A new world waits in the mountains above Manitoba Hut, but few know it. Most, after all, use the hut as base from which to ski or hike Manitoba Mountain. Others use it to just get away for a day or two. Some of these people have probably paused on the bridge crossing Canyon Creek and looked far upstream and wondered if any trails led up stream onto those ridges. As it turns out, two routes lead up into that high country, though it took some time to find them.
An evening whim two years ago took me up a trail above Tenderfoot Campground. It led not only up through the brush but to a high and wide plateau between two deep cirques. Nightfall kept me from climbing higher. A few weeks ago I finally returned to this trail. It did not take long to reach tree line and then climb over a series of broad humps to that same plateau.
Looking up from there I realized it would take time and care to climb the final 0.25 miles of the ridge to the top. Not only did it narrow and steepen, but numerous cornices draped its southern side. Little did I know that the care and time taken here would lead to such a long, lingering day of fine hiking in a new world above.
It took a lot of hand-over-hand scrambling to squeeze around outcrops and traverse ledges as I made my way slowly up the ridge. Then I came to where a 70-degree snowfield hugged a wall of broken rock. It took a long pause and considerable pondering before started to move again. After stomping firm platforms where the uppermost edge of the snowfield hugged the rock wall I took my first steps out onto the open slope. Choosing solid handholds among the rocks above, I edged across the slope occasionally glancing down to the snow-filled cirque far below to my right. Once past this obstacle it took straddling another gable-topped snowfield for 20 feet for me to stand on the spine of the long ridge extending from Lower Summit Lake to the north for 12 miles to Upper Trail Lake to the south.
I had only climbed one of the side ridges that climb up the numerous large half-bowl cirques dropping off the west side of this main ridge. This geography bestowed a marvelous sense of discovery as I now looked out from the main ridge. New country, new valleys and new mountains, spread out before my feet. Back over my shoulder and close to 3,500 feet below, Seward Highway ran straight behind the silver waters of Upper Summit Lake—all familiar territory. But ahead lay new country. Even certain summits I had seen from other places and from other angles, including Silvertip Peak, Bench Peak, and Spirit Walker, now seemed new.
Apart from reaching the top of the ridge, I had no other plans. But now an un-named 5,100-foot peak just 1 mile up and around the cirque to the south seemed a good destination. It took 30 minutes to stand by the cairn marking that summit—the only evidence of humans I would see on the ridge.
After taking a hard look down the ridge swooping south over distant peaks, I decided to turn north toward Hale-Bop Peak. Not only did it have a name I also knew of a little-known trail below its far southern ridge that would save much bush-whacking.
The light came and went through the gray clouds above as I contoured back around the side ridge and started toward the long summit ridge of Hale-Bop. Blue sky occasionally broke through the clouds, allowing broad swaths of bright sunshine to wash across nearby slopes and distant ridges as I made my way around another cirque. From far below rose the murmur of Mills Creek as I started up the long, wide summit ridge. Then, after passing over two bumps, I stood at the unmarked summit (4,970 feet).
At that moment the wind picked up and a chill settled in. Donning a windbreaker, I started down the steep slope on the far side of the ridge to where 2.5-mile-length of Raven Ridge unfolded in a wide curve down toward Manitoba Cabin. Though no darkness would fall this late-June night, one could sense the day slowly turning toward evening. Even with no watch on, watching the sun slowly moving from the south to the northwest made it obvious that numerous hours had passed since I first reached the ridge top.
It took another hour of hiking before the end of the ridge dropped away, spiraling down from the tundra above into a thick stand of spruce just below, and then down through a checkerboard of willow and meadows into the forests below.
Somewhere down at the upper end of that forest alongside the creek draining the upper Raven Ridge valley I knew I’d find the upper end of an old mining road. But first I had to make my way down the steep slope, passing from tundra to grass and then from grass to willow. As I wove down through patches of willow, Hellebore and ferns grabbed at my feet, pitching me forward more than once.
Reaching the upper end of the forest, I dropped through a thick stand of brush into the drainage where I soon found the trail.
Now it only remained to walk the last 1.5 miles down to the highway. It then took 2 miles of road-walking to reach the car. Hitchhiking crossed my mind, but considering the short distance and the late hour, it seemed best just to walk. So as the day’s hike passed through my thoughts the miles passed beneath my feet. By the time I turned the key in the ignition, I had the day firmly implanted in my memory and two or three other trips in that new world above forming in my thoughts.
Written by Shawn Lyons, author of the newly published Walk-About Guide to Alaska, Volume Two: The Front Range and the Anchorage Bowl.)