Sunday, August 12, 2012

Primrose and Lost Lake Trails

Lost Lake was so calm the days we were there it was difficult to tell reflections from the real thing!

Note:  I lost my camera, it was found and an awesome person mailed it back to me so now I have pictures to add to this entry!

In a year of my son being a member of our local Boy Scout Troop 555, I have only made it on one of his campouts, despite wanting to go on many more (made it to Swan Lakes a year ago June).  Originally the Lost Lakes hike was going to be last weekend, which I would not have been able to make, so when it was switched to Aug. 10-12, I was ecstatic!  This is one of the few "big" point-to-point trails I have not hiked on the Kenai Peninsula.  It turned out to be the best weather of the entire summer I think--just amazing--so we really lucked out.

A backpacking trip starts with packing, and I'd been at retreats the past 2 weeks so hardly had gotten any exercise, so I was being deadly with cutting weight.  Even my toothbrush didn't pass muster!  When I weighed in at 35 pounds, pre-food, I was feeling pretty good.  We ended up having 5 scouts and 4 adults going, which is actually a good ratio.  The adults can carry more than the kids so they loaded up with heavier items like stoves, fuel, filters, food, etc.  I'd done the food shopping for this trip at Costco so we had lots of food.  More on that later.
The Primrose Trailhead!

Originally we were going to do an out-and-back hike, up the Lost Lake side 6 miles, then back out the same way.  With a smaller and more capable group, our scoutmaster decided to have us do a point-to-point:  up the Primrose Trail 7.5 miles on a Friday, then 7.5 miles back down the Lost Lake side on Sunday, for a total of 15 miles with a day off in between.

After the woodchips, hard, packed dirt made for great hiking.

We left Homer at 8 a.m., and didn't get on the trail till 1:00.  We stopped for bathroom breaks, made our way through the construction zone on the Seward Highway, got a vehicle parked at the Lost Lake end, and divvied up food and loaded packs.  Probably the most humorous part of the weekend was the food:  since I'd done a Costco run, everything was in bulk.  I just handed all the food out of my vehicle to be put in a pile, expecting people to break down amounts and leave some in the car.  By time I got over there all that was left was a bag of bagels, so that was all I had to carry.  When we got to camp and started unloading the food, I laughed so hard!  We had 12 pounds of summer sausage, 2 large ziplocks full of rice, 6 large cans of canned chicken and even a large glass jar full of strawberry preserves (which was for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the car after the hike!).  We ended up eating nearly 9 pounds of the sausage--which was a real hit actually because it was substantial and easy.  The 36 string cheeses all got eaten too, for the same reason.

This was a surprisingly large waterfall!

The trail was nice--started out woodchips, then hard-packed, smooth earth, with gradual uphills.  After a couple hours it got steeper, just before we broke out of the trees onto the ridge.  When I asked Denver to describe the trail he replied, "It's a trail."  Embarrassingly, that was my description too.  The Primrose side is rated moderate, and is 7.5 miles to the large bridge which is the halfway point.  It's just a nice, pretty trail--it gets you there.  At mile 2.5 there is a very large waterfall about 200 yards off the trail (you can hear it as you walk by).  The highlight is when you break out of the trees up high and you get the view of mountainous mountains--spikey, rugged, jagged, snowy peaks all around.  On the ridge that you follow, there are dozens and dozens of alpine ponds (Denver's term--perfect description!)--pools from a few feet across to a few hundred yards across. They are amazingly picturesque. And then you see peeks of "the lake".  It looks like a big one, but you just see a little here and a little there.  That would be Lost Lake, which we didn't see in its entirety until our hike up a ridge above it the next day.

Primrose Trail, just out of the trees, with Kenai Lake in the background.
There are 2 established campgrounds before the 7.5 mile halfway mark.  Everything looks quite new:  a crew of 6 or 8 hardy young adults were hard at work improving the trail and campsites, closing old sites for revegetation purposes and cutting drainage ditches.  This group had a campsite across the river from us where they all rendezvoused each evening for dinner before scattering to their tents, which were in different locations.
Lost Lake is ringed by mountains and hills--an idyllic setting in nice weather!

A 15-20 foot wide river runs from Lost Lake into a lower lake.  We camped by that lower lake.  The bear container was recently installed by the looks of the fresh sod and the outdoorsy outhouse (no walls) was also new.  The bugs were bad, and as we discovered when the leaders created a fishing pole from a tree branch, line in their emergency kit, fishhook they found and cheese from our bountiful supply, the fishing was very good as well (8-12+ inch trout).

