Alaska's wild life just miles from the city
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Three hikers stand in front of hills and blue skies in the Chugach Range, Alaska

Alaska’s wild life just miles from the city

Hannah standing before forest and rocky peaks.

Hannah Oakes

Trustees interns always explore the Alaska wilderness with new eyes and perspectives. Here, Hannah Oakes talks about bumping into Alaska’s wild life just miles from the city in this story about a hike in the Chugach Rage. Read about our 2017 summer interns and what they’re learning about the issues.

The Chugach Range in Alaska rivals New Zealand and Patagonia for uniqueness as well as concentration of wildlife and spectacular geologic features.

A hiker smiles before a bank of fog in the Chugach Range, Alaska

The view was probably gorgeous! Photo by Hannah Oakes.

Last weekend, I went backpacking to Williwaw Lakes in the Chugach with some friends. We left the sunny parking lot and ascended a muddy slope into thick coastal fog.

Stumbling upon a half-frozen alpine lake

An Alpine lake below O’Malley Peak in the Chugach Range, courtesy Hannah Oakes

After reaching the saddle, we trekked through the rolling mist and across a carpet of colorful tundra. In the distance, dogs’ bear bells rang and occasionally a trail runner would pass us—but we still couldn’t see more than 25 feet in front of us. We continued on, and the fog finally broke just as we stumbled upon a stunning half-frozen alpine lake with deep blue waters just below O’Malley Peak.

After enjoying the lake for a while, we headed onward and quickly encountered our next obstacle: a scramble down a steep scree-filled gully. The view was breathtaking, and almost created a sensory overload after all the fog we had been walking through.


Crossing paths with the wild life just miles from the city
Dall sheep in the distance in the Chugach Range, Alaska

Wild life just miles from the city. Photo by Hannah Oakes.

While descending, we spotted a small herd of Dall sheep perched on a rock ledge less than 30 feet away. For me this interaction was extraordinary, but the sheep patiently watched us. After we passed, they crossed our trail in search of food. I couldn’t believe we were just a couple miles from the city and having intimate encounters with wildlife.

After reaching Williwaw Lakes, we set up camp next to a turquoise alpine lake below jagged ridges and seagulls flying overhead. The valley framed the massive pyramid-shaped Mount Williwaw, which was as awe-inspiring as Fitz Roy or Half Dome. At the other end of the alpine valley, we could see the Cook Inlet in the distance.


A constellation of lakes in the land of the midnight sun

Because it was 6 pm, we still had half a day of sunlight to explore the valley’s constellation of lakes, all connected by a meandering stream. Days here are elongated and time tends to lose its meaning and importance.

Lakes in front of Mt. Williwaw and white clouds.

Mt. Williwaw. Photo by Hannah Oakes.

In my city apartment in Anchorage, it’s difficult to sleep with light flooding in at all hours. However, after the day’s 13-mile hike, we were able to fall asleep quickly under an open sky despite the constant daylight and birds singing. Perhaps this is how Alaskan summers are supposed to be experienced.


Three hikers stand in front of hills and blue skies in the Chugach Range, Alaska

About to hike out under blue skies. Courtesy Hannah Oakes.

Conservation as an active lifelong endeavor

The next morning, we hiked the relatively flat five-mile trail through wildflowers and low brush back to the car.

Conservation is an active endeavor, and these incredible ecosystems do not remain pristine by happenstance—this mountain range is protected state park and national forestland. It is thanks to environmental organizations like Trustees for Alaska that these unique and spectacular areas remain, making it possible to find the wild life just miles from the city. In Alaska, you might even find it right outside your back door.