Copper River Record December 2016
By Robin Mayo
Okay armchair hikers, we’ve been getting out every week and should be getting in shape by now, so how about something a little more ambitious? The old Caterpillar road to Tiger Mine, also known as Fivemile Trail, is a challenging hike with great potential as a day trip, or a multi-day backcountry trek. The trail takes off south from the Edgerton Highway at mile 27.8, just west of the Chitina Airport. There is a small gravel pullout for parking.
One resource I looked at for this hike called it “strenuous but straightforward,” and that sums it up perfectly. The first four miles or so are a steep, fairly steady uphill through thick forest. The trail has been drive-able in the past, although encroaching trees make this harder every year. But the good solid surface makes hiking a pleasure. At this point you are crossing Native Land, but the road is on a 50 foot wide easement. The high country is state land. Popping out above treeline makes the hard work worthwhile. The views of the Copper River and Wrangell Mountains are spectacular, wildflowers and berries are abundant, and Fivemile Creek is nearby.
This area is part of the Tonsina Controlled Use area, where hunting with motorized vehicles or pack animals is forbidden from July 26 through September 30. This makes it an enjoyable refuge for quiet hikes during hunting season, when your other favorite spots may be overrun with ATVs. In early August I once crossed paths with a couple of intrepid sheep hunters hauling everything they needed on their bicycles. They were an impressive sight as they slowly pedaled their heavy mechanical steeds uphill. I hope they were rewarded with an easier but infinitely more exciting trip back down, tearing down the rutted trail laden with fresh meat.
Once you are up in the high country, there are many options. I’ve heard it is possible to connect over to the Liberty Creek Trail and make it a loop, but have never attempted it, so do some research before committing to the trek. There are small peaks to climb, lakes and waterfalls, great views, and good campsites all along the trail. About 8 miles in, you can visit the site of the Tiger Mine, which was actively looking for gold and other minerals from 1987 until 1994. Wildlife sightings are frequent in the wide open spaces above timberline. The total elevation gain on the trail is about 3,500 feet, with many ups and downs.
Anyone have a favorite hike they would like to suggest? I’m always open for ideas, although there are still an amazing number of adventures on my list to take us through the winter. No blisters, no bears, no hypothermia—armchair hiking does have advantages! But I do miss stopping to snack on blueberries and soaking in the sunshine. Good thing summer 2017 is just around the corner!
Moss Campion in the high country near Tiger Mine Trail
Photo by Janelle Eklund
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.