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

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Natural Rose Pruners

As I was putting together my morning smoothie today, I turned away from the window and was startled when I turned back and there was a big 'ole momma moose standing right outside my kitchen window, munching on my rosebush. She went around it systematically, tearing off the fresh growth. Then she wandered off and junior (as I call the one-year-old moose who haven't been run off yet) sauntered into view and he started munching the lower branches that momma left. He too systematically went all around the bush, and then he followed his momma over to the lawn to graze.

Luckily, I don't care for that rosebush, and in fact I would be delighted if they would eat it to the ground. It is interesting how the moose learn where there is food they like, and those places become part of their "route." A few days ago a collared moose was eating my rosebush in the front yard. We'd been seeing him hanging around, but it was his first appearance we'd seen of him in our yard.

So maybe you get tired of reading about moose, but they do provide plenty of entertainment and diversion. The sandhill cranes are back and we see them stalking up the road so they entertain us too!


Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Jack-up Rig Arrives Again

Homer folks have strong opinions about things, and jack-up rigs in the harbor are one of them. This one arrived recently and is supposed to be leaving soon, making way for the first cruise ship of the season, since it is parked at the deep water dock. The last one was supposed to be here a mere few weeks, and ended up staying many months. The one before that got stuck in Mud Bay at the base of the spit. We are hoping this one gets out on time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Moose have been everywhere lately! I've been seeing five or six nearly every time I drive out East End Road. The young'uns (last year's babies; about to be run off when mama has this year's babies) are hanging out with their mothers. Oftentimes they are kneeling in folks' lawns eating the grass. Last week Doug had to chase one off the turf field, where it was hanging out as the softball team was practicing, and moose droppings are scattered about the turf. We are trying to figure out why they hang out down there if there's no food.

And of course there are the moose-car and moose-people interactions. As I was driving home from my morning gym workout at 7:30 a.m. last week a young'un came dashing out of the alders onto the road and almost crashed into my car, only swerving at the last minute. And this evening Doug and I were preoccupied as we were walking and all of a sudden realized there were two moose standing at the side of the road munching on the bushes in someone's flowerbed.

It has been entertaining, though I'll bet I'm not the only one wondering how much earlier the moose will drop their babies this spring with this unseasonably warm weather. Our lawns are already green and ready to be mowed and trees are leafing out, so the increased nutrition will help them out.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Spring Break in Cooper Landing!

I have said before that Cooper Landing is one of my favorite vacation spots. I have yet to get enough of hiking and biking there. I noticed there was very little snow there when driving through the weekend before spring break on my way home from a trip to Anchorage. Although spring break was going to be busy with work and basketball practice, I decided it would be fun to take a few days to hike the trails in Cooper Landing, especially since we didn't make it there this past summer.

The campgrounds are all closed but there are cabins, lodges and a hotel open. Since the Sunrise Motel has one spacious room with 3 queen beds, we opted to stay there, hoping to convince our kids to come and spend the weekend with us for a mini-vacation. The other advantage is the Sunrise has a cafe (new owners are advertising it as a bistro, but that is a stretch) that is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. We weren't sure what other restaurants were open.

Burn area off the Stetson Creek Trail has opened up some views
As we drove into Cooper Landing on a Thursday afternoon, our first hike slated for the weekend was the Stetson Trail. We've hiked it numerous times as there is a connector trail from the campground we usually stay at when we're in town. It is a long, long uphill--all uphill for an hour or so of hiking.  Last June wildfires ripped through this area, which had cancelled our rafting trip we'd had scheduled for the Kenai River. I was curious to see what condition the trail was in and was pleasantly surprised.

The Stetson Trail was in good shape despite a forest fire
along it last June
The trail was in great shape, and even at that early date, there was some ice, but nothing we couldn't get around, and snow, which was fairly hard-packed and not deep till the higher elevations. The nice part was that the fires opened up the trail, so what was once a lane of spruce trees now offered views of surrounding mountains. 

We were pleased that despite the long climb, we were not winded, a testimony to our winter conditioning program (basketball for Doug; Alaska Training Room for me).

After checking into the hotel, I convinced Doug to check out another hike:  Slaughter Ridge. It is a 4000 foot climb to the top of the ridge, but Doug expected that snow would stop us within a few hundred feet, otherwise he wouldn't have agreed to a pre-dinner stroll up a mountain! It is a south-facing slope and I suspected we would get quite a ways up the ridge, but I wasn't tell him that!

I love this little waterfall near the start of the Slaughter Ridge Trail
A quick 5-minute drive from the motel got us to the trailhead. We weren't expecting a long hike so didn't take much gear. About 20 minutes and 1000 feet later, we finally hit ice on the trail, so that was a good hike. I was delighted!
There is one short section of log-hopping in a swampy area on the Slaughter Trail before it begins the serious climb.

