|Location||Girdwood, AK. Crow Pass Trailhead.|
Crow Pass trail provides a stunning display of Alaska’s beauty. However, flying in the face of the Alaska norm, it also is solidly accessible. This also makes it somewhat crowded–but think of it as “Alaska crowded”. On my Sunday-Monday trip through somewhat dreary weather, I saw about twenty people over the twenty-three miles (and most of them concentrated within standard day-hiking range of the trailheads).
The trail itself is a point-to-point, which can be difficult logistically. However, as I discovered, hitching in Alaska seems pretty smooth.
It is fairly easy to find the parking lot for the Crow Pass TH; just turn on to Crow Creek road from Alyeska Highway and drive to the end (always keeping left). Once at the lot, you’ll quickly spot the start of the trail. The next two or so hours will be an uphill slog, a beautiful slog but a slog nonetheless, to Crow Pass.
At the top of the pass you get an amazing view of Raven Glacier and the valley the river it feeds has cut. It’s all downhill from there. You’ll cross a few small creeks through the valley, but eventually come upon The River. This is the Eagle River crossing.
A fifty-foot or so wide, ice cold river stands between you and the trail. Crossing the Eagle River definitely felt like one of the more daring things I’ve done in the backcountry.
When I first arrived it was quite late in the day (around 6pm). We stormed the river, got about two feet from shore, and then backed out. The water came past my waist and the swiftness of the water made us both feel unstable. We pitched our tent and decided to test the water in the morning, hoping the water would lower overnight.
The next morning (around 6am) the river level had dropped two to three inches. Feeling brash, we put on all our wool socks (which really helped keep us warm in the icy water!) and boots. We took the river by conga-line and made it across. It was a slow and gnarly process; the river was cold and wide, our legs were pelted by ice chunks as we made our slow progress. However, we never came close to falling.
The deepest part of the crossing is right at the beginning of the crossing. For me it stayed slightly below my waist until we got to that underwater sandbar. There the water came up to my calves. Then it was back to slightly below my waist until we got to the island. After the island, there is another section that is much less wide, but just as deep.
Once you celebrate being done with the crossing and shake off the excruciating pain of feeling returning to your feet, turn left to pick up the trail. There are some makeshift campsites that have caused some faux-trails in the area. The real trail can be found by following the river bank downstream.
The nine remaining miles of the trail move slowly in many parts. The trail meanders up and down the side of the river bank; sometimes being reminiscent of an obstacle course. When we were there the high water levels had washed out portions of the trail, which made it especially slow going.
After banging out the miles, you’ll find yourself at the Eagle River Nature Center. Time to hitch a ride back to your car!
- The park board next to the river crossing suggests taking a side-by-side approach to cross the river, but this felt completely unstable to me. The conga-line strategy felt much more solid. It may be because of mine and my hiking partner’s height difference (5’2″ vs 6′). Either way, make sure you cross in the way that feels safest to you–previous crossing experience would be very helpful for this situation.
- If you do not feel safe crossing the Eagle River then do not cross! The uphill trudge is preferable to an icy death. A kid died downstream in that same river on the same day we crossed.
- I definitely recommend starting from the Crow Pass trailhead in Girdwood. It makes for a much easier hike and an easier hitching situation as the Nature Center on the other end has more potential rides.
- It can be daunting to rely on a 70-mile hitch back to your car, however never before have I gotten a ride so quickly or ridden which such friendly people. Alaska seems to have a much friendlier attitude toward hitch-hiking as compared to the lower 48.