Jumbo-vision: Standing on the top of Douglas Island

Local hiking aficionada shares love for peaks, alpine and vistas

Posted: Friday, September 18, 2009

Do you hear that pitter-patter on your roof, the slow drip on the sidewalk? That's the sound of autumn, and it's here.

Yes, I hate to be the one to deliver the bad news, but summer is over. And it won't be long now - just weeks, perhaps even days - before the first termination dust coats Juneau's skyline. After that, the mountains become significantly less accessible, so now is the time to bag those peaks you didn't have a chance to summit when summer was hot and spectacular and you spent your days lounging in your swim suit on Sandy Beach.

I can already hear the skepticism: "Mountains? Hiking? Really?" So let me point out another obvious fact: You live in Juneau, perhaps one of the best places in the United States to be a hiker. "Discover Southeast Alaska With Pack and Paddle," an obscure guidebook published in 1974, pronounced Juneau "one of the few places where the casual hiker can gain entry into the mountaineer's mystical world without the climber's skills and trappings, and may better understand the mountaineer's love of high places and his urge to journey into otherwise unreachable wilderness."

If you have time to bag only one peak this season, I strongly recommend Mount Jumbo (also known as Mount Bradley) on Douglas Island. All of Juneau's prominent peaks are stunning, but Mount Jumbo has the added benefit of being readily accessible, shorter than most, with a well-established trail that crosses a range of scenic landscapes that include rainforest, muskeg and colorful, autumn-hued alpine.

The trailhead is located on Fifth Street in Douglas. The first mile is a moderately easy jaunt through the rainforest on a fairly wide trail, followed by a walk across the muskeg on single-plank boardwalk (Beware: It's very slippery when wet, and almost always wet.) After leaving the muskeg, the route climbs steeply up a semi-eroded, root-clogged trail. I have heard it compared to "walking up a ladder," or "an endless Stairmaster." The roots do provide nice steps and handholds, which help limit sliding as hikers gain a gut-busting amount of elevation in the next mile and a half.

The trail leaves the woods about a half mile from the summit. From here, views of downtown Juneau become apparent, and on clear days, the numerous peaks that dot the Juneau Icefield also pop into view. The trail crosses a saddle and continues climbing up a steep, rocky drainage. Look for piles of rocks, or cairns, as the route isn't always apparent. The final pitch is a scramble to a false summit, followed by a short drop and climb to the summit, 3,337 feet above sea level.

Rewarding the effort are spectacular views of Admiralty Island and Stephen's Passage, downtown Juneau, Gastineau Channel and the Mount Roberts ridge. Perched high on the narrow spine of Douglas Island, Mount Jumbo offers what is perhaps the best 360-degree panorama in town.

The trail can be slippery when muddy, and clouds can choke out the views, so it is best not to attempt to climb Mount Jumbo in the rain. Budget at least three hours for the five-mile hike if you are feeling ambitious, and closer to six if you'd like to take your time (that is, take breaks.) This time of year, plan for cool temperatures and sub-freezing windchills, and carry rain gear. There is no snow on the ground, but wet vegetation can be slippery, so trekking poles also are a good thing to have.

But whatever you do, don't wait. Winter is coming.

• Jill Homer is the deputy managing editor at the Juneau Empire.

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