The evening before our midweek journey into the Chugach Mountains, Jan and I settled on a tentative plan: hike to Ship Lake Pass, then perhaps ascend The Wedge or maybe even The Ramp, two well-known landmarks in Chugach State Park’s Front Range.
That would make for a long, ambitious day in the mountains east of Anchorage, a walk and hill climb of more than 10 miles, with an elevation gain exceeding 3,000 feet if we made it to the top of The Ramp, something I’ve done a couple of times, but new for Jan.
Our plans began to shift even before Jan, Denali, Guido and I had left the Powerline Trail.
A late start, combined with meeting friends I hadn’t seen in some time (and the inevitable conversation that followed), plus occasional stops to observe subalpine songbirds and some general dillydallying had put us substantially behind schedule (not that we had a particularly well-defined schedule).
Because I had a meeting that night, I knew there was no way we could do either of the hill climbs we’d discussed. Still, getting to the pass seemed doable.
Then, on something of a whim, I decided to look around for blueberries. Not that they’d be ripe enough to pick in mid-July, but I was curious to see how they were coming along.
I found enough robust greenish-blue fruits to be encouraged. Based on what I’ve seen in this area and a few other places, it could be a berry-good year in the Chugach. But that meandering recon slowed our progress even more.
And then we found an unusually colored moth (unusual for us, at least) fluttering along the ground, getting blown around by stiff breezes that were rushing up the valley.
Perhaps exhausted by its efforts, the insect stayed still enough for us to get a better look and take some iPhone pictures.
Neither one of us recognized the moth, which had a white body and lovely, pale-green wings with a pearly sort of luster. Outfitted with an iNaturalist app (installed on my phone) that Jan had introduced to me this summer, I decided to see if we could learn the moth’s identity.
Among the possibilities iNaturalist presented to us was a type of “geometer” moth, that is one belonging to the Geometridae family. Its common name is “pale beauty,” which certainly described the one we’d encountered. It turns out that these delicate moths tend to be weak fliers, which helped to explain this one’s struggles in the wind.
Not long after leaving the moth behind, we happened upon a meadow with several wild irises, of the deepest violet that either Jan or I could remember seeing in an iris. More admiring, more picture taking.
Next we came to a lower section of Hidden Creek, where it is fed by waters that originate in two valleys, one that ends (or begins, depending on a person’s perspective) at Hidden Lake and the other at Ship Lake Pass.
This stretch of creek has long been among my favorite places to visit in midsummer because of its abundant wildflowers, of many different shapes and hues. We must have come close to the peak of blooming, because the flowers were rich in both their abundance and diversity, and absolutely radiant in their color.
I’d already given up any hope of reaching the pass and so was content to linger and take in the beauty of what Jan and I agreed was a dazzling “wildflower rock garden” (rocks of various sizes scattered along the stream banks, keeping the company of flowers and bushes and loudly rushing water).
We wandered along the edges of that natural garden, immersed in the wild glory of the place (and stepping carefully to not trample the flowers, many of them small and delicate) and enjoying not only the plentiful wildflowers but also the many butterflies moving among them.
Though I make an effort to notice what’s around me when I explore the Chugach Front Range (or Anchorage’s naturally wild places) I sometimes get caught up in my desire to reach a destination or in the effort required to ascend a peak. On this hike Jan and I allowed ourselves to slow down and savor the smaller beauties and wonders that inhabit—and enhance—our city’s backyard wilderness.
The dogs, I’ll add, seemed equally content to more slowly explore the landscape in their own ways.
Leaving the creek, we hiked another half hour or so, then stopped for a snack. After a while, we agreed to begin our return to Glen Alps, and did so at an unhurried pace that would allow more discoveries, perhaps even more surprises.
Anchorage nature writer Bill Sherwonit is a widely published essayist and the author of more than a dozen books, including “Living with Wildness: An Alaskan Odyssey” and “Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife.” Readers wishing to send comments or questions directly to Bill may do so at email@example.com.