Green tundra rose 20 feet up to our right. To our left, a sharp rock-faced wall towered 40 feet above us. And in front of us were jagged, snow-capped, bluish peaks that stretched on for miles. Then a quintessential Alaskan scene stopped us in our tracks. Reflected in the water of a small pond, we could see green grass, glacier, snow-capped mountains, and mostly blue sky. A couple small, purple lupine flowers added to the beauty.
It was just one of the magic moments at Portage Pass Trail, 60 miles southeast of Anchorage, where I had come for a short hike that leads to a startlingly dramatic feast for the eyes. As a photographer based in Anchorage, I’m always looking for scenic spots, and this definitely fit the bill. Amazingly, reaching this extraordinary location required merely a one-mile trek—not an easy hike, but a reasonably short one for the payoff.
From the gravel road trailhead, we walked in the shade of tall willows and were flanked on either side with both yellow and red lush salmonberries. That ease lasted a few hundred yards, until the trail began a gradual upward rise; the willows gave way and we were in the full sun.
Ahead of us we, could see what appeared to be our destination: a low passage between two green-flocked mountains. The trail rose steadily the entire way up, but not so steep that it would be a thigh-burner. As we trekked upward, the trail cut into the mountainside. To our right, the geography rose abruptly and steeply upward a couple thousand feet. To our left, the slope fell away.
Halfway up, we looked back at a breath taking view, across the very end of Prince William Sound’s Passage Canal and its deep blue waters. Beyond it, hanging glaciers clung to the snow-clad Chugach Mountains, which fell sharply and plunged into the icy, clear sea.
At the pond, the trail forked left and right, uphill in both directions. We chose the right; the path forked a few more ties in all directions and included some extremely steep stretches. The scenery too, became more intense as Portage Glacier became more and more visible. Other small ponds, surrounded by lush green carpet, dotted the tundra. Small yellow flowers sprouted up lavishly. Snow patches stood out among the rock and grass slopes above us.
At the apex, our view back to Prince William Sound was just as striking as the view toward the glacier. Our heads swiveled constantly back and forth, taking it all in. We continued on the path toward the glacier. At its end, we could see the terminus falling into Portage Lake—a spectacular vantage point that attracts many hikers.
We wandered off and found some solitude for our picnic lunch next to a pond surrounded by foliage resembling water lilies. A short nap in the sun was in order before our easy, downhill trek back to civilization.