Chugach State Park is a winter adventurers wonderland. Boasting the opportunity for snowboarding, downhill, tele, and nordic skiing, snowshoeing, dog mushing and just some good old-fashioned hiking, it's no wonder that every other car in Anchorage displays a "I LOVE THE CHUGACH" bumper sticker.
Half the battle in seeking to explore the third largest state park in the nation however, is deciding what area to explore first.
In the upcoming series of articles, the author explores one of Alaska's best winter playgrounds -- on skis, on snowshoes, and by bootable tracks.
The Chosen Destination
Flat Top Mountain is a 3550 foot peak just southeast of downtown Anchorage. The third in a row of five staggered mountain peaks, Flat Top is the go to climb for Anchoragites in the summer season. Packed parking lot trailheads and a seemingly endless stream of people can make hiking there less than serene in summer. Which led this solitude seeking author to wonder 'What would Flat Top be like in the winter'?
The answer was a heart-pounding, half-day thrill ride that began with a steep rocky climb and ended with a 150 foot glissade down a 20 degree pitch.
To reach the Glen Alps trailhead follow the New Seward Hwy., turn east on O’Malley Rd., right on Hillside Dr., left on Upper Huffman, right on Toilsome Hill Dr. for 2 twisting miles. $5/day use fee.
Leave the parking lot and take the stairs to begin the hike. A well-beaten path has been carved in by skiers, hikers, and dogs, but I highly recommend taking the USGS topographic map for Anchorage and planning your route accordingly.
The trail winds through a series of knolls, flats, and hills as you make your way to the top. A number of nicely placed rest stops along the route provide respite from the 1.5 mile, 1,300 foot elevation gain hike to the summit.
The last half mile to the summit is steep and rocky and depending on conditions ice grippers or crampons are recommended as you will need to kick in steps on the ascent.
While resting on the summit make sure to catch your breath and unpack your bag of courage before glissading down.
Glissading off the summit of Flat Top is intimidating to say the least. The drop from the cornice looks foreboding and coupled with the steepness of the terrain and the shear length of the slide zone one may have to take more than a couple of big air gulps before sitting down and pushing off.
Have your ice axe ready and make sure you know how to use it as you glissade down. Aim to stop about mid-way down the slope face, as from there you can cut across and meet back up with the trail for your hike back out.
For those less daring souls, I suggest reverse climbing down using the well placed steps that you kicked in on the ascent and following the trail back to your car.
There are a number of variations to the route if you don't want to hike out the same way you hiked in. For trail variations get your hands on a Anchorage Topographic map or locate a good Chugach State Park map.
Author's Note: Before planning any winter outings always make sure to check local weather and avalanche conditions. Flat Top Peak is prone to avalanche hazard so assess the risks before undertaking any climb, hike or glissade.