Let’s Climb A Mountain – Hiking Anchorage’s Flattop Mountain
Story by Anne Sanders | Photography by Cecil Sanders
Let’s climb a mountain. Such a simple and easy statement with a not so simple and easy execution. A small group of us took on the challenge and chose to climb Flattop Mountain, bordering the city of Anchorage, in Chugach State Park.
We certainly could have chosen a taller mountain, a less hiked mountain, and one that is more “in the backcountry,” but even though we could have picked a loftier, more pristine mountain, in my opinion, we picked a mountain with a summit that has one of the best views in Alaska. At just over 3,500 feet, from the top of Flattop one can see Anchorage (the largest city in Alaska), Cook Inlet, the Alaska, Chugach, and beginning of the Aleutian Mountain Ranges, and the isolated form of one of Southcentral Alaska’s most iconic mountains, Sleeping Lady (Mount Susitna).
We began our hike around 8:30 p.m. one evening in the second week of May in 2014. We wanted to see the sunset from the mountain top—hence our late departure time. There were others on the trail with the same idea, but as we headed up, most of the hikers were heading down. Starting from the Glen Alps parking lot, the maintained trail is approximately three miles round trip. Although our spring weather that year was amazing, there were still mushy patches of snow to contend with.
To the right of the trail, just before reaching the summit, there is a large snow chute that starts from the top and runs to a point almost halfway down the trail. Some adventurous people actually speed up their descent down the mountain by schussing on their bottoms down the snow chute. The top of the chute forms a ninety-degree angle, making the start of the chute a near vertical drop. So, in order to slide down, one must jump from the top of the mountain into the chute. My mother told me that years back she had actually been brave enough to do it. She made it down safely, but couldn’t say the same for her boyfriend. The trick, she told me, was to go down the center of the chute. The center appears to be the scariest portion of the slide, so her boyfriend made the mistake of going to the side. As a result, he ran out of snow prematurely and tumbled head over heels down the mountain, cracking a few ribs along the way.
As our group approached the chute and saw the recent slide marks, we marveled at the thirst for an adrenaline rush others seem to have, but felt no temptation whatsoever to follow in their snow tracks. Instead, we reached the summit after a steep boulder climb, and admired the astounding views around us. True to its name, the top of Flattop is very flat compared to most mountains. From a distance, it can be easily spotted by its distinctive silhouette.
Flattop is a smaller mountain than most, but I wouldn’t say the trail is easy. It calls for a steady amount of exertion. The distance isn’t overwhelmingly long, making it perfect for those who have been hibernating all winter and want to get in better shape for more summer adventures.
This story originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Last Frontier Magazine.