Last week turned out to be a week of perfect hiking conditions. Every day was sunny, cold but not too cold, and there was just enough time before sunset for me to hike out to a good spot. So on Wednesday my friend and I attempted to do a sunset summit of Mt. Baldy in Eagle River. This is a hike that basically everyone in Anchorage has done – well, everyone except the two of us apparently. I read up about this hike online and found that there were two trails to the summit: one on the right side of the road that went straight up the mountain, and one on the left side of the road that gradually wrapped around the back of the mountain. We decided to go for the gradual side because we were feeling a little tired from working all day. It was a busy trail full of runners, hikers, and dog walkers who were out to see the sunset.
The friend I brought on this hike is a new friend who I’ve never hiked with before, but I could instantly tell that we clicked as soon as I met her. We chatted away about Pittsburgh (we both lived there!), life in Alaska, and our jobs as we walked along the edge of the mountain. We soon came to a fork in the trail, and we decided to go to the left because the right fork looked like it just led to an abandoned homestead. We kept on walking and talking, enjoying our time on the mountain as the sun began to set. And then all of a sudden we looked up and realized that we were definitely not going the right way.
We looked around and tried to figure out where we went wrong. We backtracked a bit, looking for a trail that would lead us up into the mountains. We tried to bushwhack to reach a trail that we saw heading up the closest mountain, but we gave up quickly when we realized it wasn’t going anywhere. Defeated, we realized that we’d missed the turnoff for Baldy and now that sunset was happening we weren’t actually going to be able to summit it tonight. We knew how to get back to our car, just not how to get to our final destination.
I’ve never had this happen on a hike, and it was embarrassing to have it happen on the first hike with a new hiking buddy. I must have apologized ten times before she finally said, “Honestly, I’m glad we got turned around because I don’t think I could have made it up that mountain”. I stared up at Baldy’s short but steep slopes, covered in a thin layer of ice and snow. I looked down at my hiking boots and thin gloves. I was safe and warm on the trail we were on right now, but I know I would have been cold and scared trying to climb up Baldy with my current gear. I hadn’t realized that it would be so snowy up here and I didn’t have my microspikes. It had actually been a blessing in disguise that I didn’t have to sweat and scramble my way up a mountain tonight, especially because my friend would have been stressed out. But I was still disappointed that we were going to miss the sunset from the summit.
Before giving up on this hike completely, I asked her if she wanted to keep walking on the current trail. It looked like it ended at an overlook only 5 minutes away. She agreed, and we rushed to the overlook just as the sun was setting. The views of Cook Inlet, Hatcher Pass, and Denali were gorgeous. The overlook was actually a really awesome final destination and gave us the chance to watch the sunset in silence instead of battling the crowds at the top of Baldy.
The rest of the hike back was completely uneventful, and we even found the turnoff to Baldy that we’d missed before! Now that I know how to get up the backside of Baldy, I think I’ll be making a trip back here soon with better gear to make it to the summit. But for now, I’m grateful that we got lost and explored where the trail was taking us. I got the chance to make a new friend and chat about lots of things without losing my breath as we struggled up a mountain. It ended up being the better path for us that day, and I’m glad we got a little lost and found a new place to explore!
Have you ever gotten “lost” on a trail and found an even better hiking destination? Would you rather do a flat trail or a steep trail?