Monday, July 29, 2013

hiking Lazy Mountain with a toddler in tow

Distance: 2.5 miles one way, allow at least 4 hours roundtrip)                 Location: 4 miles east of Palmer

Difficulty: strenuous                  Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet                Best season: mid-May to September

Fees/permits: $3 per day for parking, $30 year round pass

from Palmer: take West Arctic Avenue/Old Glenn highway east away from town. Cross the Matanuska River bridge, then turn left on Clark-Wolverine Road. After about 0.7 miles turn right on Huntley Road and in another mile, bear right at a fork in the road and follow the road downhill about 0.2 miles to the trailhead parking lot. 

from Anchorage: take the Glenn Highway to Palmer and turn right on West Arctic Avenue/Old Glenn highway and follow the directions above. OR follow the Glenn Highway about 30 miles and then take the Old Glenn exit (watch for signs). Follow the Old Glenn highway about 9 miles, cross the Knik River Bridge, and continue on the Old Glenn about 6 more miles. Turn right on Clark Wolverine Road, then after about 0.7 miles turn right on Huntley Road and in another mile, bear right at a fork in the road and follow the road downhill about 0.2 miles to the trailhead parking lot. 

The Hike:
This is a beautiful hike. Upon arriving at the parking lot and trailhead, you are greeted by breathtaking views of the Matanuska Valley below, including both the Matanuska and Knik rivers and the Butte, which looks very small off in the distance. There are picnic tables and a fire pit, perfect for a pre or post-hike picnic. 

I was hiking alone with just Riggs and Tutka for company. Hiking with a toddler on any trail is far different than doing without a toddler. There is much more to plan for and to bring along on the trip to make for a safe and happy hike for both parent/caregiver and toddler.

For the Lazy Mountain trail specifically, there are a few things I think are essential to pack along for the trip:
1. Structured child carrier with an external frame - This is very important! A soft carrier like a sling or Ergo just would not cut it for this hike, in my opinion. The external frame keeps your hot toddler off of your hot back, helping a little bit with the sweat factor. It also allows you to load the child in the pack before putting it on, making it much easier to get them adjusted and comfortable for the trip, and you can set them down in it as well along the trail when taking breaks.

There is also a 5-point harness for safety, and in the backpack your toddler rides much higher up than in a soft carrier (like an Ergo) allowing for much better views and an ultimately happier trip (at least for Riggs - he has to be able to see to stay in a backpack carrier for very long). I also love how much storage there is in most child carriers, especially when hiking by myself because I have to carry Riggs and all the food/gear/water we will need for the hike. We have a hand-me down carrier that works very well, but if I start doing more long (4+ hour) hikes, I might invest in a newer model. My main reason for this is because many new models include stirrups for your toddler to rest their feet on while you hike, meaning their legs aren't just dangling there losing circulation - very important for spending long periods of time in the backpack.

2. Layers - your toddler will need a few layers of clothing for this hike, even on the hottest day. Many portions of the trail are bordered by thick vegetation, including stinging nettle and cow parsnip, that hang over and can brush your legs and arms while walking. Riggs liked holding his arms out to try and touch all the plants and trees that he could, and I made sure he wore long sleeves and long pants to protect his skin. It's also nice for sun protection, it's just that much less sunscreen you need to put on their skin. It was about 75 degrees and very sunny and still when we hiked up, and Riggs didn't over heat in his longsleeve shirt and overalls. I packed along a pair of shorts for when we were above the treeline and for the car ride home.

3. Water - this is a very strenuous hike and I would recommend bringing along water, a lot of water. Fill up water bottles or a bladder with how much you'll think you need, and then add even more. I had to pack enough for the dog too, so I was carrying a lot of weight in water on the way up. Even though Riggs was just riding along in the backpack, with the hot weather I knew he would want quite a bit of water when we stopped too.

I actually filled an entire gallon milk jug with water just for Tutka, as well as a large stainless steel water-bottle for myself and a small one for Riggs. I also packed an extra gallon jug of water and left it in the truck for when we were done with the hike. I was really glad I did too, because we used up every drop of water while hiking and were still thirsty for more when we got back to the parking lot.

5. Snacks - Even thought we had already eaten lunch, I made us each an extra sandwich for bringing along on the hike. It is always important to bring along high-energy snacks when hiking, you are expending a lot of energy and it's important to stay fueled up so that you don't feel fatigued. It's also important to have extra food in case you get stranded or are unable to get back to your vehicle for some reason. It might seem like that would never happen, but it's always better to be prepared.

