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Mounting Alyeska, the hard way

Eric Christopher Adams

Alaska is full of places that beckon to tourists but there are few -- at least in my opinion -- that truly call out to seasoned travelers. The hippie hamlet of Girdwood is among them.

About an hour south of Anchorage along Turnagain Arm, Girdwood is the first real "Alaskan" town you can reach after deplaning at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. It's nestled among seven glaciers, cascading waterfalls and the world's northernmost rain forest. To mountain biking and skiing buffs, Girdwood's an Alaskan Mecca. It calls especially to earthy, food-loving outdoors types (disclosure: I am one of them). Think Taos, Steamboat, or even Hood River, Ore., which -- like Girdwood – is a premier windsurfing destination.

Girdwood is home to Olympians, Alaska writers, artisans and restaurateurs. The town's quintessential friendliness attracts adventure-seeking nomads of all ages and creeds.

A great new treat for summer visitors and locals alike is the Mount Alyeska North Face Trail. The trail, which took three years to complete and opened in 2009, is located right behind Alyeska Resort. Driving directions to get to the resort from Anchorage are available here.

For the hike, you'll need water, an extra layer of clothing (non-cotton) in case it's windy or cold and a good pair of hiking shoes. The experienced hiker will find the switchbacks up the 3,939-foot North Face moderately strenuous; the novice will find it steep, difficult but doable.

The hike begins near the entrance to the Alyeska Resort Tram. It's a slog up the 2.2 miles to the tram terminal. But the views will take your breath away -- what little you have left, anyway, after the physical exertions it takes to get up there. Don't let the mountain intimidate you: this is one climb that you'll share with friends, children, grandchildren or coworkers.

The view from the top will whisk you away to that place where words become meaningless and time stops. Where nature reminds you how simply glorious the world is. You'll feel connected. Troubles are trivial here. The universe opens before you.

Check out this hiker's awesome video of his hike up Mount Alyeska, along with a blog post about it:

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Watch more Girdwood videos at tripfilms.com

It will be among the most memorable things you do in Alaska. And it doesn't hurt that a world-class, AAA-rated, four-diamond restaurant and bar await you at the top, not to mention Alaska's only mountaintop museum, dedicated to the ski resort's history and Mount Alyeska's alpine environment. You even can take a free ride down the tram, back to the resort, once you have enjoyed the breathtaking views of the Arm, Portage Pass to the south, and the "endless peaks" of Southcentral Alaska's Chugach Mountain Range.

For more information, call Alyeska Resort at (907) 754-1111.

Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com