When Power Bars Are Not Enough

It's been a long time since I've stayed at a place with a shared bath. Fortunately, my single room at Qupquigiac Inn was just adjacent to one that's spotlessly clean. As nature has intended it to be, my bladder woke me up sometime at 1 AM. In my half-asleep-half-awake state of mind, I opened the door to the loo without knocking. It wasn't locked. And there sitting on the throne was a woman staring back in horror at me. "Hi . . . I mean, sorry!", was all I could say. Not the best place for backpacker's introduction eh?

breakfast spread at Qupquigiac Inn

Just before 8 AM, I went to the communal kitchen where a simple serve-yourself breakfast of cereals and brewed coffee was waiting. It was a quiet morning but I was expecting the woman to barge in and slap me in the face for interrupting her call of nature earlier. But she was nowhere in sight, most likely already checked-out. Sharing the table with me instead was a couple from Connecticut (who also arrived the previous day like me), making frantic calls to their airline for their missing baggage. Not the best way to start a trip no?

Promptly at 8:15 AM, a white van came. Out of the driver's seat emerged Dave, who was to be the guide/cook/driver for this "Mountains & Glaciers" multi-activity trip organized by Get Up And Go Tours. Dave has the best of both worlds in North America, spending summers in Alaska and winters in Florida running kayaking trips. After brief introductions and an outline of what we will be doing, I finally met the people I will be traveling with for the next six days: Dmitri from New Jersey, Sherry from Texas, and childhood buddies John, Russ and Nick from Chicago. We were all visibly excited at what Dave had in store for us right that first day - a day hike to a glacial tarn.

We drove out of Anchorage via Glenn Highway and bought more provisions at a huge grocery store in Palmer. We climbed up towards Hatcher Pass and into a dirt road with a stunning view of mountains all around. At the trailhead, no signs of civilization can be seen except for other cars parked roadside. The day was splendidly sunny and as Dave pointed out, it was a great day for a hike. With our daypacks and packed lunch, our 3 mile hike up to Lower Reed lake began, deep in the Talkeetna mountains

But first, let's dig some history. Only 143 years ago, this beautiful view I saw including all of Alaska was still part of the Russian empire. Managing a distant property however became a liability for the empire that in 1867, Tsar Alexander II authorized its sale to the United States. For only $7.2 million dollars (about $113 million today)  the United States gained an additional 586,412 square miles of territory. Despite the bargain price, there was public opposition to the sale, deeming it a waste of money for a property so remote.

However, the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896 changed the American people's view of Alaska from wild wasteland to wild golden dreams. Thousands of people went up north, in this new territory, into lands that were inhospitable yet utterly rich, in search of that shimmering, shining gold. The Russians must have been shaking their heads in disbelief. The gold rush fever caught on in many other parts of Alaska. Today, remnants of this gold rush can be seen at many abandoned, crumbling mines and huts.

guide Dave checks out an abandoned miner's hut while munching on energy bar

About half an hour after our hike to the Lower Reed lake began, we came to an abandoned hut, part of what used to be the Snowbird mine village. It looks so lonely being the only sign of civilization in the whole valley. While gawking at this rotting hut, I was curious how people in those days must have endured long winters with no electricity and certainly no Internet. 

Past the hut, we crossed a footbridge over a raging stream. The trail turned into a steep switchback that got us sweaty until we reached a small waterfall. We took our lunch break here, a much-deserved break just before negotiating the most challenging task ahead - scrambling over an expansive field of huge boulders. A stream ran underneath these boulders which made it more intimidating. For almost an hour, hopping from one boulder to the next became a strain to my poor knees; I was ever mindful of my footing - one misstep could lead me to a serious injury.

The path thankfully was easier once we passed the boulder area. Other hikers weaved in and out of our view, a few of them walking with their dogs. We followed the course of the stream, past a small lake with a soggy shore. Those of us behind somehow didn't follow Dave who was already walking on the opposite side of the lake. Dmitri and Nick merely took off their shoes and waded into the freezing water. Since the prospect of hypothermia wasn't appealing to me, I found a way to hopscotch across a series of rocks and voila, I made it without getting wet.

Almost 3 hours since we started, we finally reached Lower Reed lake. Glacial silt has turned the lake's color into turquoise. The water is frigid but that didn't stop three of the guys in our group to jump right into it. As for me, I was happy just lying there in the soft grass, remembering how this stupendous view of a lake hemmed-in by granite peaks reminded me of Chile's Torres del Paine.

