Outdoors & Recreation

A Twin Peaks Trek

Written by
Wendy Wesser

“What would you like to do for your birthday?” asked my boyfriend, Ralph.

“How about camping at Eklutna Lake and hiking to the Twin Peaks saddle?” I responded.

We had just finished an Arctic Winter Survival course together and I was excited to try out my birthday present: a brand-new, cold-weather sleeping bag. 

“Winter camping is nicer than camping in the summer— it’s dry and there are no mosquitoes. It’ll be fun!” I said to convince my adventurous dad and stepmom, Gil and Silver Hjellen, to join us. They were experienced in cross-country skiing and other cold-weather activities—but camping—in late March? 

We drove up to Eklutna Lake early in the morning because we needed all the winter daylight hours for our climb. 

Each time I hike the first part of Twin Peaks trail I always wonder what I was thinking. I get completely out of breath after the initial steep climb. But then seeing the view of Eklutna Lake and the surrounding Chugach Range always refreshes my energy making my doubts go away. 

Each time I hike the first part of Twin Peaks trail I always wonder what I was thinking. I get completely out of breath after the initial steep climb. But then seeing the view of Eklutna Lake and the surrounding Chugach Range always refreshes my energy making my doubts go away. 

On the morning of my 19th birthday it was mostly cloudy so we weren’t getting the views we’d hoped for, but a few blue patches added color to the expanse before us. We were the only people on the trail, which maybe should have made us question our sanity, but we felt blessed having this heavenly place to ourselves. 

We carried snowshoes in our backpacks because of an experience Ralph had a couple of years before. He and a buddy, Scott, did the same trek we were doing, but a little later in the spring. All was great in the morning. They walked blissfully on top of the hard-crusted snow and made it all the way to the saddle of Twin Peaks. On the way back, just two or three miles from the trailhead, trouble started. The snow no longer had a hard crust for the pair to walk on. Instead, Ralph, who is 6’3”, was punching through up to his hips and deeper trying to go uphill back to the main trail. Ralph at one point thought that he was done for, totally exhausted. His friend had taken a different route more downhill through the Thachkatnu Creek bed where the snow wasn’t so deep. Ralph eventually gave up trying to hike back to the main trail and switched to the route his friend had taken. They both made it out to the Eklutna Lake Road via the creek bed, but what took him minutes to pass through in the morning on the way out took hours on the way back once the warm sunshine softened the snow.

My dad soon decided to stash his snowshoes next to the trail because they were too heavy. I was tending to agree with him. In 1982 they did not make affordable lightweight snowshoes the way they do today. Ours were heavy, wooden, and long, with metal buckles and leather straps. I sucked it up and carried mine because Ralph threatened to turn around if I wouldn’t keep mine with me. 

The sun peeked out while we were walking through a magical stand of trees. The snow began sparkling and patches of deep blue sky were above us. It made me think of the Lothlórien forest described in the book I had just finished reading, The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien. There are a handful of times in my life when the feeling of euphoria made me feel like I was in another dimension. This was one of those times. And, no, just in case you were wondering, I was not drinking or smoking marijuana—although 19 was the legal drinking age and marijuana was legal in Alaska in 1982. I was experiencing a natural high which is by far the best kind.

We left the dwarfed trees and started up the barren slopes toward the saddle of Twin Peaks. I DO NOT recommend winter hiking in the mountains unless you and your companions are fully aware of all the deadly risks, including avalanche danger. This was not an issue for us as the snow depth was safe. At the higher elevations, though, the rocks on top of the snow were loose and we were wary of them.

Ralph finally agreed that it would be okay to stash our heavy snowshoes at the treeline before we tackled the steep ascent. At first all was well, but, as the slope began to get steeper, Silver and I became scared that we were going to slip, lose our footing, and slide uncontrollably all the way to the bottom. A previous boyfriend of mine had broken his ribs on one of our family adventures by tumbling down a similar slope on Flattop near Anchorage, so our fears were not unjustified. Dad and Ralph made steps in the rock-hard snow for Silver and me. Soon my dad scoffed at our fear and forged ahead. He made it to the top. 