This picture has it all:  alpine pool, mountains, snow, flowers, rocks. 
This is your typical view on the middle section of this hike-Primrose/Lost Lake.

Friday night I caught my breath in awe when I stepped out of the tent for a bathroom run.  The moon was out and....stars!  For the first time since May I saw stars!  Only the largest constellations were visible as the night still wasn't deeply dark, but it was thrilling!  The mountains rose up in snowy majesty in the distance.  For my second bathroom run about 6 a.m. I got a second shock:  frost!  The dew on the tent had frozen into ice, and the grass was frost-covered.  It froze both nights I was there.  What a short summer! 

View from the toilet!
Open air toilet!  Guess we should be glad we had that!

Saturday dawned warm and sunny, a miracle in my book, though I know days like this do on occasion happen.  We had no plan:  it was a day of freedom.  Four of us decided to go for a hike.  We continued up the trail and then headed up the ridge rising above the far side of Lost Lake.  The lake was so glassy and smooth you could hardly tell what was reflection and what was real.  Gigantic, fat marmots peered at us as we stepped through their territory.  From the top of the ridge, I counted 12 glaciers on the mountains across from us--an expansive sweep of peak after snow-covered peak.  It was a blessing to just sit and gaze in wonder over the expanse of hills, mountains and lakes since it is normally too chilly to want to sit around or, like at camp, too buggy.

This was my favorite lookout spot for watching the bikers, runners and hikers go by.
It was a nice, sunny, warm nook!

One of the most interesting parts of Saturday was finding a cozy, sunny knoll on the bluff above the river with a view of the trail.  An amazing amount of traffic went by!  I saw groups of bikers, runners, day hikers and backpackers.  I was amazed at how late in the day people were going by (7:30 p.m.).  It was fascinating seeing conditioning level of athletes.  Some runners would walk up the stairs, while others dashed up with no hesitation.  In a couple weekends there is the Lost Lake Run, a fundraiser that hundreds of people show up for and run the 15 miles that we hiked.  So I suspect the beautiful weather and weekend drew out lots for training runs.  If I want to quiet backcountry experience, this is NOT the trail I will hike--or I'll hike it in September!

Alpine tundra at the top.  Resurrection Bay in the distance, and Seward straight ahead,
though down 1900 feet 9 miles or so.

Sunday too dawned clear and calm.  We started breaking camp at 8 am and by 9:15 were on the trail.  The pace was steady.  We thought we were at the top but there was still a ways to climb before we reached the highest point on the trail.  Then we finally began to descend.  At that point Resurrection Bay opened up ahead of us, and we could see Seward in the distance. 
This was about 1 1/2 hours from the 7.5 mile mark--about halfway down the Lost Lake side.
Vegetation is larger here, though not rain forest mossy yet.

Descents are always interesting as you go through one climate after another.  We were in alpine tundra when we started, with plants only a few inches tall at the most and very dry.  Then the plants began to be taller and more succulent, and there was a profusion of blooms across the meadows.  Below that, maybe an hour and a half from the top, the plants were well over our heads--ferns, devil's club, pushki--and I was very grateful that they'd trimmed the brush a foot out on both sides of the trail.  The trimming made the difference between this being a very nice hike or a miserable hike.  Impressively, even at the lower elevations, the pushki had not even flowered or bloomed yet (it has been done for weeks on the rest of the peninsula), there were no berries on the devil's club and the ferns were still unfurling.  This area got hit extremely hard with snow this past winter, so I suspect the trail has not been open as long as usual.  We only came across snow right on the trail at mile7.5, though there were patches off to the side here and there over about 1300 feet.  And finally we reached the rain forest, with everything covered with moss, and large hunks of moss hanging from the trees.

Of the people who have hiked this trail, they have stories of it being wet, rainy and cold.  I was prepared for that, but am very grateful that we had a glorious weekend of sunshine and warmth.  There were only 3 bear scats the entire trail, on the Primrose side, old, and down near the trailhead, so we didn't get a strong sense of bear presence along here (the traffic could be a contributing factor!).  On the Lost Lake trail side, there is a cabin that can be reserved.  It is down a separate loop trail, so there are actually 2 routes that can be taken. 

With only a 1500 foot elevation gain, this is a fairly easy longer hike.  For biking there are some sections that are steep or rocky and would be challenging, but much larger sections that would be wonderful biking.  I think I would have to psych myself up for dealing with crowds if I do this again, though perhaps the combination of weather and weekend brought people out in droves.  The views are absolutely incredible and worth coming back for--just choose a clear day!

