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Hiking Alaska: Government Peak

Shawn Lyons
The climb up Government Peak offers views of the Matanuska River and Knik River valleys beyond.
Shawn Lyons
A minersÕ cabin sits just below Hatcher Pass Road near Marmot Mountain.
Shawn Lyons
A climb of Government Peak offers a view down to the entrance of Hatcher Pass Road into the Hatcher Pass area with the Little Susitna River and the road down to the left and the Matanuska River valley beyond.
Shawn Lyons
The climb up Government Peak affords a view of April Bowl and Hatcher Pass, with Skyscraper Mountain in the middle right and Upper Willow Creek in the center and the Hatcher Pass Road leading to Willow on the left.
Shawn Lyons
The view from the summit of Government Peak.
Shawn Lyons
The climb up Government Peak affords a view of April Bowl and Hatcher Pass, with Skyscraper Mountain in the middle right and Upper Willow Creek in the center and the Hatcher Pass Road leading to Willow on the left.
Shawn Lyons
On his climb of Government Peak, Shawn Lyons ascended the ridge in the clouds on the left and descended the ridge on the right.
Shawn Lyons
A distinctive rock which may have interested miners sits along the climb up Government Peak.
Shawn Lyons
The climb up Government Peak offers views of the Matanuska River and Knik River valleys beyond.
Shawn Lyons
A climb of Government Peak offers a view down to the entrance of Hatcher Pass Road into the Hatcher Pass area with the Little Susitna River and the road down to the left and the Matanuska River valley beyond.
Shawn Lyons
The view from the summit of Government Peak.
Shawn Lyons
On his climb of Government Peak, Shawn Lyons ascended the ridge in the clouds on the left and descended the ridge on the right.
Shawn Lyons
A ridge leads to Government Peak after the trail peters out beyond Hatch Peak.
Shawn Lyons
The April Bowl Trail begins 2.2 miles up Hatcher Pass Road from Hatcher Pass Lodge. From the parking to April Bowl requires approximately .75 mile of hiking, after which it requires another .75 mile of hiking to reach the summit of Hatch Peak and 3.5 miles of hiking to reach Government Peak.
Shawn Lyons
The April Bowl Trail affords a nice view of Hatcher Pass.
Shawn Lyons
Peaks appear in the distance in a view looking east from April Bowl.
Shawn Lyons
A minersÕ cabin sits just below Hatcher Pass Road near Marmot Mountain.
Shawn Lyons
A ridge leads to Government Peak after the trail peters out beyond Hatch Peak.
Shawn Lyons
The climb up Government Peak affords a view of April Bowl and Hatcher Pass, with Skyscraper Mountain in the middle right and Upper Willow Creek in the center and the Hatcher Pass Road leading to Willow on the left.
Shawn Lyons
The April Bowl Trail begins 2.2 miles up Hatcher Pass Road from Hatcher Pass Lodge. From the parking to April Bowl requires approximately .75 mile of hiking, after which it requires another .75 mile of hiking to reach the summit of Hatch Peak and 3.5 miles of hiking to reach Government Peak.
Shawn Lyons
The climb up Government Peak affords a view of April Bowl and Hatcher Pass, with Skyscraper Mountain in the middle right and Upper Willow Creek in the center and the Hatcher Pass Road leading to Willow on the left.
Shawn Lyons
The April Bowl Trail affords a nice view of Hatcher Pass.
Shawn Lyons
A distinctive rock which may have interested miners sits along the climb up Government Peak.
Shawn Lyons
Peaks appear in the distance in a view looking east from April Bowl.
Shawn Lyons

From the rocky bowl to the right, a marmot's whistle of warning split the muffled, cloudy afternoon. Looking up from scrambling below the 200-foot rock tower that blocked the ridge, I scanned the slope. I could not see any movement. Still, it had seen me, and I had heard it -- a result of mere chance.

When I first began hiking up Hatcher Pass Road from Independence Mine, I had lots of options -- a common and welcome dilemma in the Hatcher Pass area.

I could circle back to the mine by way of Skyscraper Mountain on the north side of the pass or by climbing the Willow Creek valley to Friendship Pass. I even considered circling around by way of Craigie Creek Trail. As the day unfolded, one option that I had only considered in passing led me to that encounter with a lone marmot on the ridge leading to Government Peak.

This meeting began with the first drops of rain that fell as I still climbed Hatcher Pass Road. Upon reaching the pass, I chanced upon many people walking and wandering over the nearby hillocks and along Summit Lake's shore. I also confronted a wall of clouds blocking the way down to Willow and Craigie creeks. Suddenly those choices did not seem like very good choices.

Then just over the crest of the pass I reached April Bowl Trail. Climbing south and west out of the pass, it led to partly clear skies. It also led, after more than three miles of ridge-walking, to the summit of Government Peak.

That trail suddenly seemed like a good choice. So, abandoning all previous options, I started up the switchbacks leading south from the pass. I passed one couple at the beginning of the trail. Less than one mile later I passed a family that had just started down from the bowl. Not until climbing over the guardrail onto Hatcher Pass Road some five hours and 10-plus miles later would I see any other people. But I would chance upon a marmot.

Under still spitting rain I followed the trail along the shore of the first tarn in April Bowl. The rain let up for a few moments as I started up the ridge toward the summit of Hatch Peak silhouetted against the gray sky above the uppermost end of the bowl.

When I reached that summit (4,811 feet), the rain became even more sporadic. The entire length of the Willow Creek valley extending westward toward the Susitna River had even appeared from beneath the lifting clouds.

When the last hint of a trail petered out just beyond Hatch Peak, I left most vestiges of humanity behind me. I passed two miners' claim markers and a few rusted tin cans, but they came from other days with other desires.

As I clambered up the steep rock and wet tundra along the 100-foot pinnacle where the ridge formed a T with the front ridge of the range, the marmot's whistle broke the spell of silence. As I continued across the final saddle leading to the summit of Government Peak, an eagle dipped over the ridge below to the left.

Upon reaching the summit I looked out upon the entire Matanuska-Knik River valley. Dappled sunlight dotted the checkerboard of roads, farms, towns, creeks, fields and forests from the Matanuska Valley to the Chugach Mountains. Off to the right you could make out Anchorage and the sun-brazened waters of Prince William Sound.

Choosing a more direct route back to the car, I descended the ridge that dropped down to where the sporadic procession of cars and campers wound around the base of Marmot Mountain into the Independence Mine valley. Fording Fishhook Creek, I climbed the old trail that led past an abandoned miner's cabin to the road beyond.

As I stepped onto the pavement, I had a number of options on how to get back up to the mine and my car. I first thought about hitch-hiking. I could have also gotten back to the car by climbing Marmot Mountain. I could have even returned the way I'd come. Instead I chose the way with which I started the day: I merely walked up the road.

Getting there

April Bowl Trail begins 2.2 miles up Hatcher Pass Road from Hatcher Pass Lodge. To get there, take the Glenn Highway to Palmer. Just past Palmer, turn left onto Hatcher Pass Road. Follow that for 19 miles and go a few hundred feet past the crest of Hatcher Pass. On the right-hand side of the road is a parking area, and April Bowl Trail begins just across the road from the parking area. Getting from the parking area to April Bowl requires approximately 3/4 mile of hiking, followed by 3/4 mile to the summit of Hatch Peak and 3 1/2 miles to Government Peak.

 


Shawn Lyons
Hiking Alaska