One of the steepest hikes I’ve ever been on is The North Face. This 2.2 mile trail gains 2,000 vertical feet which may not sound like much to some, but from the first pitch to the switch-backs climbers of all fitness and ability levels will find this trail challenging and rewarding. Hikers start the assent from the base of the tram via a dirt access road that meanders past a gurgling stream and fields of fireweed. From there they are met with the first pitch of the hike, a relatively short, quarter mile of steep uphill. Once the trail flattens out hikers need to about face and take in the view of the Hotel Alyeska with the Turnagain Arm in the background. If they forget it’s not a big deal because the views will get more breathtaking. As the trail continues on over the next mile the gain in elevation is very noticeable. The valley floor gets further away as hikers make their way through the barnyard. The Barnyard is an area of lush, grassy fields and is the area where most encounters with moose occur. It’s important to 1) make lots of noise through this area and 2) keep a good distance away from animals when encountered.
Once past the barnyard the real leg-burner starts. For about a half mile the trail takes an uphill turn and stays straight to just below the tram tower. There are wooden stairs and chains hikers can use to steady themselves and make the climb a little more easy. This area is also very exposed to the valley floor and those fearful of heights, although completely safe, may feel a little skittish. At the tram tower the switch-backs begin much to the delight of those on trail. back and forth at a mellow grade, the trail continues to the upper tram terminal.
If a hiking party wishes to climb down they are more than welcome to but for those looking for a scenic view and a fast route down, the free tram ride is the best option. If the hiking party includes a dog, Alyeska Resort offers free tram rides down for the K9′s as well.
On September 14, 2013, Alyeska Resort will host the 6th annual Climbathon. This year’s event is a fundraiser for treatment and research centers focused on women’s cancers. The rules of Climbathon are simple, climb up, tram down, repeat for ten hours. Whoever logs the most laps wins. Sounds simple right? Simple enough until your legs are screaming at you to stop. The athletes in the event range from seasoned triathletes to day hikers going out for a few laps for a good cause. To learn more about the Climbathon, sign up or make a donation, visit www.alyeskaclimbathon.com
Before hiking any trails at Alyeska Resort it is a good idea to consult the hiking board for closures, announcements and warnings. More info on all of the hiking trails in the Girdwood area can be found here