Outdoors & Recreation

The Sheep Mountains

Craggy thumbs rising off the mountainside.

Craggy thumbs rising off the mountainside.

Never have I had much interest in outer-space. Not that I don’t care about what lies in the great beyond, but it’s not tangible, and not something I will ever experience. That may also be the reason, unlike my wife, I am not interested in Star Wars, Star Trek or science fiction in general. Photon shooters and galactic pistols are too far fetched for my mind to comprehend. The world of lunar landscapes with spires, craters and objects floating from a void of gravity would be more appealing if I could touch it, walk on it and closely interact with it.

That’s the introduction to my experience in the Sheep Mountains. I know, you are probably wondering how that fits in. Well, follow along with our mini-adventure and you will see.

I first met local business owner, Iditarod competitor (3rd place finisher), and all around great guy, Zack Steer, at the Greater Palmer Business Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. Zack invited Anne and me to stay a couple nights at his lodge, Sheep Mountain Lodge, at mile 113.5 of the Glenn Highway. We’ve been to the lodge previously, ate at the restaurant a couple times, but never spent time exploring the area.

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Upon arrival we found our cabin, unpacked and relaxed a bit before getting out and hiking the surrounding trails. Anne and I both agreed that the mountain directly behind us would make for a good hike if the weather cleared and the views opened up. The first characteristic we observed of the Sheep Mountains, eastern most mountains in the Talkeetna Range, is their unique coloration. The layers of oranges, yellows and reds contrasted sharply with the green vegetation and typical grey rocks usually seen on mountains in Alaska. The red hues are caused by high levels of iron in the rocks.

Inspecting the mountain ridge directly behind the lodge revealed an even more unique landscape. Tall spires of dark grey shale rock stretch vertically from the top of the ridge. We made our plan to hike to the spires, rain or shine, the next day.

The next morning we packed a lunch, water and photography gear into our packs and headed out with blue skies overhead. The trail went up a gorge created by the seasonal Yellow Jacket Creek. The creek was dry near the bottom, but as we climbed higher it turned into a trickle and soon it had a decent flow. That is where we exited the creek bed and found the ridge Zack had instructed us to head up.

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Our trail was beaten down from years of usage by local sheep. We were thankful the sheep created this path for us to follow. The grade was very steep at times. Maybe it was the huge ice cream and cookie dish we ate the night before, but quick breaks and short breathers were necessary.

Soon enough, we made our way to the top. Enter my new appreciation for Han Solo and R2D2 … maybe I won’t go that far, but it did feel as if we had just sped through many light years to a galaxy far, far away. Craggy rock thumbs giving their approval stood resilient through years of wind, snow, quakes and rain. If there wasn’t the amazing view of the Matanuska Glacier, Chugach Range and Glenn Highway, you could think you were lost, as if on a set of Firefly.

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We walked a narrow trail along the ridgetop marvelling at the spires next to us. One step to the left, or to the right and you would have issues. To the left was a quick fast drop along sharp shale rock slides, to the right a bumpy drop down a steep grassy embankment with patches of rocks hidden along the way down. We were now traveling a different trail than what was suggested by Zack. We felt this trail would offer superior photos and I am glad we followed our instincts.

Anne hiking up the steep trail behind the lodge.

Anne made her way down the steep slopes to a large rounded portion of the ridgeline overlooking the hillside below, the Glenn Highway and across the valley to the Chugach Range. You sometimes never really know how amazing and different a common view is until you change your elevation. Many times we’ve driven this section of the highway and always appreciated the views of Lions Head and the Matanuska Glacier, but seeing them from our new vantage point was spectacular.

We continued down without incident, spotting Dall sheep along the mountainside to our immediate right. They, being only about a third of a mile away, took every precaution to avoid us and moved higher into the mountains and away from the grassy slopes where they were feeding. Soon our trail flattened out and we were making our way back to Yellow Jacket Creek and to our beautiful cabin.

After a quick break and hot meal, we capped the evening off with another big ice cream cookie and espresso from the lodge’s restaurant. Just getting in prime shape to be unprepared for our next hiking adventure!

 

Story by Cecil Sanders

Categories: Outdoors & Recreation

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