Alaska is the US’ largest state, at about a fifth the size of the entire country. It is not surprising, then, that Alaska is home to a whole lot of natural beauty. From majestic glaciers to lush forests, Alaska is a hiking and mountaineering gem.
There are several mountains to climb in Alaska, whether by mere walking or by ice ax. Some of the notable ones for mountaineering include Denali, Mount Foraker, and Mount Hunter. Some pleasant walks can be taken at Flattop, Sugarloaf, and Deer Mountains. Mount Marathon is great for strenuous walks.
Denali is probably the most famous mountain in all of Alaska, but there are many more to consider. Whether you merely desire some exercise or want to take on a serious bucket list endeavor, Alaska’s got you!
7 Best Mountaineering And Hiking Locations In Alaska
Although Alaska is sometimes considered a cold and inhospitable place, it offers fertile ground for hiking and climbing. Climbing especially is out of this world but not to be undertaken without serious experience.
1. Flattop Mountain
Located in Chugach State Park, Flattop Mountain is Alaska’s most popular peak. Flattop is named that for a reason – you’ll have unencumbered views of Anchorage, Cook Inlet, the Aleutian Islands, and Denali!
People with physical limitations can undertake parts of this hike. There is a short, paved part that is wheelchair accessible and many loop trials below the summit that aren’t too challenging. However, the trail to the summit is steep and rocky.
The last part of the climb to the summit comprises railroad ties, and it would be best to use your hands for stability. You can attempt this hike on your own, but that by no means denotes that it is easy.
2. Deer Mountain
Situated in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough in the Tongass National Forest, Deer Mountain is a strenuous hike that rises 2600 feet to the summit. The hike spans 5 miles, most of which is under a forest canopy.
You should wear good shoes and a raincoat, as the trail is rather wet and rocky. There is a shelter along the way, built by the National Forest Service.
Also, be on the lookout for black bears, as a city dump at the base of the mountain attracts them. The other wildlife that can be seen on Deer Mountain includes ravens, bald eagles, and mountain goats. Wolves are rarely spotted, but they are there.
The first recorded time that Denali climbed successfully was in 1913. In more recent years, more than 1200 hikers managed the climb. However, not everyone can manage to hike the highest peak in North America. This is because of the exorbitant price tag attached to such an endeavor.
Denali, previously known as Mount McKinley, is not for beginners. It is highly advisable to have basic mountaineering skills. It would be prudent to have some experience before challenging yourself with climbing Denali, but if you don’t have much, it is possible to do a prep course.
Many companies offer guides to help you ascend Denali but know that it is a commitment of note. These companies screen potential climbers. If you want to climb Denali, you should have:
- Completed a mountaineering climbing course
- Done at least two major climbs before climbing Denali
- Climbed a lot in the year leading up to your Denali climb
- Carried a heavy pack while climbing on a glacier
- Upped the ante on your training routine at least six months before the departure date
As you can see, climbing Denali is no joke. There is a lot of preparation behind it, and if you are not prepared, you will be asked to leave the expedition. You will need basic proficiency in walking on snow, cramponing, crevasse rescue, glacier travel on a rope team, and self-arrest.
4. Mount Hunter
Another great trek is Mount Hunter, which flanks Denali. This climb is also highly demanding, as there is ice, rock, and snow climbing. Todd Bibler and Doug Klewin were the first to reach the mountain peak in 1983, although the first expedition went up in 1954.
Mount Hunter is also known as Begguya, which is Dena’ina for “child of Denali.” Despite this association with Denali, the mountain is seen as more difficult to climb than the highest peak in America. Trails on Mount Hunter are steeper and more challenging than those on Denali.
Mount Hunter is icy at the top and the bottom. The Kahiltna Glacier is at its base, and it is the longest glacier in the Alaska Range. You will need to book a tour to complete Mount Hunter. It is less popular than Denali, and some companies do it on a custom basis.
Again, you will need serious climbing abilities to be able to ascend Mount Hunter, and it will come at a hefty cost.
5. Sugarloaf Mountain
If you’re not into serious mountaineering experience but are just looking for a day hike, the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail could be for you.
The trail is around 4 miles out and back and offers steep ridge hiking. Situated north of Denali National Park, this trail has a view of the hotels and restaurants below. Its proximity to the area’s hotels is great because you can walk to the trailhead.
One of the trailheads is behind the Grande Denali Lodge parking lot. You should ideally be quite fit to undertake this and wear suitable shoes.
6. Mount Marathon
Mount Marathon is a mountain west of Seward that is most famous for being the site of the Mount Marathon Race. The yearly race takes place on Independence Day and usually attracts over 1000 participants. The race involves scaling 3022 feet in less than three miles.
The fastest time recorded in the race is an amazing 41 minutes and 26 seconds. However, if the average person were to undertake this hike, it would definitely take the better part of the day.
If you’d like to undertake this hike to see postcard-worthy views, you might want to take the Jeep Trail instead, as the Runner’s Trail is difficult to the extreme. The Jeep Trail is 4.1 miles.
7. Mount Foraker
The last mountaineering item on our list is Mount Foraker, the second-highest mountain in the Alaska Range, flanking Denali. Before climbing this mountain or climbing Denali, pre-registration with the National Park Service is necessary, as well as paying a fee.
You must pre-register for 60 days before being able to climb. There is an exemption if you have recently climbed Denali or Foraker itself, which means that you can register seven days in advance instead of six months before the time.
Mount Foraker is also known as Sultana by the Athabascans. Dr. T Graham Brown, Chychele Waterston, and Charles S Houston first ascended the mountain in 1934. June is usually the best time to climb, and there will be a high price if you decide to go up with a tour.
Mount Foraker should only be undertaken by very fit climbers with experience with crampons and ice axes.
Some Tips For Mountaineering In Alaska
The best times for ascending these mighty mountains are March through July. In Denali especially, June is known to have the greatest success rates.
Other months pose a challenge because of the extreme cold at the peak, but it depends on where you want to go. The lower elevation climbs like the Kahiltna Queen are better in April and May.
Even though you can try to use weather forecasts to avoid inclement weather, the key is to be prepared for every eventuality.
Equipment Needed To Summit Alaskan Glacial Mountains
Denali, Mount Foraker, and Mount Hunter require a large amount of equipment and provisions to survive the trip. This includes:
- Skis or snowshoes for glacier travel
- For snow and ice parts, specialized expedition-style double-boots made of plastic and with lining suitable for high altitudes
- For rock climbing areas, insulated leather boots
- Appropriately warm and layered clothing
- Sleeping bags suitable for -20 to -30 degrees
- A rock climbing rack
- Items your group needs like a tent, a stove, a shovel, and fuel.
So, as you can see, you’re going to be carrying a lot! You’ll still need food and water, so ensure you’re prepared.
Some Tips For Hiking
Climbing many of these mountains involves hiking experience, but here are some tips in case you need a refresher:
- Pack a substantial lunch and some snacks
- Pack bear spray and spray it downwind if necessary
- Dress in layers
- Ensure you have lightweight boots with ankle support
- Bring enough water
- Stretch before and after
- Maintain a sustainable pace
- Enjoy the views!
Alaska is the adventurer’s dream. Whether it be ice axing your way up a glacial mountain or simply taking a stroll in the mountain, Alaska has something for everyone. Precautions must be taken if you are hiking, especially if you plan a mountaineering trip, but they are worth it!