May 30, 2021
With a long weekend and the park opening on Tuesday, I wanted to get out and hike Dumpling Mountain while I have the energy–and so that I can better advise visitors who want to take the trail this summer. I knew after a year of living a relatively sedentary lifestyle during quarantine this would be a difficult hike, and I wasn’t wrong…
Dumpling Mountain is really the only “hiking trail” at Brooks Camp, aside from the main route to the falls and Brooks Lake. It’s about ~8 miles roundtrip to the summit of the mountain, gaining about 2,000 feet of elevation. Many people opt for a shorter hike, about 3 miles roundtrip to the overlook (~800 foot elevation gain), or ~6 miles to the first false summit.
Taking advantage of the long daylight hours, I headed out around noon with a small group of other employees and interns from the park. Knowing how terribly out-of-shape I am right now, I stayed at the back of the group, and everyone pretty quickly spread out, each tackling the steep trail at their own pace.
Because we’re deep in bear country here, we did our best to keep conversation going, knowing that there could be bears anywhere along the way. The human voice is the best tool to alert bears to your presence, and give them a chance to move out of the way before a surprise-encounter. And since the trail is so overgrown, it was important to be especially alert and noisy out there.
As I predicted, I was huffing and puffing by the time we got to the overlook 1.5 miles up the trail. And whenever I stopped to catch my breath, I was swarmed by mosquitoes. I was glad I brought my headnet.
The view from the overlook was well worth the effort, though. Naknek Lake shimmered in all its turquoise glory, Brooks River snaked through the forest, and at its other end, Brooks Lake shown in steely grey underneath brooding storm clouds.
Determined to make it to the top, and escape the swarming mosquitoes, I pressed on passed the overlook and continued up the narrow trail. Eventually the trees thinned out as I came out toward the top of the treeline, the thick conifers giving way to willows and alders, and eventually low-growing tundra plants.
I was starving when we finally made it to the point on the trail where we could eat. Due to the bear populations at Brooks Camp, there’s a 1.5 mile radius from Brooks Falls where it’s prohibited to have food outside of designated areas. This includes Dumpling Mountain, but there’s a sign a couple miles up the trail informing hikers that they’ve left the Brooks Camp Developed Area, and may consume food out in the open past this point.
I hiked a little further still though, to get above the tree line where there would be fewer mosquitoes, and had a snack out on the windy tundra before continuing on.
With a little more energy now, I pressed on, further up the trail. It dipped down, and then back up again toward the first false summit. By this point, the wind had whipped up and a cold rain was spitting down on us now and again.
Some of the group had already made it to the top and we passed them heading back down, but I was happy with my slow pace and didn’t much care if I made it to the top or not. There was so much to look at and see! Tundra mosses and wildflowers, animal scat, bone fragments, rock formations, and an ever-changing vista beneath fast moving storm clouds.
We passed over a patch of snow before making it to the first false summit, where we stopped for lunch. By now my legs were aching, and I was really feeling all those months of inactivity from 2020 finally catching up to me. This summer will kick me into shape, for sure.
We plopped down on the soft tundra moss looking out over Brooks Lake, and shared snacks and talked for a while, enjoying periodic patches of sunlight and sprinkling rain. We decided after lunch to head back down, since, even though we still had many hours of daylight left, we were all feeling satisfied with the hike and happily tired.
It was around 8pm when I finally made it back to my cabin. I’m glad I know what that hike is like now, and I look forward to taking it again later this summer when berries are in season and the mosquitoes will hopefully be a little less hungry!