Then another concern presented itself. The temperature was dropping and winter daylight was waning. We were getting concerned about making it back to our campsite before dark. So we took a vote and decided to head back even though we were just a hundred yards from our goal. These group discussions made Ralph crazy. In his family, one person usually made the decisions. In that case my dad would perhaps have had his way. He tried his best to convince us we could easily make it and that the view was worth it, but we outvoted him and decided to head back. It turned out my dad was right— we could have easily made it to the top with time to spare for a safe descent. 

The slope which seemed so treacherous on the way up turned out to be very manageable on the way down. Even with the plastic bags we’d brought for a faster slide down, we’d go less than 10 feet before the snow under our bottoms brought us to a stop. Then we had to adjust before we could resume sliding. Silver and I felt pretty stupid about being so scared. Oh well. We were all getting hungry for the feast we had back at camp.

In a few short minutes, we were at the edge of the “elven” forest, which seemed disappointingly ordinary in the flat light. Ralph and I retrieved our snowshoes and attached the extra weight to our packs. They weren’t needed that day, but we were fully prepared … just in case. The temperature was not rising— it was dropping that afternoon. Better safe than sorry is still a good motto to live by. 

We made it down in plenty of time to set up our tents next to Eklutna Lake before dark. After a full day of strenuous hiking, we enjoyed our juicy steaks, potatoes, buttery garlic bread and Ralph’s New York-style strawberry cheesecake. We ate as much as we wanted and more to stave off the chill of single-digit temperatures and it worked. I slept well that night in my brand-new sleeping bag after having one of my best birthdays ever.


Note: Today there are State of Alaska public-use cabins to rent around Eklutna Lake. Maybe I’ll reserve one for my next birthday adventure.


And another note: A few months after our Twin Peaks trek, Ralph asked me to marry him while we were camping in Hope, Alaska. I said yes and the next spring we eloped a couple days after my 20th birthday.


No items found.

A Twin Peaks Trek

Outdoors & Recreation

Author

Wendy Wesser

Writing, history, gardening, and traveling are a few of Wendy Wesser’s interests. She grew up in Alaska, living as far south as Metlakatla and as far north as Fairbanks. Her family’s history of six generations in Alaska reaches back to the Gold Rush years. She loves reading, hearing, and sharing Alaskan stories of newcomers and oldtimers alike—Last Frontier Magazine has provided her the opportunity to work in this very venue.Alternate bio for articles: Wendy currently resides in Wasilla, Alaska, but has also lived in Metlakatla, Ketchikan, Juneau, Anchorage, and Fairbanks. She enjoys sharing her life experiences of hiking, skiing, gardening, winter camping, etc…, as well as helping other Alaskans (old, new, current, or past) to share their own tales. Since she always says, “Yes!” to the next adventure, her backlog of stories is varied and almost endless. 


“What would you like to do for your birthday?” asked my boyfriend, Ralph.

“How about camping at Eklutna Lake and hiking to the Twin Peaks saddle?” I responded.

We had just finished an Arctic Winter Survival course together and I was excited to try out my birthday present: a brand-new, cold-weather sleeping bag. 

“Winter camping is nicer than camping in the summer— it’s dry and there are no mosquitoes. It’ll be fun!” I said to convince my adventurous dad and stepmom, Gil and Silver Hjellen, to join us. They were experienced in cross-country skiing and other cold-weather activities—but camping—in late March? 

We drove up to Eklutna Lake early in the morning because we needed all the winter daylight hours for our climb. 

Each time I hike the first part of Twin Peaks trail I always wonder what I was thinking. I get completely out of breath after the initial steep climb. But then seeing the view of Eklutna Lake and the surrounding Chugach Range always refreshes my energy making my doubts go away. 

Each time I hike the first part of Twin Peaks trail I always wonder what I was thinking. I get completely out of breath after the initial steep climb. But then seeing the view of Eklutna Lake and the surrounding Chugach Range always refreshes my energy making my doubts go away. 

On the morning of my 19th birthday it was mostly cloudy so we weren’t getting the views we’d hoped for, but a few blue patches added color to the expanse before us. We were the only people on the trail, which maybe should have made us question our sanity, but we felt blessed having this heavenly place to ourselves. 