6. Trekking Poles - I did not grab my trekking poles for this hike (even though they were in the truck - oops) and I regretted it when I started to come back down the trail. With the extra weight of Riggs on my back, it would have been nice to have the trekking poles for support and to feel more secure about not falling on Riggs. I did slip a few times coming down, but each time I was able to catch myself. It's very dusty this time of year, which can be just as slick as when it's muddy, no matter what footwear you are wearing. I passed a few people on the way down and everyone had slipped at least once or twice.

7. Bear bell and bear spray - I had a bear bell on Riggs' pack and next time I'm going to attach one to Tutka as well. You can never be too bear aware, especially when hiking alone with a toddler. If Steve is with us, he always carries a firearm specifically for bear protection, but I feel more comfortable carrying bear spray if I'm by myself. I always carry the larger bottle, as I'd prefer to have the most protection possible. Also before you hike in bear country, I believe you should always review what to do during a close encounter with a bear (read all about being bear aware here).

In addition to the items I've highlighted, you also need the usual items required when doing anything with a toddler, like diaper changing supplies and maybe a spare set of clothes in your vehicle.

Even from the very beginning of this hike, there are beautiful views all along the way. The first half of the hike alternates between heavily wooded areas and open fields of vegetation. The shade the wooded areas offered was greatly appreciated by both me and Tutka.

As you gain elevation, the scenery just get more and more spectacular. I loved the fields of fireweed and how the two rivers glittered in the distance. So breathtaking! This is a very steep trail and most people will probably need to stop and take breaks along the way. There is less and less shade as you gain elevation, but at least there are endless views to enjoy as you catch your breath.

I have a strong aversion to any footwear other than sandals in the summertime - everything else is just so constricting and hot. So even when hiking I usually wear sandals, either my birkenstocks or chacos. Some people might think I'm crazy, but it works for me. I've never rolled my ankle or lost my footing because of sandals. I probably would have been better off wearing my chacos on this trail, at least for the trip back down, since they have a heel strap. But my feet were fine in the birks too, other than getting a little bit dirty. 

I do feel compelled to say that it would probably be best for safety to wear more supportive footwear like trail tennis shoes or hiking boots. Whatever works best for you.

We only made it up to the first picnic table, where we stopped to have our snack and to let Tutka have a break and get some water. Riggs also enjoyed exploring the area, and Tutka felt compelled to follow him where ever he went. Those two are such buds, it's so cute.

We headed back down from there due to needing to get home in time to make dinner for Steve. The remainder of the trail up to the top of Lazy Mountain is somewhat easier. You still have quite a bit to climb, but there's much better traction and the view distracts you from the pain, ha. Despite being very strenuous, this is a beautiful hike that I think is fun to tackle with a toddler in tow as long as you are fully prepared. As a final note, I like that there's cell phone reception the entire way up the hike. Not because I was texting while I was hiking, but because it made me feel more safe hiking by myself to be able to call for help incase Riggs or I got injured along the way.

Have you hike Lazy Mountain? If not you definitely should. Let me know if go how you like it or if you want to get together and make the trek.


  1. Look at all that fire weed cute pix of Riggs he is such a cutie.

    I really miss hiking Lazy mountain we hiked it a lot as a family and it was my first mountain I ever hiked so it has a special place in my heart.

    My husband wrote a children s book called Drift in your pillows eye Williams great Alaska adventure. He featured hiking lazy mountain in it..

    He is there for a week and a half wish I was there too so I could see and hike lazy again and see my grandson and daughter..

    Alaska life is great thank you for always sharing it's beauty...

  2. You inspire me! Hiking by yourself with your toddler and dog?! WOW! Yes I agree with the hiking poles. When we hiked a few weeks ago with Gabriel in a carrier we realized that poles would be so helpful! Of course when we went to our outdoor store to use our dividend we totally forgot about needing/wanting poles. Beautiful hike!

    XOXO/Lena @ RootandBlossom

  3. I'm actually planning a camping trip soon and I'm looking around online for ideas on what to bring with me. I'm looking to camp in a tent, I'm interested in a real camping experience, not living inside a mobile home in the woods. I've seen this backpacking hammock that looks like it would be great to set up outside near the fire and is easy to carry. How was your camping trip? is there anything you forgot that you wish you would have brought?

  4. @Jenn - I'll have to check out your hubby's book. sorry you're missing ak and your sweet grandson/daughter, you need to come up and visit again soon!

    @Lena - it was such a lovely hike! And really not too hard, mostly because Tutka (our dog) is so easy and well behaved on hikes and Riggs did great in the pack:)