Hanging Valley

Chugach State Park
This hike was rated 3 stars.
Difficulty
Easy; somewhat difficult if heading up the pass to Eagle River Overlook. Be careful climbing around and exploring. The trail is sometimes hard to find but the destination is obvious.
Miles One Way
6
Miles from Anchorage
25; on the outskirts of the town of Eagle River
Season
June to September

Description

I had known about this hike for about 3 years before I ventured over from my usual route to Eagle and Symphony Lakes. The lakes are such a great destination and it seemed like a waste to sidetrack to what I thought was a basic, seen it before, glacial valley. But since I started this site, I decided to do it so I could add to the number of hikes already online.

Well! I’m glad I started this website because I would have never discovered this really cool valley if I didn’t.

It’s a small valley but it has quite a few gems. The entire place is so ripe for exploring. The valley is dominated by Hurdygurdy, a mountain that looks to be gouged out by 2 different glaciers causing it to seem twisted and spiraled. One of the glaciers has left an incredible lake set on top of a lush tundra plateau in which a waterfall flows down to the valley below. This is where I set my camp up the first time I visited; an ideal spot.

The moraine is really cool. What looks from a distance to be a perfect circular mound is a hodgepodge of deep crags and gouges. My guess is that this glacier receded and advanced repeatedly in its waning years-its last gasping breath.

On the other side of the valley is the trail that leads to the saddle of Harp Mountain and to the Eagle River Overlook. I was all set to do it the next morning but a dense fog rolled in and made the trip superfluous. The next time I go, and I will, I will definitely make the trek.

The Valley itself is lush without being overgrown. There are plenty of great spots as well as numerous small tarns (with one shaped like Africa) to camp by. The creek bisects the middle of the valley. For real privacy, head to the very back of the valley where you will find two tarns, one above the other, with a waterfall connecting the two. (note: the upper lake dried out by mid summer July 11, 2004)

My advice: set up camp, bring a day pack and spend the rest of the day exploring.

The following was added June 12, 2004:

Well! After reading Ross’ description below, and needing a short place to hike into Friday night after work, I decided to head back to Hanging Valley. I spent the night in the tiny peninsula of the main lake in the main valley. The next morning, I headed up to the Overlook.

The saddle is easy. Last year I thought I saw switchbacks but I was wrong. They were just small dry “creeklet” beds. But it wasn’t hard and if you sort of diagonal it and head to the small outcrops, you’ll be at top in no time. The hard part is from the top of the saddle to the actual overlook. On the map, they have you going straight up near the creek (which may be dry depending on when you go). I veered at a 45° angle instead towards the northern summit and it was pretty easy going. It’s worth the time to spend a minute on the saddle and think carefully where and how you want to make your ascent.

The view of Eagle River is pretty cool. I also got great views of Denali and the Alaska Range as well as Hanging Valley below. If the clouds hadn’t come in fast portending the chance of heavy rain (it did just as I got back to my tent), I could have spent a couple more hours walking the entire ridgeline back toward Hanging Valley and checking different sections of Eagle River.

The following was added August 14, 2005:

Just got back from a great overnighter. This time I set up camp on a small moraine near the unnamed lake in back of the valley…primo spot! It was a hot day and the water was warm enough to jump in for a few seconds.

Important Information

Until you get to the bridge down in the valley, you are on private property. Stay on the trail and respect the owners.

Be aware that the trail into the valley can fade away in places as you crest the ridge after the bridge. At the trail intersection shortly after, take the one that heads straight up. You should be heading toward the next ridge and not the creek. Once you get over this ridge, it’s easy to spot the trail slicing through the valley.

At the plateau where the nameless lake is, use the left side of the moraine to access the top. The sides are quite steep with scree. I had to slowly slide down on my butt on my return.

The mountains in this valley look very inviting to climb but are quite steep when you actually do. Be careful and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

If traveling with your pooch, keep a jug of water and a bowl in your vehicle. There are no water sources (except boggy stuff), from the bridge to the trailhead. If it’s a hot day, your dog will thank you.

Etc.

If you look at this photo from the Eagle & Symphony Lakes hike, it’s the other side of Hurdy Gurdy Mountain. It’s an interesting contrast between the two sides.

Finding the Trailhead

Take the Glenn Highway to the Eagle River Loop / Hiland Road exit. Turn right off the highway, and then another right onto Hiland Road, which you will follow for several miles, nearly all the way to the end. Turn right on South Creek Road, then another right on West Creek Drive. The parking area for the trailhead will be on your left. This is a very popular trail, and on a busy summer weekend (especially if the weather is nice), expect to find cars overflowing the parking lot and lined all along the side of the road.

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Topo Map

Hanging Valley topo map

Comments on hiking Hanging Valley

  1. The following was submitted by Micah McGuire:

    There are always a few people in the area, though the lake itself is hidden from sight when you are in the valley, so it gets less traffic. The lake area is always a bit chillier and windier than the lower valley. Plan on putting on a couple extra layers when you access that area. The elevation of the lake is 3,406.