After a short rest, we hiked again on the same trail, back to the punishing boulders, into the switchbacks, past the abandoned miner's hut and by 4 PM - or a total of 6 miles - we were back into the van. Considered moderately challenging in terms of difficulty, the hike to Lower Reeds lake was one one of the most exhilarating and scenic I've done. If only we had a longer time, I would have wanted to go up further into Upper Reed lake and even into the wreckage of a B-29 Bomber which crashed on a nearby glacier in 1957.

We drove for another hour into King Mountain State Recreational Site, a campground nestled beneath King Mountain and right next to Matanuska river. We set up our own tents while Dave got himself busy preparing our dinner. Over a crackling bonfire and convivial conversation, we capped a really long day feasting on wild Pacific salmon. Who says hikers eat only energy bars?

(Note: Trip was arranged by Get Up and Go!, a locally-owned adventure tour company based in Anchorage, Alaska)


  1. Wow, what a view. I'm not much of a hiker, but this would be worth all the sore muscles.

  2. a power bar would definitely not suffice this hike! in my case, if and when i decide to go to this kind of (extreme for me) outdoor adventure, i probably need a grand feast or a buffet after, hahaha!

    ps : i remember you and your friends had glasses of scotch on the rocks after your snowy hike in one of your previous posts. is it really a habit (or a culture for hikers) that a "reward" always wait at the end of each trek?

  3. Photo Cache,
    It was truly worth all the aches but pretty much everything after that were a succession of stunning sights I forgot all about the pain!

    ah! I think you were referring to our "scotch on the rocks" moment after the hike in Argentina's Perito Moreno glacier! Like any hard work, yes, I think a feast is well deserved. The ultimate reward of course will always be "the view".

  4. wow! ganda ng view! love the 1st photo. parang nah-hook na din ako lately sa hiking. thank you for the virtual tour!

  5. Awesome start to your Alaskan adventure! The pictures are lovely: if you didn't mention they were from Alaska, I would have thought it's somewhere in the Andes.

    Too bad for the couple who had lost their bags. Perhaps that's the reason why I always try to just have carry-on luggage whenever I travel, as it definitely can spoil an otherwise perfect trip.

    And finally, how were you able to hook up with these trekking tours? Did you sign up for a package tour of some sort?

  6. thepinaysolobackpacker,
    hiking is not only a great way for sightseeing but really healthy for the body as well! hope to see you hit the slopes more often Gael!

    I even remarked the same thing to my guide - it was so reminiscent of the mountains and valleys in South America!

    As much as possible, I'd like to bring carry-on luggage as well but large backpacks unfortunately can't be smuggled into cabins anymore. A trip insurance that covers bag delays is what gives me a sense of protection.

    Yes, I scoured the web for the best value trips in Alaska, one that combines affordability & activities offered. I was short on time so booking an organized trip was how I traveled this time. It was worth it!

  7. bay, what book/map did you use for your kyoto trip? I'm heading there. ty!

  8. Z Joya,
    I used the Lonely Planet guide to Japan. City maps are available at the tourist office in Kyoto train station.

  9. What a wonderful post with beautiful photos to match. I felt like I was right there with your group. I wouldn't have gone in that ice cold water either! It was a beautiful color though. I'm following and look forward to more posts.


  10. Mari Sterling Wilbur,
    I dipped my toes in that lake and it was just so cold - the guys actually threw curses after that quick swim!

  11. the photos were beautifully taken!

  12. Sweeping panorama view! I bet the views are way way better in person.

  13. Amazing view!, Is it possible to visit the lake independently?

  14. geo,
    thanks for the visit!

    Pinoy Travel Freak,
    yes, there's nothing like seeing it there yourself! no photos can give it justice.

    lakwatsera de primera,
    it is possible to hike independently to the lake but one needs to drive to the trailhead. As long as it's not private property, most of Alaska is actually open for independent hiking!

  15. buti di ka sinampal ng babae no? hehe

    i wouldnt mind hiking as long as I can see this turquise colored lake. breath taking photos, as always. =)

  16. Your post made me miss hiking so much! What are the chances that at 3 in the morning, magkakasabay kayo ni ate sa loo ;p Alaska's so stunning!

  17. yeah, not a very good introductory way. buti hindi ka nga sinampal nung babae.

    wow feeling ko tuloy nakapunta din ako dyan dahil sa mga pictures mo! ang gaganda ng shot! ano pong camera gamit mo?

  18. Chyng,
    buti na lang talaga hindi kundi that would have been so embarrassing. now that I've hiked Lower Reed Lake, gusto ko ulit gawin yun hanggang sa upper na.

    Pinay Travel Junkie,
    that was so unexpected, nabigla ako sa katangahan ko na di man lang kumatok at dahil na rin di naka-lock yung pinto.

    joan | the backpack chronicles,
    Maraming salamat! I use a Nikon DSLR pero I feel no pictures can give justice to Alaska's grandeur!


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