Monday, July 27, 2015

Hiking Grace Ridge '15

This is the third time I've hiked Grace Ridge. We are making this one an annual hike, despite the steep price tag of $85/per person (4 of us) on the water taxi. Perhaps it is time to befriend someone with a boat--or buy our own boat!

Mako's continues to be our water taxi of choice. We haven't had any problems with them besides being late on occasion, but that is to be expected with all the factors that play into across-the-bay travel. They also have a variety of different types of boats (landing craft, catamaran, skiff) for the varying conditions and pickup/dropoff types.

Homer Harbor on a calm, calm morning!
We chose our day well:  it dawned amazingly calm and clear. The boat ride over to Grace Ridge South was speedy and smooth. Mako Junior (not his name; the son of the owner) was our captain and he warned us the south end was pretty brushy. That turned out to be an understatement. But first we offloaded, agreed on a meeting spot for lunch with the speedy kids, and took a layer off from the chilly boat ride.

View of Tutka Bay near our dropoff point of Grace Ridge South

Calm waters looking towards the head of Tutka Bay

The ladder offload method
The beginning of Grace Ridge South:  the beach

Blueberries greeted us along the trail as we began the climb. So did one very messy area of downed trees, which ended up being the only downed trees on the trail the whole 7-8 miles. I was appreciative of being an agile and fit person for this obstacle as it involved going over and under a few trees!

Downed trees made a mini obstacle course

As we began to climb out of the temperate rain forest and moss-covered trees, the brush increased. Ripe salmonberries hanging over and along the trail tempted us, and I nabbed all the ones the kids hadn't eaten. The trail alternated between being invisible beneath the overhanging grass and being an absolutely perfect trail with no brush in areas with spruce trees. In the brushy areas there were times I would stop and look, unable to visually see the trail anywhere. Then I would look down and edge my feet along to look for the indentation of the trail on the ground. That made the hike a bit slower than it would have been under clear conditions.

Find the trail--if you can!
The brush was heavy with dew, so our pants and boots were soon soaked. Luckily it was a warm and calm day so it was not cold. We finally got above the tall trees into the shrubbery area (alders and elderberries and stunted spruce), and finally above treeline. But there are a number of false peaks so we would go up, then down, then up another false peak, then down, then up another peak. The climbing mostly continued till we stopped for lunch at a knoll at about the halfway point.

What not to do:  fuzzy pictures from putting my phone (camera) in the waistband of my shorts!
I was very bummed to discover when I got home that nearly all of my pictures from the top of Grace Ridge were fuzzy. I didn't have pockets in my shorts and for quick access to my camera I tucked it into the very sweaty waistband of my shorts. Mistake! Condensation ruined my pictures. I did manage to get one shot that turned out well. I probably held my camera in my hand for a few minutes while walking and the lens cleared off.

I love the sense of drop-off in this picture. The trail down is steep, but not a cliff!
It took us another 2 hours to make our way down to Kayak Beach moving at a good clip. There was a small section that was overgrown with grass, but the majority of it had been trimmed a foot on each side of the trail and the clippings raked off by trail crews, which made it feel like an expressway compared to our route up. 

Of course the kids ran down so they were busy tidepooling when we arrived at Kayak Beach. Curious to see if they'd found anything cool, I headed their way. Denver was waving at me to come, so I figured they must have found something neat. Neat indeed. It was an octopus!

Within minutes the tide had come in and the octopus was no longer visible, but I was impressed that the kids had had sharp eyes and found it. I've seen two octopuses in one summer, after not seeing any  before. What a treat!

A half hour past our pickup time, the Mako's landing craft skimmed into sight. It's a slick thing just walking right onto the boat. As we headed back to Homer I took a picture of Grace Ridge. As Denver exclaimed, it seemed so small! Funny how big it seems when one is going up it! It is 3105 feet so that's nothing to sneeze at for a good day hike.

Grace Ridge as we're heading back to Homer

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