The view of Kenai Lake from only about 1000 feet up where we finally hit snow on the trail.
I should have taken a picture of the dinner we got at Gwinn's Roadhouse. Oh. my. gosh. The burger was humungous and the fries (Doug) and onion rings (me) were plentiful. Doug couldn't even finish his burger or fries! Along with being huge, the burgers were tasty. The interior could have been fixed up just a little--like wash the windows--but it definitely has a back-woods appeal.

Back over to Sunrise, we took an evening stroll (truly a stroll this time!) on the shores of Kenai Lake which is almost across the road from the motel. The water is low so there is actually a beach, though it is rocky. It was dead calm out so it was a pleasant walk.

The plan for the next day was to check out the Bean Trail, which is the local's connector to Resurrection Pass. As with all these hikes, they were exploratory and we didn't know how far we would get before stopped by snow or ice. As with the whole weekend, we were pleasantly surprised by how nice conditions were. 
The road at the start of the Bean Trail was icy, so ice spikeys on our boots were helpful.
This is a snowmachine highway in the winter, but even with the road icy and gravel even in places, snowmachines had been on it recently and there were a few trucks with trailers parked along the road. It took about 20 minutes to walk the road part; we walked another 50 minutes on the trail which got us to the intersection with the Resurrection Pass Trail. It was easy walking--almost like walking on pavement it was so firm packed from snowmachines. The weather was warm--in the 30's or 40's and sunny--an absolutely gorgeous day for a walk in the woods. In some parts the trail feels almost park-like, adding to the feeling that though we were in the Alaskan wilds, it was more like the stroll in the woods.

We would just get peeks at mountains through the trees on the Bean Trail

Snowmachines made the trail easy walking
That evening our kids drove up from Homer after sports practices, lured by our tales of good hiking. They especially wanted to hit Slaughter Ridge, as they are mountain climbing junkies. Saturday morning dawned with a couple inches of snow on the ground and more falling from the sky! The wind was gusty and the weatehr report showed dropping temperatures.  Aargh! No Slaughter Ridge for them:  even Aurora knew we wouldn't chance her climbing it with only one week till the state basketball competition she'd been working towards all winter. But the Resurrection Pass was still a possibility.

We geared up with multiple layers, extra socks and gloves, hotties, food and drinks. The kids' goal was Juneau Creek Falls, and impressively large waterfall 4 miles from the Cooper Landing Resurrection trailhead. Doug and I were just out for a walk--for the joy of being out in the woods exercising. If we made it to the falls, great, but if not, no big deal.

A perfect winter scene along the Resurrection; contrast it with Slaughter Ridge--no snow!

The two fresh inches of snow covered the ice on the trail, but we managed to get away without ice spikes on our boots. The first couple miles had minimal snow depth on the trail and icy patches that kept us alert. As the elevation climbed, the snow depth increased to a couple feet, but many walkers before us had packed a single track which was easily navigated. Doug and I hiked out an hour and twenty minutes. We had just turned back when the kids came cruising into view; they had made it to the falls, past the falls, and were already heading back. Young whippersnappers! The weather had warmed up rather than cooled, the snow fell sporadically and the wind had died down so it was actually pleasant walking.

All in all, it was a delightful weekend until we had to drive home Sunday morning. It had continued to snow all night and then it began to rain. And then it warmed up and all the packed snow on the roads turned to slush. What a mess! But I've now decided that Cooper Landing should be a winter destination as well as a summer one. It is far enough away to be "away" but not so far away as to eat up a whole day traveling. Yea for spring break in Cooper Landing!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Humpback Whale Watching on Kachemak Bay

Yesterday the biology professor at Kachemak Bay Campus came through the faculty hall inviting folks to head out on her boat for some whale watching. I happened to be getting off at that time so I jumped at the chance. Apparently orcas and humpbacks have been seen in Kachemak Bay in the last day and they were active at the moment. We were hoping to see orcas, but ended up seeing at least 10 humpbacks, which was still quite cool. They were feeding, so they would come up and then roll on their side. 

There were a number of boats out watching the whales, and the whales were spread out over a few miles. For the two hours we were out there, there was a whale within a few hundred yards of us, but if we looked off in the distance we could see more whales surfacing and blowing. The closest a whale got to us (we did not attempt to get this close to them) was 20 feet, when it surfaced unexpectedly off our starboard side.

We lucked out with some gorgeous weather; just a whiff of a breeze made it comfortable, and having two biologists on board assured that we knew more than we might want to know about what we were seeing. What was cool though was that with experienced whale viewers they could tell us exactly when and where the whales were going to surface by watching the water and their patterns.