MOUNTAIN ECHOES: A new angle on Triangle Peak

Friday, July 22, 2016 - 09:28
  • Recent rains greened up the valley behind, or south, of Symphony Lake, as viewed from the approach to Triangle Peak.Photos by Frank E. Baker for the Star
  • Recent rains greened up the valley behind, or south, of Symphony Lake, as viewed from the approach to Triangle Peak.Photos by Frank E. Baker for the Star

The eagle circled below us and quickly gained elevation, then soared deeper into the narrowing valley. Within minutes, it disappeared behind a mountain ridge near the base of 6,821-foot Calliope peak, a snow-clad mountain visible to anyone hiking South Fork (Eagle River) Valley in Chugach State Park.

 I was certain it was a golden eagle, which I’d seen before in this area. Its head was not white, but the bird was too large to be an immature bald eagle.

It was a warm, partly cloudy afternoon June 9, and after an eight-hour, nine-mile hike, friend Pete Panarese and I were resting and taking in incredible views from the 5,495-foot summit of Triangle Peak, at the southern end of South Fork Valley. The eagle had probably travelled an equivalent distance in five minutes.

We’d both climbed the peak before, but as light continuously changes in subtle ways — and the sky’s mood is ever-shifting — we often look forward to new experiences in familiar places. Old haunts can bring new discoveries.

Earlier in the day as we approached Eagle Lake on the way to Triangle, we met a young hiker who said he was also climbing the peak. He planned on meeting a friend who was already in the area and they were going to approach the peak from the west side of Symphony Lake. 

It’s a route I’d taken several years ago, but I was not aware there was now an established social trail — not only around Symphony Lake’s western shore — but ramping up the slopes to Triangle.

There were five tents pitched in the area and some of the campers were fishing in Symphony Lake for grayling trout. Pete and I opted to hike south on the ridge between Symphony and Eagle lakes and proceed up-valley along the creek feeding into Symphony Lake.

What we didn’t expect was beaver activity that had dammed up the stream making it difficult to cross. We finally got to the other side by stepping across part of a beaver dam. We then climbed up a steep embankment and aimed uphill toward a stream that would become a key water stop. That’s when we noticed a well-worn trail angling across the slope from Symphony Lake — the route we should have taken.

Well-stocked with water, we continued upward on our newfound trail. We soon passed a small lake, or tarn, nestled at about 3,000 feet in a bowl that recent rains had turned a deep green. The trail led us through a fairly steep but manageable section and up onto a plateau, called Triangle Pass.

After about half a mile of relatively flat hiking across alpine tundra, we were finally at the base of Triangle. From this point it was only about 700 feet to the top, so we took another break. We soon spotted two figures descending the Triangle ridge and as they approached, we saw that it was the same guy we’d talked to earlier, now with a female friend.

We chatted for a while and learned they were quite active in the Chugach Mountains. I didn’t get their names, but they were a delightful couple. Our brief conversation re-energized me for the final summit push. Watching them quickly recede into the distance, it was obvious how much faster they were moving than us.

“But we’re steady,” I muttered to Pete as we moved upward on the rocky slope. “And we have good songs.”

Same view, different perspectives

In about an hour of steep scree climbing we were on top of Triangle, and with the aid of a map, began identifying the surrounding mountains and features. Closest to us and to our immediate south was Concerto Peak, at 5,505 feet. It was a memorable location because many years ago on its lower slopes, a friend and I spotted a wolverine sliding on the snow.

Two weeks earlier on the eastern flank of Calliope Mountain, Pete hiked right up on a wolverine — a rare sighting even for people who frequently venture outdoors. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates there are only about 1.3 wolverines per 100 square miles throughout Chugach State Park, where since 2009 trapping for wolverine is prohibited.

At the base of Concerto Peak we peered into Ewe Valley, one of the more remote areas in the park. To our immediate northeast was rugged Cantata Peak at 6,391 feet, and due east was Calliope, mentioned earlier. Farther to the east was Hurdygurdy Mountain, at 5,994 feet, and 6,909-foot Eagle Peak. The former I climbed twice and the latter only once.

Far to the west lay Ship Lake, tucked into a small valley that branched off Indian Pass, which turned west toward Turnagain Arm. Blocked from view by the Concerto ridge was the Ship Creek (North Fork) drainage — winding south far into the mountains toward Moraine and Paradise passes that eventually lead to Crow Pass.

Below us and to our north were Symphony and Eagle lakes, with their contrasting colors: aqua green for glacier-fed Eagle Lake and a brilliant blue for Symphony Lake.

As on many of our trips, Pete and I were like wide-eyed children gaping at the astonishing panoply of mountains, valleys, canyons and hanging glaciers stretching as far as the eye could see.

“We’re lucky to be able to do this stuff at our age,” Pete commented.

“Who’s old?” I countered.

The descent and return hike were uneventful, aided by a good trail that led us all the way back to Symphony Lake and around the lake’s western shore. Deep in the valley behind Symphony Lake, Pete spotted two moose, the only large wildlife seen that day. Hiking along the lakeshore we saw a good-sized grayling, perhaps nine inches, swimming in the shallow water.

Crossing the big boulder field back to the main trail was our last challenge of the day. The typically aggressive Arctic Terns left us alone as we slowly picked our way through the rock rubble left by glacier ice 10,000 years ago.

On the last leg of the trail we stopped and glanced back at Triangle, which now looked quite far away. We’d been there before, but on this long day we’d seen it with fresh eyes and with a renewed appreciation. It wasn’t one of the Chugach’s biggest mountains, but it put us back there amidst some of them. And for us, being out there is everything.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

 

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