Trip Report for July 21, 2023 – Table Top Mountain Trail

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Trip Report for July 21, 2023 – Table Top Mountain Trail
View of the talus summit of Table Top Mountain

To follow up with the previous day’s hike up Wickersham Dome, I headed to the Steese side of the White Mountain National Recreation area to do some wildflower searching along the Table Top Mountain Trail. I hesitated to even bother as the forecasted temps were in the 80s and there were no clouds, thinking it might be miserable, but I was pleasantly surprised once I got there.

Others roll their eyes and laugh at us Alaskans for whining about the heat when temperatures soar into the 80s or 90s. But what they fail to grasp is the relentless intensity of the Sun’s rays on our bodies, hour after hour. At these extreme latitudes, the Sun hangs lower in the sky, casting its scorching beams upon us from morning until evening. It’s an unrelenting assault, leaving no respite when we venture into the outdoors. I am speaking from experience when I say 90° F in Fairbanks often feels like 100° F down south.

The blue sky beyond burned spruce – this area was left barren after a wildfire in 2004
I love the green landscapes through the burnt spruce

Luckily, it was a bit cooler up in the mountains than it was in town when I left. A light but steady breeze also helped cool the air on my skin. It was a bit sticky with the humidity, but the trail climbs fairly gently, so I certainly wasn’t overexerting myself. The breeze kept most of the bugs at bay as well, which was a nice touch.

As with the previous day, I wasn’t finding much for wildflowers on the hike up. There was a lot of common fireweed, grass of Parnassus, and Rocky Mountain goldenrod in the burned area of the lower forest. Once I was above the tree line, some new species appeared, like eight-petaled mountain avens, mountain harebell, Alaska Spiraea, and labrador lousewort. Unfortunately, nothing of great use for my guide, but I did manage to get some good identifying photos of species that are already included.

I didn’t see much wildlife along the way. The blueberries were in season, and there was some very small berry-filled scat, but it looked much too small to be bear. White-crowned sparrows sang for almost the entire trip below the tree line.

Fireweed and monkshood at the junction with the spur trail that goes to the top from the loop

The entire trail was mud-free and easy to walk. I did take the spur trail to the summit and spent some time looking for flora at the top and just took in the views. There were very few wildflowers left, save for some twinflowers, pincushion plants, and mountain harebells. It’s tough to beat those blue skies and endless green and grey hills!

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View of the hills over the talus top of Table Top
Landscapes just go on and on
The winding dirt road in the Nome Creek valley

It was such a gorgeous day that I had some regret for not bringing a tent. It would have been a perfect night to camp here. I really took my sweet time, completing the 3.5-mile loop in 2 hours and 45 minutes (and actually covering over 5 miles with 1200 feet of elevation gain – I spent a lot of time wandering). It was a perfect day to hike, and I had the trail entirely to myself the whole time!

Info for the hike on my Table Top Mountain Trail Guide

I’ve been slow to edit photos as I have a large backlog from previous days, but the current gallery for the day is here: 2021-07-21. Below are a few wildflower close-ups from the trail and links for more info in my Alaska Wildflower Guide.

Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)
Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa)
Bitter fleabane (Erigeron acris)

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