Thank you, Lynn of Anchorage, for sending my camera back to me!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Calvin and Coyle Trail

Bridges over the streams on the Calvin & Coyle Trail are an appreciated addition.
Five years ago when we moved to Homer we checked out the Calvin and Coyle Trail, just over 1 mile out East End Road from the 4-way stop intersection.  It was boggy and grassy and unmarked, we had to park along the road, and it was so unworthy of any mention that I didn't blog about it.  I wouldn't have wanted anyone to check it out.  In the 5 years since then it has been improved greatly, and it is now a trail worth mentioning!

A new kiosk and parking area improve access to the Calvin & Coyle Trail.
Now there is a parking area and trailhead kiosk with a map and explanations about the area.  It is owned by the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, so they are the ones who do the improvements.  In 2009 a local Boy Scout built bridges over some of the streams as part of his Eagle Scout project.  And last year Troop 555 (including my son) added 8-10 interpretive signs.  Now about 80% of the trail is boardwalk.  It is a boggy area, so those boardwalks are sorely needed. 

The viewing platform overlooks the bogs east of Beluga Lake

Boy Scouts put in the interpretive signs last fall. 
They were later vandalized but then restored.
The trail goes out, splits into a loop that heads out to an observation platform that overlooks the swampland at the head of Beluga Lake, then loops back around to the main trail.  We estimated it is about a mile total.  Yesterday when Denver and I did it, the trail was weedwhacked so we weren't wading through the tall grass.  There were several benches along the way.  I wasn't able to appreciate the scenery too much because Denver set a blistering pace, and I took the pictures as I walked.  Now that I know that it has been redone, I will visit this trail more often, particularly when it is really windy since the trail is sheltered in the trees and would be more protected than the beach or spit.  Next time I'll take it a little slower, though!

Much of the trail is boardwalk now, but some sections are hardpacked earth.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stillpoint Lodge, Halibut Cove

View from Point of View cabin, Stillpoint Lodge, Halibut Cove

 Early in the spring I signed up for a retreat at Stillpoint Lodge in Halibut Cove.    I don't think I realized what a treat I had signed myself up for.  A few months later I looked on Stillpoint's website, and I was expecting rustic, basic cabins.  Instead, it looked luxurious and beautiful.  In reality, it was somewhere between the two.  It is quite an amazing place, though, so here's a brief on the place and the experience.

The travels begin at the Halibut Cove check-in office on the Homer Spit.  From there I made my way to Pier One and the Danny J, a wooden J boat from World War II that now functions as the main ferry from Homer to Halibut Cove.  The boat was full the day I headed over, last Thursday.  Most people would be heading over just for a few hours, to eat at The Saltry, wander the boardwalks and peruse the art galleries.  Part of the ride included a swing by Gull Island to check out the gulls, puffins, cormorants and other seabirds that might be hanging out.  We saw a few sea otters as well.

Eating at The Saltry, Halibut Cove's one restaurant, was next on the agenda.  All of the retreat participants sat together at one table (7 of us), plus the 2 nuns who were facilitating our retreat (Marguerite Buchanan & Suzanne Toolan), plus Stillpoint's owner, Jan Thurston.  It was sunny and warm so we sat outside, enjoying great service, excellent food and each other's company.  Some of the retreatants had been there before, while for others it was their first time.

After lunch, we wandered down the boardwalk and up a trail to the Halibut Cove cemetery, and a view of the arch.  The gazebo is the final resting place for Diana Tillion, who passed away a couple years ago.  She and her family were (still are) huge influences on life in Halibut Cove.

At 4:00 we arrived at the mail dock (the post office is on a dock) to catch a quick ride across the cove from the island (which we were on) to the mainland (which Stillpoint is on).  The adventure was just beginning!

The dock at Stillpoint
Stillpoint appeared to have 3 boats and 6 kayaks, which makes sense as there is less driving on roads than there is driving around the cove dropping off and picking up people, mail and freight.

Main lodge, view from entryway, Stillpoint
We headed up to the main lodge, which is an amazing place.  The first sight to greet you when you walk in the door is a stream meandering by with a bridge over it and the activity/yoga room.  The floor of the activity room are from the deck of a ship--practicing the recycling philosophy that is central to Stillpoint.  No shoes are to be worn indoors so a room with cubbies is by the entrance, offering booties for those who want warm feet.

Lounge in main lodge at Stillpoint
We headed up some stairs to the left to the lounge, a comfortable area with a fireplace, sound system, overhead projector and stunning view of Halibut Cove.  Across from the lounge area was the dining room and kitchen.

