Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hiking to Grewingk Glacier from Right Beach

The first week of July we often spend camping on Right Beach in Halibut Cove across Kachemak Bay with my aunt and uncle and cousins. This beach has cliffs on each end of it, so once the tide passes a certain point, there's no getting in or out except by swimming or boat. This makes the hike to Grewingk Glacier a matter of coordination, planning around the tides to hike out and be back before the tide reaches "that point",

My niece and I were the only ones at camp and up for the 14-15 mile hike to the glacier the first day at camp. We started bright and early at 8 a.m. to try to be back before the tide got past the cliff outcropping. It dawned a beautiful morning--with a rainbow over Homer! Luckily it wasn't raining where we were.

A rainbow over Homer greeted us the first morning of camping at Right Beach.
Hours later there was still a rainbow visible!
The first mile of the hike is on the loose pebbles and rocks of the beach, which I consider the most challenging part of this trek. After passing Left Beach, there is a stream crossing. Each high tide the lagoon behind the beach fills up; with the coming of each low tide a rushing river forms as the water empties out. After the cliff outcrops of Right Beach, this river is the other major obstacle to making it back to camp. Since it was a few hours into the low tide, the river was only about a foot deep. I had my hiking boots on with neoprene booties, which I hike in when I expect my feet to get wet (nearly always in Alaska!), so I just walked right through the stream. My niece took off her running shoes and socks and waded.

Wading the river formed by the emptying lagoon

Further along the beach,we found the trail in the beachgrass, which made walking faster and easier. The orange triangular T (trailhead) sign was our clue to head into the woods. The trail register greets the hiker first, and right behind it the outhouse. We set a fast clip. My estimation was that we had 6 hours tops to complete the hike and make it back to Right Beach without having to swim or get a boat ride back. While the map shows it as being a 14 mile round-trip hike, the glacier continues to retreat rapidly, so I am guessing it is at least 15 miles now.

The arrows mark our route to the glacier, starting at Right Beach

There was no bear scat the entire trail to the hand tram. The last time I'd done this hike the hand tram had been terribly difficult to operate, and there is no way I would have been able to do this hike if it were still in that condition. However, I'd heard it had been repaired and was easier now, and that was the case, though it was still a workout, especially past the midpoint when we had to pull ourselves up rather than down!

The tram spans the glacier river

After the tram the trail begins a steady climb up about 500 feet up a little knoll. The trail was quite overgrown in areas so it felt like wading through the grass and the pace slowed.
The knoll provides a nice view of the glacier outwash, river and lake

On the way down the knoll to the glacial outwash area, we passed an area with trailwork done, with the trail leveled and grass cleared. A shovel was leaning against a tree, though no person was around. That section was all too short and soon we were wading through grass and brush that towered over our heads again.  Once down to the outwash plain it wasn't as brushy but the trail was rockier and rougher.

The shock of our day was just past the turnoff to Emerald Lake. The sign said 1.4 miles to the glacier. We came around a corner and there, just twenty feet off the trail to the right, was a dead black bear, splayed out like you see them for bear rugs. It looked to be a two-year-old, and the flies were swarming it. My niece and I stopped in shock and uncertainty. What does one do when they encounter a dead bear?? Are live bears protective of them? It didn't look like anything had been feeding on it, which was a good thing. After snapping a picture and consulting each other, we opted to continue our hike. After that spot there was quite a few small bear scats on the trail for a quarter of a mile or so. As I would find out the next day when I ran into a state park ranger on the Saddle Trail, the black bear had no bullet holes that they could find but its jaw was broken. They moved it far off the trail later that day as someone had reported it.

Dead black bear along the glacier trail

The last 1.4 miles (supposedly) feels really, really long, as it did the last time I did this hike. Finally we got to a knob overlooking the glacier. Looking at  the time, we were a bit behind schedule to get back before the tide came in and cut us off from our camping spot, so we snapped a few pictures, ate a hurried snack, and did not actually go down to the glacier (which my kiddos did the next day when they did this same hike). I've been around enough glaciers it is not a huge ooooooooh and aaaaaaah experience for me anymore. Being on a tight schedule and being  quite tired added to the effect of "been there, done that."

Grewingk Glacier
Now we were really focused on getting back fast, but my legs were tired and it was hard to make them go fast, especially when we couldn't see the trail because of the overhanging grass. One sweet spot in our day was when we returned to the tram. It was on the other side of the river so we had to pull it across before we could get on. A backpacking couple from Europe that we'd passed on the trail arrived just as we were getting on it and they pulled us across so it was a free and fast ride! Sweet!

We started alternating running with hiking to pick up our speed, and the trail got very busy with folks heading up the trail to Grewingk Glacier Lake, a much easier and shorter hike. I had cell phone access so I called my cousin back in camp and asked her how the tide was looking and how much time she thought we had. She guessed we could make it, but it would be close.

Finally we were on the home stretch:  back on the beach. It was so hard to walk fast on those pebbles. My feet were so tired.  Back across the stream, this time closer to the lagoon as the tide was coming in and the spot that we'd crossed at 8 in the morning was now under 5-8 feet of water.

Final stream crossing near the end of our hike
Where we'd crossed the stream earlier in the morning was now under a lot of water as the tide came in
We weren't home free yet. We had to cross Left Beach, which is only a few hundred yards long, but we could see that the water was right up to the base of the cliff outcropping. We made it across as a wave went out and there was a moment when we could still walk across without getting our feet wet. We were literally minutes away from having to wade to get back to camp. It was two hours and twenty-two minutes before high tide. The hike had taken us 5 1/2 hours. I was so happy to be back! 

The next day when my kids did the hike they knew they wouldn't make it back in time since they left at 1:00 p.m. as the tide was already coming in. That is why in the video it shows them being picked up by boat on the beach by the trailhead.

It was a good day and I felt like I earned my s'more that evening as we sat around the campfire!

No comments: