Recently while performing at a party, I met a waitress named Jubilee who just moved up from Texas. Our conversation gravitated quickly to the outdoors. When asked if she had done any hiking, she answered, "Only Flattop: it seems something everyone has to do."
Climbing Flattop does seem a rite of passage for many cheechakos. Flattop seems an odd choice, though, when for almost the same effort you can climb more pronounced peaks, such as Rendezvous Peak, with what many consider more expansive views.
Flattop (3,510 feet) certainly offers many rewards for minimal effort. It takes little more than a half hour to reach the Glen Alps parking area from most places in town. From there, it requires 1,300 feet of climbing over 1.6 miles to reach the summit.
Much of this climb follows a wide, well-constructed trail. Lower down it has sections of steps while up on the face of the mountain the trail switch-backs gracefully up the summit cone's boulder field. Only the last few hundred feet to the summit entail any serious climbing as the trail winds through the rock band forming a wall around the summit.
Once on the top, the immediate view encompasses the Anchorage Bowl, the mouth of Turnagain Arm and some of Knik Arm. Looking farther to the horizon, you can see from the Kenai Peninsula to the Alaska Range. You can also see the seemingly ubiquitous Sleeping Lady and the Susitna River valley.
You can't see much of the Chugach Mountains, though. Apart from the Powerline Pass and the Ship Pass valleys and over to Wolverine Peak on one side and Rabbit Creek valley from North Suicide Peak around to McHugh Peak on the other, you can't look very far or deep into the Chugach.
Rendezvous Peak (4,050 feet), on the other hand, offers even more rewards for almost the same effort.
It can take as much as an hour to reach the parking area at the top of Arctic Valley Road, but then the climbing and elevation gain remain about the same as on Flattop. From the parking area it takes about 1,500 feet of climbing over 1.75 miles of hiking to reach the summit.
Much of the hiking follows a wide trail up the valley between Mount Gordon Lyon and Rendezvous Peak. Once at the top of that valley, which overlooks the Eagle River valley, the trail turns sharply right and climbs the summit cone of Rendezvous Peak. Nearing the top, the trail then circles around the cone to the left (east) and scrambles up a short gully to the summit.
From the top, the view unrolls in all directions. The near view includes most of the Anchorage Bowl, much of the Front Range, and the entire length of the Ship Creek valley and beyond to the high mountains skirting Turnagain Arm. Looking farther to the horizons you can see from Denali to the Kenai -- including the south wall of the Talkeetna Mountains near Hatcher Pass, the Susitna River flats and the Alaska Range. You can also, of course, see the still-ubiquitous Sleeping Lady.
You can also look far and deep into the Chugach Mountains. Turning north you can look directly across Eagle River to Baldy, Black Tail Rocks, Roundtop, Mount Magnificent and beyond them as far as Pioneer Peak. Turning northeast, you see many of the 7,000-footers towering above Eagle River. Then turning southeast, you can look directly up the South Fork of Eagle River valley to Harp Mountain, Eagle Peak, Calliope Peak, Cantata Peak and Triangle Peak.
Besides the more expansive view, Rendezvous Peak has two other rewards. First, this time of year you can pick berries on the mountain. Second, and perhaps even more important for some, fewer people climb Rendezvous Peak than Flattop -- especially from the slightly longer route from the South Fork of Eagle River.
So though it requires more time to climb, the rewards Rendezvous Peak offers seem worth the little extra effort it takes to stand on its summit.
For a little more effort and greater rewards, you could climb Bear Mountain, Pepper Peak, Mount Gordon Lyon and ... well, you get the idea: Flattop need not remain a cheechako's only choice.
HOW TO GET THERE
To reach Flattop, turn east up O'Malley Road from the Seward Highway. Approximately three miles later, turn right on Hillside Road and follow it for another mile. Turn left on Upper Huffman Road. Go .75 mile and turn right on the appropriately named Toilsome Hill Drive. After approximately two miles is the entrance to the Glen Alps parking area on the left (east) side of the road, at the top of one last short, steep hill.
To reach Rendezvous Peak, take the Arctic Valley Road exit off the Glenn Highway and follow Arctic Valley Road past Moose Run Golf Course. Continue driving about six miles as the paved road gives way to gravel and winds up to the parking lot of the Alpenglow Ski Area. The trail begins just beyond the ski lift on the right side of the creek you crossed when entering the parking area.
Anchorage freelance writer and classical guitarist Shawn Lyons is the author of several area hiking and climbing books.