Sunday, June 19, 2016

#Erosion on the Switchbacks

As we were hiking down the switchbacks at the end of East End Road last week, we came across a gully that was deeper than the last time we'd been down that way. Aurora's comment was, "hashtag erosion." Little did she realize just how much erosion has been happening on the cliffs past the switchbacks. Her comment struck me as such a modern way of saying what has been happening for thousands of years. What amazed me the most about the erosion along those cliffs is that I thought of them as so stable because they haven't been eroding at the rate of the cliffs near Homer. And there hasn't been that much rain in recent months, but as we walked the beach, it occurred to me that the erosion had likely happened over this past winter during the nonstop rain we got for months (which at elevation was snow).

Here are a few pictures of the changed landscape in the few miles along the beach at the bottom of the switchbacks.

A large section of the hillside slumped off onto the beach

Another section of cliff gone, with alders littering the beach

A coal seam peeking out of the beach

The coal seam continues, with the bottom of the cliff crumbling away above

The coal seam rises out of the beach and into the cliffside

One of my favorite parts of hiking this beach:  the fascinating layers of geology evident

The different layers stand out in stark contrast

Piles of pebbles at the base of the cliff are new. Pebbles continued to fall even on this dry day.

The beach isn't quite as easy to drive now with alder carcasses crossing the once-relatively smooth surface

I admire this wild rose for making the best of a tough place!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Visiting Exit Glacier, Seward

Eleven years ago we visited Alaska for a month before we moved here and Exit Glacier is one of the places we checked out. On a recent camping trip to Seward we wanted an easy hike (really, it is easy--the kids were pretty whipped from 23 miles of hiking the previous day) so we headed over to Exit Glacier to see if we remembered it. We did--but for our environmentally conscious kids, it almost felt like a funeral because the glacier has retreated quite a bit in the mere 10 years since we'd last visited, as evidenced by the year markers posted along the trail. And the trail to the glacier is longer than it was before, also a sign of the times.

The paved paths were just what we were looking for and we joined crowds of tourists as they explored the paved paths to the glacial outwash area and the glacier itself. Someday the hike to the Harding Icefield may be in our future--billed as an 8-9 hour strenuous hike. They offer it as a guided tour.

Here is a video of the glacier:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Crow Pass as a Day Hike

Since I was already in Girdwood, my family came up and joined me the last day and we did the hike I have been itching to do for years, since I backpacked it with a group of 25 folks from the Lower 48 about six years ago:  Crow Pass. I wanted to see if it was as beautiful as I remembered it, and as easy. It was more beautiful than I remembered it (perhaps because I was with fewer people so I could stop, look around and enjoy it more) and it was as easy as I recalled. We were doing it as an out and back.

From Alyeska Resort it was a 20 minute drive, up the gravel Crow Pass Road to the trailhead. The first part of the trail climbs through alders with only peeks at the mountains between them. Shortly one climbs gradually out of the alders and brush into the barren mountainous region of Crow Pass. An impressive waterfall thunders through a chasm to the left of the trail, with a narrow ledge one can scootch right next to the plummeting water. 

A relatively easy stream crossing before one reaches the top slowed me down a bit but I still managed to get to the the top in an hour, including a stop at the falls. I opted to get only to the level area I'd camped with the group years before. It was still covered with feet of snow this time. Further along was the Crow Pass sign, the "official" pass, and a glacier off the the right of the trail that one can walk onto if so inclined. We were not, particularly as the kids were planning to hike the Primrose-Lost Lake Trail that same afternoon so we were watching the time.

Here are a few shots of this relatively easy hike, which I hear climbs 3 miles and is at 3500 feet (not sure what gain that is).

Pussy willows were budding out and the snow is down to a few feet on the trail 

"Historical mining" apparently contaminated the earth in this area, resulting in this warning to not touch the soil or drink the water from this area which is on the way up Crow Pass

Mountains, is a gorgeous mountain valley. This is looking towards Girdwood from partway up Crow Pass

Here is my humbly unprofessional video of the area--for a 360 view:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Winner Creek and Upper Winner Creek Trails-Girdwood

A conference at Alyeska Resort last week allowed me the opportunity to explore Girdwood trails a bit. Winner Creek is a fairly easy 2.5 miles to the hand tram. It has been about 6 years since I last hiked this trail and many improvements have been made. It is wider, with more bridges and steps over boggy areas. It is also extremely popular and I would guess it is one of the busier trails in Alaska. I saw one gal hiking it in 5 inch heels. Others were blasting their music to ward off bears. Plenty were running it. It is a gorgeous temperate rain forest with old growth trees and open understory overflowing with moss.