After a brief primer on how things would go at the retreat, each person was turned over to a staff person who would take us to our cabins.  Our luggage had been stowed on the Danny J in Homer and transported to our cabins already.

View of dining room from lounge in main lodge
There are 11 cabins plus the Heritage (for private or individual retreats).  Some cabins are 'doubles,' right next to another cabin, while 3 of the cabins are by themselves.  All of them have composting toilets, and the only water in them is urns with spigots that run into sinks.  All of them have different views as Stillpoint is on a peninsula.  Some are lower and closer to the water while others are higher up.  The water comes right under some at high tide, while others are a bit off the water.  I was assigned to Point of View, which has one of the best views of all the cabins.  Black bear are often seen from the deck.  And as you can see from the picture at the top of this blog entry, the view was idyllic first thing in the morning on a calm, sunny day--truly a 'still point'.

Point of View cabin
When Stillpoint first opened in 2004, the first retreat was for quilters, and payment for coming was to bring a finished quilt to go in the room.  Carpet swatches and color schemes were given so all the cabins are decked out with homemade quilts.

I received instruction on how to use the composting toilet, how to use the blinds, and then was left to freshen up, unpack and get my bearings.

Inside of Point of View
The rooms were very comfortable.
 I wandered around on the trails, checking things out.  I found the garden especially fascinating as it has landscaping carpet put down with wood chips over it and holes just for the plants.  They switch what gets planted where each year but the overall format is the same every year.  They also have a couple of greenhouses and container gardens all over the place.  Much of the food served is grown right at Stillpoint and harvested within hours of mealtime.  Vegan food choices were standard, though some seafood was served as well.  Which leads to dinner....

Dinners were beautiful, and fed the spirit as well as the body.

Meals were amazing affairs.   Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style and were taken in silence, respecting peace and reflection of the retreat setting.  Dinner, however, was set beautifully each day, with fresh flowers, linens and different dishes each day and it was a relief to chat and get to know fellow retreatants.  I found myself wanting to take a picture of the table setting every day, an urge I have never once in my life had.  I tend not to overeat, but the food was so beautiful and so tasty I just wanted to keep eating!  It was satisfying and filling, despite no meat (just small amounts of seafood).  The food was probably one of the most inspiring parts of my experience at Stillpoint as I discovered the joy of fresh, organic ingredients, tasteful presentation and a slower pace of eating.

 The atmosphere and food aside, the retreat itself was a treat.  There were 7 ladies there, all from Anchorage except for me.  The retreat was called "The Heart of Compassion," which is kind of a amorphous title.  One lady, who has come to retreats here every year since it opened, said, "I would come to this retreat even if the topic was moose hunting!  Marguerite and Suzanne are wonderful!"  The two nuns from San Francisco, come up every year to run retreats, changing the topic each year.  They are sweet, but also very real, endearing and not above teasing, qualities I respect in their advanced age (they're both in their 80's).  They guided the retreat with a grace that allowed us each to reflect and go inside, but also to express ourselves.  It was a nurturing balance.

The only time we could talk was during sessions when we would share our inner thoughts and growth, and dinner.  There were 3 sessions a day, punctuated by meals.  It set up an atmosphere of being there for that growth rather than just a social chit-chat thing.  The day would begin with optional yoga and then meditation, both which were rejuvenating, and the instructors, Lucas and Gita, were wonderful!  After the morning session and lunch we had 4 hours of free time to kayak, hike, get a massage, spiritual direction, nap or whatever.  I did all of those except the nap, and each were fulfilling and special in their own way, adding to experience.

This year there are 10 retreats and workshops being offered at Stillpoint, with topics ranging from painting and journalling to living a meaningful life and spirituality.  The mission of Stillpoint is to develop deeper spiritual connection and creativity.  Throughout the summer one can go there on their own to the Hermitage (which has its own kitchenette) for a private get-away, yet still take advantage of the kayaking, hiking, spiritual direction, sauna, library, labyrinth, and more.
 Part of what I appreciated about this retreat was getting to know the people and place of Halibut Cove.  It is a very isolated community, only 10 miles across Kachemak Bay from Homer, with 120 people in the summer and only 25-30 in the winter.  It is part of the history of Homer and so I loved getting the sense of the place by being there, talking to people and watching the traffic in the cove: boating, sculling, paddleboarding and kayaking.
Main lodge, main entrance at Stillpoint

We were blessed with glorious weather for the three days we were there--warm enough to wear shorts even one day--and that probably helped make this a special time, but it was an amazing retreat and I so recommend it to anyone who might get the chance to go there!

See for other pictures, the retreat schedule and more information.