We carried snowshoes in our backpacks because of an experience Ralph had a couple of years before. He and a buddy, Scott, did the same trek we were doing, but a little later in the spring. All was great in the morning. They walked blissfully on top of the hard-crusted snow and made it all the way to the saddle of Twin Peaks. On the way back, just two or three miles from the trailhead, trouble started. The snow no longer had a hard crust for the pair to walk on. Instead, Ralph, who is 6’3”, was punching through up to his hips and deeper trying to go uphill back to the main trail. Ralph at one point thought that he was done for, totally exhausted. His friend had taken a different route more downhill through the Thachkatnu Creek bed where the snow wasn’t so deep. Ralph eventually gave up trying to hike back to the main trail and switched to the route his friend had taken. They both made it out to the Eklutna Lake Road via the creek bed, but what took him minutes to pass through in the morning on the way out took hours on the way back once the warm sunshine softened the snow.

My dad soon decided to stash his snowshoes next to the trail because they were too heavy. I was tending to agree with him. In 1982 they did not make affordable lightweight snowshoes the way they do today. Ours were heavy, wooden, and long, with metal buckles and leather straps. I sucked it up and carried mine because Ralph threatened to turn around if I wouldn’t keep mine with me. 

The sun peeked out while we were walking through a magical stand of trees. The snow began sparkling and patches of deep blue sky were above us. It made me think of the Lothlórien forest described in the book I had just finished reading, The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien. There are a handful of times in my life when the feeling of euphoria made me feel like I was in another dimension. This was one of those times. And, no, just in case you were wondering, I was not drinking or smoking marijuana—although 19 was the legal drinking age and marijuana was legal in Alaska in 1982. I was experiencing a natural high which is by far the best kind.

We left the dwarfed trees and started up the barren slopes toward the saddle of Twin Peaks. I DO NOT recommend winter hiking in the mountains unless you and your companions are fully aware of all the deadly risks, including avalanche danger. This was not an issue for us as the snow depth was safe. At the higher elevations, though, the rocks on top of the snow were loose and we were wary of them.

Ralph finally agreed that it would be okay to stash our heavy snowshoes at the treeline before we tackled the steep ascent. At first all was well, but, as the slope began to get steeper, Silver and I became scared that we were going to slip, lose our footing, and slide uncontrollably all the way to the bottom. A previous boyfriend of mine had broken his ribs on one of our family adventures by tumbling down a similar slope on Flattop near Anchorage, so our fears were not unjustified. Dad and Ralph made steps in the rock-hard snow for Silver and me. Soon my dad scoffed at our fear and forged ahead. He made it to the top. 

Then another concern presented itself. The temperature was dropping and winter daylight was waning. We were getting concerned about making it back to our campsite before dark. So we took a vote and decided to head back even though we were just a hundred yards from our goal. These group discussions made Ralph crazy. In his family, one person usually made the decisions. In that case my dad would perhaps have had his way. He tried his best to convince us we could easily make it and that the view was worth it, but we outvoted him and decided to head back. It turned out my dad was right— we could have easily made it to the top with time to spare for a safe descent. 

The slope which seemed so treacherous on the way up turned out to be very manageable on the way down. Even with the plastic bags we’d brought for a faster slide down, we’d go less than 10 feet before the snow under our bottoms brought us to a stop. Then we had to adjust before we could resume sliding. Silver and I felt pretty stupid about being so scared. Oh well. We were all getting hungry for the feast we had back at camp.

In a few short minutes, we were at the edge of the “elven” forest, which seemed disappointingly ordinary in the flat light. Ralph and I retrieved our snowshoes and attached the extra weight to our packs. They weren’t needed that day, but we were fully prepared … just in case. The temperature was not rising— it was dropping that afternoon. Better safe than sorry is still a good motto to live by. 

We made it down in plenty of time to set up our tents next to Eklutna Lake before dark. After a full day of strenuous hiking, we enjoyed our juicy steaks, potatoes, buttery garlic bread and Ralph’s New York-style strawberry cheesecake. We ate as much as we wanted and more to stave off the chill of single-digit temperatures and it worked. I slept well that night in my brand-new sleeping bag after having one of my best birthdays ever.


Note: Today there are State of Alaska public-use cabins to rent around Eklutna Lake. Maybe I’ll reserve one for my next birthday adventure.


And another note: A few months after our Twin Peaks trek, Ralph asked me to marry him while we were camping in Hope, Alaska. I said yes and the next spring we eloped a couple days after my 20th birthday.


No items found.

Author

Wendy Wesser

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