Thursday, January 20, 2011


Probably the most popular hike in Eagle River is Baldy Mountain. It's a pretty fun hike and not too difficult, so it makes for a popular walk. This is also one of the notorious places that you can roll up a doobie and nobody would do a double-take.

Me on Baldy, pretending to smoke a joint

From the bottom of Baldy, it looks pretty impressive, but when you get on any of the nearby mountains, you see that it's pretty small as this picture illustrates.

That tiny bald mountain

I won't pretend it's a casual Sunday afternoon stroll though. The climb up to Baldy is really really steep, so you're usually quite tired by the time you get there. After the climb you feel very satisfied with your work out and if you're like me, you can feel guilt free for weeks for exercising this one time.

But there's always a sense of disappointment when you get to the top of the mountain. You see, Baldy is really just a false peak. Beyond Baldy there lies a series of wonderful mountains that are much more interesting than Baldy.

The view upward from Baldy

Once you pass Baldy, you still have Black Tail Rocks, Round Top and Vista Peak. If you're really ambitious, you can even get to Mt. Significant (which is a mile high) and loop back to Mt. Magnificent (which was where the second photo above was taken from).

Back in 2007, after having climbed Baldy several times, I decided to keep going to Black Tail Rocks, named so because of the following photo.

Black Tail Rocks from the backside with Vista Peak in the background

Well I got to Blacktail and was pretty tired because that's a pretty long hike when you do Baldy, then Blacktail. I walked down the mountain overjoyed that I could go back and tell my brother and dad all about it. We had talked for years about going past Baldy up to Blacktail. It was beautiful being even higher than Baldy. I took lots of pictures and enjoyed my time up there.

Getting to Blacktail was wonderful, but like Baldy, it made me want more. I had an even better view of Roundtop and Vista Peak. How far back did I have to go to find satisfaction? Who knows.

The next summer my brother Josh and I were talking about Blacktail. We decided we wanted to hike up there, but I told him about all the cool mountains behind Blacktail that were just begging to be explored. We had the amazing idea of hiking up to the base of Blacktail and camp in tents there. The next day we would wake up and explore the back mountains with lighter packs.

So one Friday, I came home from work around 6 and we headed up the side-route around Baldy that goes to the flat part between Baldy and Blacktail. We didn't want to have to do the steep climb up Baldy with 30 pound packs. Following an old mining road, we cut off onto what looked like a trail...kinda. It ended up being a lot of bush-whacking for a little while, but tree line came fast. So the rest of the hike to camp was pretty easy. We came out of the trees at a bad place and had to follow sheep trails to the main trail, but made it up there around 9pm (remember, this is Alaska so it's still light out). We made dinner, hid our food in a hole 50m from the tent and went to sleep.

In the morning we woke up to a hot and stuffy tent, so it didn't take any motivation to get us up and out. I started up some water for oatmeal and found that some ground squirrel had gotten into the food bag. He must have not had skills because he just broke the plastic bag and didn't actually get any food. After eating, we left the tent up and started walking up Blacktail.

It was a good hike and I told Josh about my strategy of counting my steps and setting a number of steps to take before taking a 10 second break. This is my favorite way to hike when it's steep because I just don't think hiking is any fun if you wear yourself out. We got to the top of Black tail in about 30 minutes and regretted forgetting our cameras at home once we got to the top.

We had plenty of time before we needed to head back, so we pushed on. We descended the backside of Blacktail and hiked along a ridge to a saddle that connects Roundtop and Vista Peak. From the saddle we could see down to Peter's Creek and all kinds of other mountains that we had never seen before because they were always hidden. We were pretty satisfied with how far we had gone, so we sat down on the saddle, ate our PB&Js, and watched some Dall sheep that were up on Roundtop.

I kind of regret not going any further, but we were pretty tired by then and decided to head back down. I had accomplished my goal to see if it was possible to get to Vista Peak and Roundtop from Blacktail. It looked possible and it looked like a ton of fun.

We got back to the tent after traversing around Blacktail and dipping down to a tiny little stream. Traversing along steep slopes is a pain and it ended up being more difficult than going up and down Blacktail would have been. But we made it back to camp, packed everything and headed back down to the car.

We couldn't wait until next time when we could go all the way to Vista Peak.

Exploration is addictive. You get to a certain point and can't just stop there. You always have a strong desire to keep going. It's nice to be familiar with an area, but it's never enough. Once I started exploring those mountains behind Baldy I couldn't get enough. I would constantly be wondering what it's like if I just went a few miles further. There are so many new things to see and experience. I'm always left wanting more. So, to steal North Face's motto, Never Stop Exploring.

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