Hiking in the Sheep Mountains
The Sheep Mountains in the Talkeetna Range are out of this world.
Story and Photos by Cecil Sanders
Never have I had much interest in outer-space. Not that I don’t care about what lies in the great beyond, but it’s not tangible, and not something I will ever experience. That may also be the reason, unlike my wife, I am not interested in Star Wars, Star Trek or science fiction in general. Photon shooters and galactic pistols are too far fetched for my mind to comprehend. The world of lunar landscapes with spires, craters and objects floating from a void of gravity would be more appealing if I could touch it, walk on it, and closely interact with it.
[caption id="attachment_9926" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Dry creek bed behind Sheep Mountain Lodge[/caption] I know, you are probably wondering how the Sheep Mountains fit in with outer space. Well, follow along with our mini-adventure to Sheep Mountain Lodge at mile 113.5 of the Glenn Highway in Glacier View, Alaska, and you will see. Upon arrival we found our cabin, unpacked and relaxed a bit before getting out and hiking the surrounding trails. Anne and I both agreed that the mountain directly behind us would make for a good hike if the weather cleared and the views opened up. The first characteristic we observed of the Sheep Mountains, eastern-most mountains in the Talkeetna Range, is their unique coloration. The layers of oranges, yellows and reds contrasted sharply with the green vegetation and was a lot different from the typical grey rocks usually seen on mountains in Alaska. The red hues are caused by high levels of iron in the rocks.
[caption id="attachment_9922" align="aligncenter" width="900"] A jagged ridge line leading down to a connecting trail[/caption] Inspecting the mountain ridge directly behind the lodge revealed an even more unique landscape. Tall spires of dark grey shale rock stretch vertically from the top of the ridge. We made our plan to hike to the spires, rain or shine, the next day. The next morning we packed a lunch, water and photography gear into our packs and headed out with blue skies overhead. The trail went up a gorge created by the seasonal Yellow Jacket Creek. The creek was dry near the bottom, but as we climbed higher it turned into a trickle and soon it had a decent flow. That is where we exited the creek bed and found the ridge the owner of Sheep Mountain Lodge had instructed us to head up.
[caption id="attachment_9921" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Beginning section of the hike above the lodge[/caption] Our trail was beaten down from years of usage by local sheep, and we were thankful to have it as our guide because the grade was very steep at times. Maybe it was the huge ice cream and cookie dish we ate the night before, but quick breaks to catch our breath were needed frequently. Soon enough, we made our way to the top. Enter my new appreciation for Han Solo and R2D2 … maybe I won’t go that far, but it did feel as if we had just traveled to a galaxy far, far away. Craggy rock thumbs giving their approval stood resilient through years of wind, snow, quakes and rain. If there wasn’t the amazing view of the Matanuska Glacier, Chugach Range and Glenn Highway, you would think you were on the set of Firefly.
[caption id="attachment_9923" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Spires on top of the mountain. A small part of Matanuska Glacier can be seen in the far right of the photo.[/caption] We walked a narrow trail along the ridge, marveling at the spires next to us. One wrong step to the left or right and we would have had issues. To the left was a quick fast drop along sharp shale rock slides, and to the right was a bumpy drop down a steep grassy embankment with patches of rocks hidden along the way down. We were now traveling a different trail than what was suggested to us by the lodge owner. We felt this trail would offer superior photos and I am glad we followed our instincts, even though it was a bit more precarious. We made our way down the steep slopes to a large rounded portion of the ridgeline overlooking the hillside below, the Glenn Highway and across the valley to the Chugach Range. Many times we’ve driven this section of the highway and always appreciated the views of Lions Head and the Matanuska Glacier, but seeing them from our new vantage point among the Sheep Mountains was spectacular.
[caption id="attachment_9924" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Descending a ridge line[/caption] We continued down without incident, spotting Dall sheep along the mountainside to our immediate right. They, being only about a third of a mile away, took every precaution to avoid us and moved higher into the mountains and away from the grassy slopes where they were feeding. Soon our trail flattened out and we made our way back to Yellow Jacket Creek and to our cozy cabin. After a quick break and hot meal, we capped the evening off with another big ice cream cookie and espresso from the Sheep Mountain Lodge restaurant. Just getting in prime shape to be unprepared for our next hiking adventure!
If you enjoyed this article, check out "Matanuska Glacier: Visiting One of Alaska's Most Amazing & Easily Accessible Places."
Great read! Thank you
Casey April 17, 2021