Reaching the Summit of East Twin … well almost
Story by Lindsey VanTassel, Photos by Cecil Sanders of Last Frontier Magazine
Most Southcentral Alaska residents are familiar with the pair of mountain tops west of Pioneer Peak, known as Twin Peaks. Made up of East Twin (5873’) and West Twin (5472’), these peaks are among the most recognized mountains in the Chugach Mountain Range. I’ve lived most of my life in the shadow of their rocky summits, so I resolved to one day reach the top of East Twin.
When planning any Alaskan adventure there is one important step that should never be missed. That would be the planning step. After living in close proximity to wild Alaskan terrain my whole life, I have, perhaps to a fault, developed a comfortability with being up in the mountains, hours from civilization. On a Saturday afternoon one June day, after a quick look online at the Twin Peaks trail information, I headed out with my sister and brother-in-law. The “plan” was to spend the afternoon hiking the 5 mile round-trip trail, take some amazing pictures, and be back in time for a congratulatory dinner out at our favorite sushi restaurant. The resources we brought to sustain us for the next 2.5 to 3 hours consisted of three water bottles and two power bars. We drove to the Twin Peaks trailhead, located at Eklutna Lake in Chugach State Park. At the time, we didn’t realize that although the trail is named, “Twin Peaks Trail,” it doesn’t actually go all the way to the top of Twin Peaks. Instead, the trail ends at the second park bench in the southern valley, over 3,200 feet below East Twin at the 2.5 mile mark.
As we started up the trail we almost immediately realized the first missing piece to our imperfectly planned afternoon … bug spray. Sometimes the things you’ve lived with your whole life are the things most easily overlooked. I would like to give a quick shout out to the awesome family of hikers who let us use their bug spray a half mile up the trail. I really don’t think we would’ve made it much farther without it. After reaching the second park bench, noting the length we had traveled, and seeing the trail split in two directions, we realized a second missing piece of our plan … the other half of the trail. At the second bench there is a small trail leading up to the right towards a viewpoint of Eklutna Lake, and another trail to the left leading towards Twin Peaks. Although we were unsure of what to expect, and two water bottles and an energy bar down, we decided to go for the top of the East Twin anyway. The left hand trail slopes down into a gully to a small stream. After crossing the stream there is a small trail that heads towards the ridge, east of East Twin. We decided to go off the trail and head directly for the summit. We plunged into the tundra blanketed with thick brush, making our ascent a struggle. At times we made our own trail, and when we could we hopped on game trails, ending up in one of the more prominent gullies where we previously saw a couple ahead of us hiking up.
As we gained elevation our route became steeper and rockier. We caught up to the couple and found out they were also intending to go to the top. They knew more about which route to take, and how much further it would be. At this point a third missing piece became rudely apparent … sufficient water. Once again, thank you resourceful couple for your iodine tablets. We were able to make use of a couple mountain streams to replenish our water supply. Regardless of our quenched thirst, this was the point of the hike where we made the decision we should have made hours before. We decided to save our goal of reaching the top for another day.
Instead of heading down the steep gully we had just come up, we made our way to the ridge east of East Twin. It was tough side-hilling it over steep scree slides and snow chutes, but we were determined to at least see the view from the north face of the peaks we had begun the day striving for. After a nerve racking traverse we finally made it to the ridge where below us was the Matanuska Valley with views of Palmer, the Butte, the converging of the Matanuska and Knik Rivers and the Talkeetna Mountains jutting up in the background. Sitting there, stretched to our limits and significantly humbled, we thoroughly enjoyed our special view.
If Twin Peaks, or any other rugged trek, is on your to do list, may I suggest following the rules of alpine hiking that you’ve been reminded of time and time again. Thoroughly research the trail you are going to hike and bring lots of water, bug dope, food, and time. We made it down the mountain at 10:00 that night, very thankful for Alaska’s midnight sun.
Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Last Frontier Magazine.
Looking for more adventure and outdoors stories? Check out, “Sheep Mountains – Landscape that is Out of this World.“