The 10+ foot wide graveled cross-country ski trails were new, and there is major construction at the beginning of the trailhead.

The Upper Winner Creek trail veers off at 1.5 miles up the Winner Creek Trail, continuing another 12 or 14 miles upstream to a beautiful mountain valley. I got 1.5 miles up that trail (past the turnoff), and as you can see below, the mountains come into view and you get closer and closer to them. This is actually a fairly level trail; I was impressed at how easy it was (at least in the early parts of it that I was on).

View of mountains as you get out of the trees on Upper Winner Creek Trail

An old bridge along the Winner Creek Trail

Impressive gorges with rushing water along the trail

A line for the hand tram

The new cross-country ski trails are impressive

I thought this was a road at first, until I came across the trailhead sign and saw it is a ski trail

Lots of construction at the ski trailhead

A stream diverted during construction

Quite an impressive culvert just for ski trails!

Lots of bridges along the Winner Creek Trail

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Best Stadium View in Alaska!

I am often struck while sitting at soccer games, track meets or football games what an amazing venue Homer High School has for their games. With a new turf field and track that gets extensive community and school use, it is an amazing benefit to the Homer area. At a recent girls soccer game, the view of the Kenai Mountains was beautiful enough to video and share.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Falls Creek Trail--Turnagain Arm

The Falls Creek Trail has been on my "to hike" list for many years, a mere 20 minutes south of Anchorage. We've started hiking it before but we didn't have much time. After the state track meet was over on Saturday, the weather was nice and we had a sliver of time on Sunday before we needed to be home so we decided to check it out.

The Falls Creek Trail follows Falls Creek, a wild, rushing stream

The trail follows Falls Creek nearly the whole way, sometimes quite close (in a few areas the trail was being eaten into the stream!) and other times nearby but not quite so present. It is an "uphill all the way" trail. The trail descriptions we read varied from 2.7 to 4.0 miles long, and from a 2700 foot to 4000 foot climb, likely varying depending on where the 'end' of the trail was considered: at the end of official trail or at the top of some surrounding peak.

From the upper reaches of the trail, a peek of Turnagain Arm can be seen

The trail was shaded by tall poplar trees the first 45 minutes of climbing (for us; not necessarily for others depending on their pace), then was partly shaded by the shorter alders. We never did climb out of the alders and above treeline in the 60 minutes of ascending. The trail was not too steep compared to, say, the Skyline Trail, so it was comfortable hiking both up and down. The day was sunny and hot (70 degrees!) so that added to the challenge as we Alaskans aren't used to such heat.

The kids kept going to the saddle at the trail's end, then climbed partly up one of the peaks. For them it was 2 1/2 hours round trip at their fit, young pace. Doug and I just did an hour up and 45 minutes back, which was a nice break-in for an early-season climb to get our legs conditioned.

This was just a comfortable hike that hit the spot for a fairly low-energy day for us. The kids had wanted to hike the 15-mile Lost Lake Trail but I am happy they compromised with this one. It will end up on our 'to hike' list more often now. As a bonus, the parking is free in the small pull-off parking area off the Seward Highway.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Pictures of Kachemak Bay--From the Air

As I've traveled across the bay for work the past year and a half, I have snapped a few pictures on occasion and thought I would share a few.

Homer is not as beautiful (this is looking out East End Road and "the bench"), as the view from Homer is!

Boat trainings are common in the spring, drawing in dozens of boaters

View of the Homer Harbor and the commercial part of the spit--shops, fish processing and Land's End

This is looking towards the base of the spit on a fairly low tide from the looks of it, as at a high tide all this is visible is the ribbon of road
MacDonald Spit and the mouth of Jakolof Bay to the left of it. Jakolof Bay is where the road to Seldovia starts

A beautiful view up one of the bays

Seldovia across the bay from the spit (lots of spits in this area!)
Another view of Seldovia; airstrip on the left; harbor on the right

The mouth of English Bay, looking towards Port Graham, which is about halfway up the bay on the right

A view of the Kenai Mountains, with only the tips showing today

Nanwalek, with the spit on the right doubling as the runway

Loving the curved runway of Nanwalek, with mountains on each end