Up Portage Pass
The most popular Whittier trail is up to Portage Pass. In the early days when gold was discovered around Hope on the Kenai Peninsula, Hope-bound hopefuls would boat to this harbor, portage their supplies over the glacier pass, and float down Turnagain Arm to their destination. This highly recommended day hike from Whittier affords splendid views of Passage Canal, Portage Glacier, and the Chugach Mountains. On a clear day, the views of the glacier from the Portage Pass area are far superior to those from the Portage Visitors Center.
This trail starts near the oil tanks and tunnel entrance at the foot of Maynard Mountain. Cross the tracks on the dirt road to the left. Take the road to the right and climb southwest along the flank of the mountain up a wide easy track. If you walk briskly, you can be at Portage Pass (700 feet) in less than an hour. There are places to camp or picnic beside Divide Lake, but beware of strong winds at the pass.
From the lake follow the stream down toward the glacier, then find a way via a tributary on the right up onto one of the bluffs for a view of Portage Lake. Deep crevasses in the blue glacial ice are clearly visible from here. Portage Glacier has receded far enough that the gold-rush route is no longer traversable because of the lake; you must go back the way you came.
This hike is highly recommended; allow a minimum of three hours round-trip. Note that there is no clear trail beyond Divide Lake, so you must find your own way. Do not attempt to walk on the glacier itself, as the crevasses can be deadly.
A seasonal Forest Service information station is usually housed in the yurt next to the boat harbor; stop by for details on sea kayaking and other outdoor options. If it isn’t here, get kayaking information from the Ranger Station in Girdwood (907/783-3242). Although it is possible to paddle from Whittier to the heart of Prince William Sound, most people prefer to get a boat ride out so they can spend more time near the glaciers and wild country that make this such a special place. A number of local water taxis provide these services, transporting sea kayaks, paddlers, and their gear, then picking them up several days later.
Two companies offer kayak rentals and guided day trips: Alaska Sea Kayakers (907/472-2534 or 877/472-2534, www.alaskaseakayakers.com) and Prince William Sound Kayak Center (907/472-2452 or 877/472-2452, www.pwskayakcenter.com). An easy three-hour paddle to the kittiwake rookery runs around $79, or take an all-day Blackstone Glacier trip for $300. Multiple-night trips are also available.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition