Look, look, it’s a bear!

We decided to check out the Winner Creek trail today after hearing about the hand powered tram that crosses the creek and the relatively low elevation gain made it seem like a great idea after Monday’s steep climb. It’s about 5 miles roundtrip and meanders through a lush rainforest filled with ferns, moss, evergreen trees, and bears!

Momma bear

Momma bear

The trail begins behind the Alyeska Prince Hotel, a massive place built for the ski slopes famous in this area.  There were lots of other hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers on the trail, very different from the hikes we’ve done so far.  Within minutes and only about 1/2 mile in we stopped to read a sign about a previous avalanche and when we started back down the trail I saw a medium sized black bear standing on the path about 20 yards away.  She stopped and looked back at us and then walked a bit further and crossed into the woods.  Just a few seconds later a cute baby bear followed her across the path, shortly followed by two more baby bears. They were so cute! We watched them for a few minutes as the babies and momma wandered through the undergrowth and disappeared in the forest.

baby bear #2

baby bear #2

The path turned into a wooden plank walkway for another mile or two and eventually led to a bridge over the creek with rushing water and beautiful falls.  The water is so clear it looks blue.

Winner Creek-7

We continued on to the platform for the hand powered tram where there were several people waiting on both sides to cross. The car hangs from a sturdy cable about 40′ over the water and the length it travels is about 100′ to the other side.  People on the platforms on both sides helped ferry passengers across by pulling the thick rope on giant pulleys.  It was pretty fun to ride and to tow the line.

Winner Creek-12

We found a nice place to eat our picnic lunch and then headed back the way we came.  We didn’t see any other bears or wildlife on the trail but we did pass lots of people wearing bear bells.

The flat, easy trail made another hike seem like a good idea. I read an article in today’s paper about the North Face Trail that goes to the top of the mountain behind the hotel and ends with a gondola ride to the bottom.  The article said it could be “knocked out in an hour” if you go at a good pace and don’t stop. I’m not sure how long it actually took but it felt like days.  The trail was practically vertical except for the long switchbacks near the top which, for the first time ever, was a relief.  At one point it was steep enough that a chain is bolted into the rock to serve as a handrail to pull yourself up.  Once you finally reach the top, there is a nice restaurant and snack bar with wide decks overlooking Girdwood and the Turnagain Arm.

Winner Creek-20

You can see the switchbacks and the white building on the middle left is where the trail started

To ride the gondola up is $25 but if you hike up the ride down is free. Our quads were screaming by the time we reached the top so it was a welcome relief to enjoy the view on the ride back down.  Dinner at the Double Musky satisfied our appetites and we made plans for another epic hike tomorrow!

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