Last Sunday, Gina and I joined Sam Rowley and Amanda Mason for a hike on the Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood. It was another one of those "first-time experiences" we've been meaning to get to for years.
As hikes go, this one is certainly low-impact and light effort. But the payoff is big. The trail is so mild the first mile or so, it doesn't feel like you're in the northernmost portion of a temperate rainforest. The Chugach National Forest folks have recently completed upgrades to the trail, making it a simple walk in the woods. Boardwalks and bridges help hikers -- or just casual walkers -- keep their feet dry. Tons of gravel has been hauled in, creating a fairly "urban" outdoor experience.
But it's still a five-mile round-trip hike to a hand tram over Glacier Creek. And the tram is anything but mild. While it has a safe track record, standing in a metal box about 100 feet or so above a glacier-fed creek and supported by just a 1-inch piece of rope can get your heart pumping. When you add a somewhat skittish dog to the mix (as we did with Beezil), it makes the trip even more fun. Riders on the hand tram, pull themselves across the creek using the rope. It's not easy work, but it’s manageable for most people. And it's fun.
And "fun" is the best way to describe the hike in general. The thick spruce-hemlock forest is beautiful. Alongside the trail are blueberry bushes (just starting to produce fruit), huge ferns, Devil's club and other flora. About 1.5 miles into the hike, the trail passes a pretty meadow to the right and then makes a small climb before coming to a T intersection. Go right and you can see an old miner's cabin and enjoy a much-improved trail to alpine areas and access to Twentymile River. Check out this story for more information about that.
Take a left at the T and you’re headed toward an intersection with Winner Creek and eventually that hand tram over Glacier Creek. One of the most beautiful spots on the trail is a short bridge that crosses Winner Creek as it turns from gently rolling water to furious tempest churning down a rocky gorge. If that was our destination, the hike would have been fulfilling, but we wanted to get to the hand tram. Just a quarter-mile farther down the trail we jumped aboard the tram for that self-propelled journey to the other side of the chasm. That was our stopping point, so we took the tram back and headed toward the car parked at the Alyeska Resort parking lot.
This is a hike I can't believe has taken us so long to log. I guess I always thought it was too easy. Sometimes, easy isn't so bad.
There are a lot of hikes Gina and I do that I can't take my visiting friends and family on and that I wouldn't feel comfortable recommending for a lot of Alaska visitors. This is not one of those hikes. This is one that's good for just about anyone. Even if you're somewhat limited, the first mile or so shouldn't be a problem.
How to get there: The Winner Creek trail begins under the aerial tram at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. To get to Girdwood, head south on the Seward Highway from Anchorage. Turn left at the Alyeska Highway, which will take you into Girdwood. At the "T" in the road, turn left onto Arlberg Avenue. Follow Arlberg until you reach Alyeska Resort. Park and head for the aerial tram. Cross under the tram's cables and head into the woods. The trail is well marked and there is a log book at the beginning of the trail.