Why Take This Hike
Not everyone should undertake this 13-mile traverse that begins at Glen Alps above Anchorage. Considerable off-trail hiking, plus a steep climb to a ridge top, might be outside your comfort zone. But this trail does offer a profound sense of solitude and some spectacular views. It also includes the novelty of hiking a mile-long sheep trail that traverses the back of The Wedge, some 500 feet above the secluded waters of Ship Lake.
It may take some work to find a spot in the Glen Alps parking area. But don’t worry—most of these people have come to climb popular Flattop Mountain.
The crowds start thinning dramatically just 1 mile up Powerline Trail. After skirting the looming mass of Ptarmigan Peak 4 miles later and entering the upper bowl of Powerline Valley, you’ll begin to feel a sense of isolation.
Here the trail drops into the center of the valley and crosses Campbell Creek, where you begin the final climb to Powerline Pass. But this traverse doesn’t go all the way there. At the top of the next rise, you actually step off the trail onto the tundra and begin climbing toward the left side of the long, low saddle stretching between The Wedge on the left and Avalanche Mountain on the right.
Within yards you pass under the power lines. With the trail behind you, you may feel a thrill of independence. You should also feel a real sense of adventure.
The final climb up the corner of the valley, toward the left end of the saddle, will prove steep, but it doesn’t last long. After a few hundred feet of climbing, the steep slope begins to roll over as it nears the crest. Once there (visibility permitting), you’ll see oval-shaped Ship Lake flanked by the two 5,000-foot summits of The Ramp and Avalanche Mountain, 500 feet below the far side.
Looking down, you can also see the sheep trail crossing the slope just below the ridge top. Turn left and follow with your eyes the near-straight line as it cuts across the rocky back face of The Wedge.
If you reach this spot early enough in the day, you can traverse this trail in bright sunlight. If you arrive late in the day, you’ll traverse it in shadow. Then when you reach the far end and step out onto the crest of Ship Pass, you pass once more into the (sometimes blinding) light.
Begin the route home by hiking down the wide Ship Pass Valley, following the rivulets of springs down across the flats and rocky hollows to where they flow into Hidden Creek. On the far side of the creek, turn onto Hidden Lake Trail and follow it back down to Powerline Trail. Then turn right and hike the last few miles out to the parking area.
If you approach Glen Alps parking area in the late evening, you may still find a few people out for a stroll, relaxing and speaking in whispers. That scene will change when you return to the busy city below. Just think back to the solitude you experienced an hour or two ago among the ridges at the upper back end of the Front Range.
(For more, see Walk-About Guide to Alaska, Volume Two by Shawn R. Lyons)