After a rough introduction to Alaska hiking via the West Glacier Trail to Mendenhall Glacier, Tristan and I had decided to take a break from hiking to go ocean kayaking. After also exploring a local arboretum and a famous Catholic shrine, we returned to the downtown area for food and to buy more gifts for family and friends.
While purchasing a gift for Tristan’s brother, we decided to ask a local about hiking trails. “We did the Mendenhall hike and it damn near killed us,” I confessed, laughing. “That’s the hardest hike I’ve ever done.”
“We want something easier for our last day out,” Tristan added. “Any ideas?”
The local then suggested that we try hiking Mount Juneau. “It’s a pretty easy hike up,” he said, “and you drive up a good part of the way, anyway. You’ll love it.”
Now, let me preface the rest of this post by saying you should NEVER listen to Alaskans when they recommend “easy” trails. The hike up Mount Juneau turned out to be the hardest hike Tristan has ever done, and was entirely up hill. For me, I still think Mendenhall gave me a worse butt-whooping, but this hike was a close second! Here’s our last big adventure tale from Alaska.
Driving Up the Mountain Road
If you’re not an experienced driver, or you’re not used to narrow, winding mountain roads, I do not recommend hiking Mount Juneau. I won’t say we feared for our lives, or anything quite so drastic, but the roads were narrow even close to the city. Cars were also parked along the streets, making it worse, as traffic flowing in two directions often had to use one lane. In addition to this, many intersections occurred at the very top of a hill and/or around a bend, making it difficult to see the flow of traffic and make a turn knowing you were 100 percent safe. Needless to say, Tristan did the driving.
Along the way, we came across other parking lots and trails, but since it wasn’t the one we were recommended, we kept going. Also, we would never start a mountain hike closer to the bottom on a day when we were looking for something easy. We were taking the Jeep up as far as we could!
Arriving at the Head of the Perseverance Trail
When we arrived at the head of the trail, one of the first thing we noticed were these warning signs for steep drop-offs, falling rocks, and avalanches. The warning sign missing from here was for bears, which we did encounter, but more on that later!
Finding Perseverance Trail was easy enough. The trail itself was also fairly easy with one almost unbearable nuisance: flies. We had encountered them before, during the Mendenhall hike, but this was ten times worse than it had been that day. Thankfully, you don’t see them in the pictures. But, throughout the rest of this post, you may notice I often have my hood up and Tristan has his wrapped around his nose and mouth. That’s why!
Hiking Perseverance Trail
Flies aside, the Perseverance Trail was as beautiful as the local promised, and it only became more beautiful the further up we hiked. There was plenty of greenery and mountainscapes.
Even more beautiful than the greenery were the rivers and waterfalls we could see below.
“I wonder if we can find a way down there,” Tristan mused aloud, while I ventured as close as I dared to the drop-off to get good waterfall pictures from a distance. Little did we know, we most certainly would find a way down. But, more on that later as well!
These drop-offs did look especially dangerous. Don’t be fooled by the pictures. We were nowhere near those waterfalls. We can thank the power of “zoom” for these. Imagine our surprise then, when we learned that this was Alaska’s first road. I’m pretty sure very few people ever looked forward to this ride.
It was also the road to the first stamp mill, but we didn’t continue along the Perseverance Trail to see all that. The local had told us to take the left trail up the mountainside, and so we did exactly that.
Hiking Up Mount Juneau
After the ease of Perseverance Trail and the advice of the local, we were expecting a leisurely stroll up the mountain. What we found was anything but. It started off manageable enough, but the higher we got, the more difficult the hike became.
I lost Tristan within the first quarter mile up or so. We had to return the Jeep by 3PM and had started our hike at around 11:50AM, which gave us just 2 hours and some change to hike up the mountain and back. Realising what truly lay ahead, I was determined to make it up, come what may. That meant that while Tristan was wisely pacing himself, I fled up the mountain as if I was being chased by a sleuth of bears!
