The Primrose Trail winds through alpine hills and glassy ponds as hikers approach Lost Lake.
Photo courtesy of William Kohl
Alaska offers countless opportunities to escape civilization and quietly gaze down on the world below from above the tree line. But getting those views often requires a dauntingly steep climb.
Don’t give up on visiting the serene mountaintops quite yet; not every alpine hike requires beefy calves.
Lost Lake, a polished blue gem set in the crown of the Kenai Mountains, offers panoramic mountain views that even the scrawniest-legged hiker can reach. The climb to this isolated lake is gradual, but the rewards are steep.
Two trail heads off the Seward Highway provide access to the lake. The Primrose Trail at Mile 17 of the Seward Highway climbs 1,500 feet in elevation over an eight-mile stretch and travels just past Lost Lake where it becomes the Lost Lake Trail. Hikers who continue back down to the Seward Highway on the Lost Lake Trail descend 1,820 feet over seven miles and emerge at a trail head off Mile 5 of the Seward Highway.
Hikers who travel both trails can choose either end to begin their trek. Hikers who start at the Primrose trail head will be rewarded with breathtaking views of Seward and Resurrection Bay as they descend to the Lost Lake trail head.
Ambitious hikers can walk the trail in one day, which can take anywhere from seven to 10 hours. Less experienced hikers might want to use the hike to wet their feet on backpacking. Even for experienced hikers, an overnight stay might be preferable to a day hike, since day-hikers will likely regret a hasty departure from such a beautiful and serene place.
Starting at the Primrose end, the trail to Lost Lake first ascends through a shady grove of spruce trees threaded with cold running streams and bedded in a thick blanket of moss.
Mosquitoes help hikers maintain a steady pace through the spruce trees as they nudge stragglers onward with nibbles of encouragement.
As the trees and mosquitoes give way to meadows, keep an eye peeled to the right side of the trail. Just below the trail tall grasses hide an abandoned miner’s cabin well worth a stop.
Inside, a big black stove gapes hungrily and a well-worn ladder climbs to the cabin’s second floor where the missing miner’s bed frame awaits a new mattress.
Once past the miner’s cabin, the meadow vegetation quickly gives way to a thick carpet of tundra and shoulder-high mountain hemlock trees. As your ascent brings you closer to Lost Lake, listen carefully and you will hear marmots whistle their greetings or scream in fear, depending on your interpretation.
Now might be a good time to drop your pack, get down on your knees and bring your nose to within five inches of the ground to explore the microcosm below. The tiny branches and berries of the crowberry plant grow in a thick carpet like miniature juniper bushes. Tangled with other tiny green things below, the crowberry grows alongside soft, wet moss-like things and other miniature bush-like vegetation, including the lingonberry plant and its shiny, rounded, peppercorn-sized leaves.
As you continue to walk, the trail weaves through a neighborhood of little glass ponds until you finally reach the big pond. Lost Lake is nestled between rolling alpine hills and offers an unlimited number of picture-perfect places to pitch a tent. As you settle into camp, though, you’ll notice the alpine offers little fire fuel.
Chugach National Forest trail rangers Clair Shipton, left, and Megan Johnson, right, pick bits of aluminum and glass from an old campfire sites on the Primrose Trail earlier this summer. Aluminum and glass do not disappear when burned and should not be disposed of in campfires, Shipton and Johnson said. Chugach National Forest encourages hikers to use portable camp stoves rather than campfires and keep the park as pristine and natural as possible.
Photos courtesy of William Kohl
The vegetation around Lost Lake grows slowly, and small clumps of mountain hemlock leave few dead branches below their low skirts. While campfires are permitted in Chugach National Forest, the park encourages the use of portable camp stoves and strongly discourages campfires, particularly in the alpine where fire scars recover slowly.
To discourage campfires, trail rangers roam the trail, cleaning up old campfire sites.
After a night at the top, hikers have not yet reaped all the rewards this hike has to offer.
From the moment the trail rises above the tree line, the mountainsides present hikers with an amazing variety of wildflowers.
The flowers come out in force when the hikers begin their descent of the Lost Lake Trail.
Delicate red and yellow columbine flowers hang daintily from thread-like stems with intricate folds and shapes that would make even the best origami artist jealous. And cones of soft purple lupine flowers perch on little nests of green leaves.
However, not all of the trail’s little beauties are gentle. Watch carefully as you pass through the meadow grasses and you may spy the deep purple blossoms of the monkshood. Sometimes bedecked with little curls that grab surrounding vegetation, the monkshood should be avoided. Monkshood is toxic. Consuming even a small portion of this plant can cause death.
Although the monkshood should be squarely avoided, there are some culinary delights along the trail, most notably berries.
If you are hiking in late summer or fall, carry a berry identification guide; it will be well worth the extra weight.
At the top there are plenty of crowberries and on the descent, blueberries and salmon berries may also be ripening for your tasting pleasure, just to name a few.
To enjoy all of these treasures you don’t have to be an expert hiker. Even the skinny spaghetti legs of novice wanderer can reach this beautiful crown of gems.
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