    Bears frequent the area, so be careful. Once outside the main South Fork Eagle River Valley the terrain becomes much less bear-friendly, so one need worry about it less the closer one gets to the lake. Easiest access to Hurdygurdy Mountain can be found on this hike.

  2. The following was submitted by Frank Baker:

    We summited Hurdygurdy Mountain June 22–a little tougher than anticipated. Enclosed a shot of a good route to get you in position for Hurdygurdy. From the back of Hanging Valley (South Fork Eagle River), you crest over the high ridge and down into a moraine, then up the scree slide (enclosed). In this photo you can’t see Hurdygurdy–it’s behind peak 5710, at left in picture. You either climb over 5710 or skirt around the peak to get onto a short ridge that leads to Hurdygurdy. We had difficulty getting to the top of the scree slide because big snow cornices hung over the top–restricting where we could get up. The top left (of the scree slide) is where I went up and it is nothing but Chugach crud, not a rock or piece of dirt that is stable.

    Enclosed a second shot of me at summit, Hurdygurdy, 5,940′. Hurdygurdy is doable for average to good rock scrambler. It would be much easier when the cornices are melted away from that big scree slide. This photo gives you a more complete picture. Moving from right to left: Peak #1, at right, the scree slope, Peak 5710, and in the background the left (or east) flank of Hurdygurdy. Some folks report going up and over Peak #1 to access the ridge in front of 5710, instead of going down into the moraine and then back up the scree slide, like we did. Peak #1 looks a little steep to me, but you never really know until you get up there. We stayed high going around Peak 5710 and it spit us out right on the short ridge leading to Hurdygurdy.

    Even a trip to Overlook–at the head of Hanging Valley, is worthwhile in itself. Fabulous view of Eagle River Valley all the way to Eagle Glacier.

    Two more routes: 1) Along the ridge at the end of Hanging Valley, up and over the peak #1 (north) that takes you to the saddle, pictured, where we ascended. 2) From canyon beyond Eagle Lake leading to Flute Glacier, a very large gully takes you, gradually, ALL the way to the saddle between 5710 and what I call peak #1, where we ascended to. Maybe the MCA folks don’t list this route because it is TOO easy, but it’s the way I would go from now on after looking at it from above.

    Seems to be one of those Mountaineering Laws of Physics: Guys 35-years-old and younger seek the hardest way they can find up a mountain; guys 60 and older, like me, look for the easiest route.

  3. The following was submitted by Ross Timm on Hanging Valley and climbing to the Eagle Overlook:

    I recently did Hanging Valley trail, with side trips, on a warm early June day. It still had some snow and wet spots, but pretty dry for such a wet winter. I want to add info on extending the hike up to Harp Mountain. Once I got to the end of the Valley (as described in the guidebook) I hiked up to the tarn (lake) described. It took a lot of checking to make sure I was in the right place to head up to the lake, but it turned out to be just as described; very pretty, but it was mostly ice-covered. In the Valley the views of Hurdy Gurdy Mountain are great (although at first I thought maybe that was the Overlook described. I believe the book “55 Hikes..” calls the Overlook ‘Point 5130’) Anyway, the book was unclear, until I realized it looked way to technical compared to what they were describing.) After further guidebook deciphering I decided to hike up to the saddle between the Harp Mountain ridge and the Overlook ) However, I saw no real trails, so I just kind of side-tracked up

    Webmaster’s note: Ross has a lot of experience on mountains. Please do not attempt the following if you have any doubt as to your skill on such terrain.

    I had decided to not go to the right and up to the Overlook. Instead, I went left, where, as the book describes, you can parallel the Valley trail along the ridge line. It is like a new view of where you just came from, while still kind of getting you back to the start of the Hanging Valley trail. After many false summits and 2 miles, you get to Harp Mountain, which is a rocky pile along the ridge. There are great views of Eagle River and the Alaska Range. You feel like you are in some serious backcountry from the time you enter the Hanging Valley until you actually get to Harp Mountain, when you suddenly realize how close you really are to civilization. The guide book says descend via a gully from the mountain top, and you will eventually hit the Hanging Valley Trail near its origin at the intersection with the South Fork Eagle River Trail. Sounded good, but the scree was too large and shallow to “ski” down most of the time, so it was a potential ankle breaker effort, and it was a very tiring effort, once I was back in thick alpine

  4. The following was submitted by Micah McGuire (Chugachpics):

    Rating: 2 moose hooves
    Difficulty: Easy

    The lake is spectacular, one of many sandy-bottomed lakes above tree line in the Chugach. This particular lake is about 15-20 feet deep in the middle, about a half-mile of surface area, and of brilliant yellow sand on the bottom, giving the lake a very light-blue appearance. At the back end of the lake is the tiny corpse of a rock glacier, rising like a pimple from the flanks of Mt. Hurdygurdy.

    This summer I am going to explore the bottom of the lake with proper cold-water gear, then I’m going to name it (if that doesn’t give me the right, I don’t know what does). Until then, it remains nameless.

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