Because of this, until I made it part way to the top, the only other picture I took was of this beautiful little caterpillar on the trail. Was I tired? Yes. Was I thirsty? Yes. Was I the same stubborn girl who ran a 5KM race with heart pains from an angina attack, even though I truly believed I was minutes from death? Yes. So, on I went! Every so often, I would stop and shout Tristan’s name three times. Only the wind and the trees and the eerie silence answered me.
My perseverance paid off some miles later, when I came across this view. By then, I was out of breath and bathed in sweat. I stopped to take the picture and then continued onwards to see what else lay ahead. At this point, I had no idea where Tristan was, but had finally received a text from him assuring me he hadn’t been mauled by bears and was still on his way up.
Another mile or so took me as close to the top as I was willing to go by myself. We had been warned of bears on the trail on our way up, and the occasional rustle in the trees did not suit my nerves. Also, as the view did not improve with height (notice you can’t see the city and the ships anymore?), I didn’t see the point of continuing. At this point on the trail, I could see the top of the mountain. It was about a quarter of a mile up behind me. I called for Tristan three times, and again, the silence shouted back at me.
After a very sweaty selfie, I decided to start the hike back down the mountain. I ran into Tristan not much later, close to where I took that first picture of the view. I assured him it didn’t get any better close to the top, and we began our highly anticipated descent.
Tristan’s phone was on its last ounce of battery, so I gave him my camera to get a few pictures.
A Beautiful Detour
As is to be expected, we made it back down the mountain in a fraction of the time it took us to go up. We found we still had about half an hour or so left, so we began to contemplate a detour to our right. As we did, I saw three or four guys come out of it.
“Hey! HEY!!!” I called after them.
They turned to look at me.
“Is there a way to the river down there?” I asked as I hurried up to them.
“Yeah! It’s beautiful down there.”
“Awesome! Is it a far walk?”
“No, just about like… three minutes,” one of the guys estimated. He didn’t look like a local, so we decided to trust his estimation and take the detour!
We are so glad we did. Aside from the feeling of accomplishment from hiking up Mount Juneau, it did not compare to splashing about in an Alaskan river, in-between two of the many water-falls along the way down.
Below are some of the many shots we took from the only “easy” and “laid-back” portion of our hike up Mount Juneau.
After this detour, we continued down the path. On the way down, two British ladies casually warned us that they had passed a mama bear and her cubs a quarter of a mile down the road.
“I’m sure they’re gone now, though!” they exclaimed and continued happily up the mountain road.
When we neared that quarter-mile mark, sure enough, we heard the high-pitched roar of baby cubs. Reasoning that perhaps they weren’t even on the trail, we continued on. That was a mistake. Sure enough, before we had taken a good ten steps or so, we saw mama black bear rounding the bend towards us.
We very slowly backed away and then when she was no longer walking towards us, we turned around and continued back up the trail. She didn’t follow. We decided we would wait a bit, before continuing on. While we waited, a Jamaican and a European who worked on the cruise ships at the port met us.
“There are bears down the trail,” we explained, pointing.
They decided to wait with us. After about five or ten minutes of waiting, I grew impatient. I knew we had to return the Jeep and time was ticking, so I decided we should brave the trail again. By then, the bear and her cubs were gone. We continued to warn other hikers all the way to the car that there were bears up ahead.
Though this is the last of our big adventure in Alaska, it isn’t the last post from my trip to America’s Last Frontier. Next Friday, I will explain how Tristan and I wanted to kick ourselves when we found an easier route to view the Mendenhall Glacier which involved zero hiking, so be on the lookout!
I also owe you guys a post on tips for travelling to and/or hiking in Alaska, which of course includes the necessary tip:
Never believe the locals when they say a trail is easy!
Cost breakdown for this trip:
- Round trip from Atlanta to Alaska: $711.61
- Round trip from Las Vegas to Alaska: $579.80 (Tristan paid for his flight)
- Airbnb Booking: $317.99
- Turo Car Rental: ~$347.35 (Tristan paid for the car rental)
Thus, the entire trip cost me $1,029.60 and cost Tristan $927.15. Together, we shared a total cost of $1,956.75. This was our most expensive trip to date and worth every penny!