|The view of Kenai Lake from part-way up Slaughter Trail in Cooper Landing|
Over the years a couple of people have glowingly mentioned the Slaughter Trail in Cooper Landing. When in town camping with Denver a few weeks ago I'd driven every road in town in search of the trailhead, but with no luck. Finally I found a map of Cooper Landing in the Visitor's Center that showed the Slaughter Trail starting somewhere about halfway up Bean Road, with the trail forking, turning into two trails. We'd scoured every road and trail off both Bean Road and Slaughter Ridge Road with no luck. It was now time to turn to the locals. I scored on my first try. A clerk at Wildman's replied to my inquiry, "Well, I know how I access the Slaughter Trail." My heart leaped! The trailhead (unmarked, of course) started just up a little road behind Wildman's, something I would have discovered if I'd just Googled it and clicked on the right source (Even the online sources conflict about the trailhead location. I suspect originally the trailhead was supposed to be somewhere different.).
I reported back to the family and we planned our day: after 2 days of mountain biking we were ready to rest those muscles and work our climbing muscles. Friday of our vacation was chosen. We lucked out with more good weather. We parked in the little turnaround up the gravel road past Wildman's. The trail started out innocently enough, with a single-file, pine-covered path. It quickly gave way to rocky sections, then some gravel. The trail is about a 2700 foot climb, as we discovered the next day when we consulted a topographical map. It starts at about 500 feet and rises to 3200 or so.
|You can get a sense for the steep middle section of this trail.|
The steep middle section was the most physically challenging part of the hike. Footing was relatively good (for hikes like this, where loose gravel is the hiker's bane), but it sure felt and looked like an almost vertical climb in places. After about 1500 feet we reached a knoll. The trail was still covered with snow in the shade (though that was the only place on the trail we encountered snow), and there was a glade a evergreen trees, twisted and growing out of rocks, a perfect place for a break, but we weren't in the mood for breaks. From there the trail turned left, parallel with the Kenai River, and followed the ridge up over another 1000 feet. False peak after false peak appeared, and we were never quite sure if we were actually "there." The kids were up ahead of us leading the way and every so often they would wait up for us. I tried to ignore the steep dropoff on my left, plummeting down. It wasn't a cliff, but rather a very steep alpine meadow. A slip would have meant a very long tumble, and while I'm not normally uneasy with heights, I was very aware of what a misstep could lead to.
|Steep drop-offs along the upper part of the trail were a bit disconcerting.|
We made it up to the top in a little over 2 hours, which was good time for us. We didn't take any long breaks, just 1-2 minute standing breaks. Generally when we hike up a peak a frosty wind greets us at the top, so we had a backpack full of extra layers. Today, however, we didn't need them. A light wind buffeted us at the top of the ridge, and, unusually, it was a warm wind. We were comfortable, so we sat down and enjoyed our lunch, breaking for 15-20 minutes--not typical for us! The view was amazing. We've climbed the Skyline trail just a few ridges to the south, but this view was so much more beautiful with Kenai Lake and more extensive mountains all around us.
Going down the kids went on ahead again, stopping at points to wait up for us. We'd warned them, "No running!" because of the steepness of the trail (sometimes it's because of bear, but we'd seen no scat the entire hike so we weren't particularly concerned about bear), though we know they both love to run down mountains. Aurora actually asked us what the definition of running was, worried that she might have been running inadvertently! Going down can be as excruciating as going up--more muscularly than on the heart. We made it down in an hour and ten minutes, which is just about right (we usually come down in half the time it takes us to get up). I'm putting this hike down as one of my favorites, above the crowds of Skyline any day.
Someone on my Facebook page asked me why it is called Slaughter Ridge. I asked around town and one story I got was this: a group of men from Cooper Landing had a contest with a group of men from Seward. Each group would kill as many animals as they could in a few days and the group that killed the most would win. Supposedly the group from Cooper Landing slaughtered 50 Dall sheep in a few days on this ridge as part of that contest. The other story I got also involved the slaughter of large numbers of Dall sheep, so even if the details are not accurate, that is probably the kernel of truth to this sad story.