at the top, then sails away with croaking cries. Marmots whistle from the rocks. The view is breathtaking, but it is a cardiac climb. Getting there will take your breath away.
The Slaughter Gulch Trail, an unmarked track from Cooper Landing, puts hikers within striking distance of Langille. Unless you know where to look, though, the trail is difficult to find. Traveling east from Mile 48 on the Sterling Highway, cross the bridge at the outlet to Kenai Lake. About .2 miles east of the bridge, find the intersection with Bean Creek Road. Immediately east of that, a short unmarked dirt road departs the north side of the highway and ends at the start of the Slaughter Gulch Trail.
The first part of the trail is broad and easy to follow. It begins at an altitude of about 500 feet and climbs gently through through spruce and birch along a small unnamed creek. It follows the border between Kenai Peninsula Borough land and private property, then crosses into Chugach National Forest.
After that, it climbs steeply through a series of switchbacks along the east side of the creek. As the trees thin, the wildflowers appear. Look for lupine, red columbine, brilliant blue forget-me-nots and Jacob's ladder.
The trail climbs roughly 1,500 feet in the first 1.3 miles, emerging on a bluff that overlooks Kenai Lake. The valley to the northwest runs to Slaughter Creek, which emerges from a small lake and drains into Juneau Creek by the Resurrection Pass Trail. Langille looms steeply from the valley's northeast edge, striped this time of the year with snowfields, avalanche tracks and bands of open tundra.
The overlook is a great spot for a picnic, or simply to catch your breath. From there, a rough trail continues west to the unnamed 3,216-foot peak between the highway and Slaughter Creek. However, if you are headed for Langille Mountain, skip the trail and turn east.
Dense patches of Jacob's ladder bloom on the lower reaches of the Slaughter Gulch trail. A multitude of flora awaits explorers of this area.
Photo by Doug Loshbaugh
The valley floor is thick with grass and willows -- good forage for moose but difficult for hikers. There is no trail. The easiest route is across the unnamed creek, then east along the edge of the bluff for about a third of a mile. Be prepared to bust some brush.
The toe of an avalanche provides a corridor to the foot of Langille's flank. From there, it is a steep climb -- a very steep climb -- through open tundra to the ridge.
Langille is an excellent spot to view Dall sheep. A pair of binoculars helps. Wildflowers dot the tundra -- alpine azalea, mountain avens, anemones, oxytropes, saxifrages and more. There also are good views below of the trees knocked flat by avalanches last winter.
Langille is actually a chain of peaks. A final scramble over broken slate brings hikers to one 4,250-foot summit, a gain of about 3,700 feet from the highway. The climb, roughly 2.5 miles from the highway, takes from three to six hours. The footing is good, and there is no need for technical gear. On the other hand, those with an ice axe and technical skills can shorten the return with a glissade through the snowfields.
A snowy ridge runs east to the next peak in the chain, which at 4,422 feet, is the highest. A saddle leads from there to the 4,297-foot eastern peak which bears the name on the map.
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