I hiked McHugh Peak, for the second time in four years, on an evening in early August 2004. Nice weather. No wind except at the very top. However, the weather is unpredictable here. Technically this is a side trip from the already submitted Rabbit Lake Trail from McHugh Park along Turnagain Arm, a few minutes from the Anchorage suburbs. As that trip describes, the first few turns are confusing, and making matters worst, there are vandalized signs as well. Read that trail description for more info.
Anyways, after about an hour going up at high speed on the Rabbit Lakes Trail, I reached what I recognized as the trail to McHugh Peak itself. The turnoff, however, is not marked! However, it is a pretty obvious left fork that comes about when you are about to cross the McHugh Creek valley on the up-high. By that time the Rabbit Lake Trail had been going along pretty much east-west for awhile, in light forest and scrub, after the switchbacks at the beginning, through a thicker forest. Right before the fork you go up a much steeper portion of the main trail. Anyway, use the book 50 Hikes in Chugach State Park for a better guide.
So, you see the main gully mentioned in the book and then start to follow the side trail up a rocky ridge that is just to the left of the gully. The trail is pretty clear. Eventually you get off the ridge and onto a steep slope up alders and alpine tundra (you do not have to bushwhack). Another major ridge should be to your left. The trail then turns straight up towards the gully’s saddle. From here on up (it took about 35 minutes from the turnoff to the peak, pushing hard) you are either slogging through scree or stepping from tussock to tussock. Eventually the alpine tundra also falls away and it is just you and the rocks. I choose to go to the right and boulder up rocks to the saddle. At this point you turn right and traverse a very rocky ridge to the “peak”.
As the book says, McHugh Peak is really just the high point on the ridge, but you will know when you get to the top. The view is great from the saddle on – all of a sudden you get the full picture of how Rabbit Creek Valley and Ptarmigan Pass ties into the ridges and peaks along the Arm. In fact, you could easily do Ptarmigan Peak in a long day as the two ridges collide visibly from McHugh’s summit.
The way down I “skidded” the scree slope until it got too rocky, then it was just a slog back to the trailhead. It was an awesome night hike! – but park in the lower lot – they close the gates at 9pm. A closer alternative to Bird Ridge, and more secluded.
The following was added by the webmaster June 3, 2007:
Camped out at Rabbit Lake a few weeks ago and went up to the 2nd highest part of the McHugh but not the actual peak. The views were stunning. I was the only one in the entire valley (I had camped out overnight) so I didn’t want to chance going further, but I would have loved to see all the valley’s at once from the very peak.
Bring bear spray and a bear bell if hiking alone. I saw scat and this was before berry season.
Park in the lower lot if in doubt about the 9pm closing time. And thank the park host if they drive by you while walking into or out of the trailhead – they keep our cars and trucks from getting broken into when the State cannot afford to!, and they also might remember you if you get into trouble.
Do not attempt young kids on this hike and no dogs; leave that to the Rabbit Lake Trail.
I imagine the Rabbit Lake portion could be very buggy if this hike was done in June or July, and muddy in May and June.
A bear note: my Dad was having a sandwich below where the peak trail splits off from the lake trail, back when we hiked it a few years ago, when a black bear sniffed him out. People have also been attacked by brown bears in this area. Do not let this dissuade you – rather be prepared, especially if you hike alone. Take off the headphones if in a forested or overgrown area, or wherever you even think there might be a bear, and ALWAYS carry a bear bell and bear spray (and know how to use it!) I usually carry my bear bell in my hand so that I can regulate the noise as I feel it is needed – otherwise the sound might drive you batty and you may not use it.
Due to Alaska State budget cuts, parking is now $5. The price for an annual parking pass is $40. You can purchase a pass at the Federal Building at 4th and F or the Atwood Building on 7th and E, 12th Floor.