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!


Craig S. said...

In some ways, I'm glad you didn't have your pictures up yet. You painted an excellent picture with your words, and it sounded like a great trip! Thanks for sharing!

Michelle Waclawski said...

I was a bit more descriptive than usual I think because I didn't have the pictures to back up my words. The pictures are necessary I think, though, since many blog readers just skim the pictures and don't bother reading the entry! Meanwhile, I'm checking my mailbox regularly for the camera!