Thursday, March 24, 2016

Spring Break in Cooper Landing!

I have said before that Cooper Landing is one of my favorite vacation spots. I have yet to get enough of hiking and biking there. I noticed there was very little snow there when driving through the weekend before spring break on my way home from a trip to Anchorage. Although spring break was going to be busy with work and basketball practice, I decided it would be fun to take a few days to hike the trails in Cooper Landing, especially since we didn't make it there this past summer.

The campgrounds are all closed but there are cabins, lodges and a hotel open. Since the Sunrise Motel has one spacious room with 3 queen beds, we opted to stay there, hoping to convince our kids to come and spend the weekend with us for a mini-vacation. The other advantage is the Sunrise has a cafe (new owners are advertising it as a bistro, but that is a stretch) that is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. We weren't sure what other restaurants were open.

Burn area off the Stetson Creek Trail has opened up some views
As we drove into Cooper Landing on a Thursday afternoon, our first hike slated for the weekend was the Stetson Trail. We've hiked it numerous times as there is a connector trail from the campground we usually stay at when we're in town. It is a long, long uphill--all uphill for an hour or so of hiking.  Last June wildfires ripped through this area, which had cancelled our rafting trip we'd had scheduled for the Kenai River. I was curious to see what condition the trail was in and was pleasantly surprised.

The Stetson Trail was in good shape despite a forest fire
along it last June
The trail was in great shape, and even at that early date, there was some ice, but nothing we couldn't get around, and snow, which was fairly hard-packed and not deep till the higher elevations. The nice part was that the fires opened up the trail, so what was once a lane of spruce trees now offered views of surrounding mountains. 

We were pleased that despite the long climb, we were not winded, a testimony to our winter conditioning program (basketball for Doug; Alaska Training Room for me).

After checking into the hotel, I convinced Doug to check out another hike:  Slaughter Ridge. It is a 4000 foot climb to the top of the ridge, but Doug expected that snow would stop us within a few hundred feet, otherwise he wouldn't have agreed to a pre-dinner stroll up a mountain! It is a south-facing slope and I suspected we would get quite a ways up the ridge, but I wasn't tell him that!

I love this little waterfall near the start of the Slaughter Ridge Trail
A quick 5-minute drive from the motel got us to the trailhead. We weren't expecting a long hike so didn't take much gear. About 20 minutes and 1000 feet later, we finally hit ice on the trail, so that was a good hike. I was delighted!
There is one short section of log-hopping in a swampy area on the Slaughter Trail before it begins the serious climb.

The view of Kenai Lake from only about 1000 feet up where we finally hit snow on the trail.
I should have taken a picture of the dinner we got at Gwinn's Roadhouse. Oh. my. gosh. The burger was humungous and the fries (Doug) and onion rings (me) were plentiful. Doug couldn't even finish his burger or fries! Along with being huge, the burgers were tasty. The interior could have been fixed up just a little--like wash the windows--but it definitely has a back-woods appeal.

Back over to Sunrise, we took an evening stroll (truly a stroll this time!) on the shores of Kenai Lake which is almost across the road from the motel. The water is low so there is actually a beach, though it is rocky. It was dead calm out so it was a pleasant walk.

The plan for the next day was to check out the Bean Trail, which is the local's connector to Resurrection Pass. As with all these hikes, they were exploratory and we didn't know how far we would get before stopped by snow or ice. As with the whole weekend, we were pleasantly surprised by how nice conditions were. 
The road at the start of the Bean Trail was icy, so ice spikeys on our boots were helpful.
This is a snowmachine highway in the winter, but even with the road icy and gravel even in places, snowmachines had been on it recently and there were a few trucks with trailers parked along the road. It took about 20 minutes to walk the road part; we walked another 50 minutes on the trail which got us to the intersection with the Resurrection Pass Trail. It was easy walking--almost like walking on pavement it was so firm packed from snowmachines. The weather was warm--in the 30's or 40's and sunny--an absolutely gorgeous day for a walk in the woods. In some parts the trail feels almost park-like, adding to the feeling that though we were in the Alaskan wilds, it was more like the stroll in the woods.

We would just get peeks at mountains through the trees on the Bean Trail

Snowmachines made the trail easy walking
That evening our kids drove up from Homer after sports practices, lured by our tales of good hiking. They especially wanted to hit Slaughter Ridge, as they are mountain climbing junkies. Saturday morning dawned with a couple inches of snow on the ground and more falling from the sky! The wind was gusty and the weatehr report showed dropping temperatures.  Aargh! No Slaughter Ridge for them:  even Aurora knew we wouldn't chance her climbing it with only one week till the state basketball competition she'd been working towards all winter. But the Resurrection Pass was still a possibility.

We geared up with multiple layers, extra socks and gloves, hotties, food and drinks. The kids' goal was Juneau Creek Falls, and impressively large waterfall 4 miles from the Cooper Landing Resurrection trailhead. Doug and I were just out for a walk--for the joy of being out in the woods exercising. If we made it to the falls, great, but if not, no big deal.

A perfect winter scene along the Resurrection; contrast it with Slaughter Ridge--no snow!

The two fresh inches of snow covered the ice on the trail, but we managed to get away without ice spikes on our boots. The first couple miles had minimal snow depth on the trail and icy patches that kept us alert. As the elevation climbed, the snow depth increased to a couple feet, but many walkers before us had packed a single track which was easily navigated. Doug and I hiked out an hour and twenty minutes. We had just turned back when the kids came cruising into view; they had made it to the falls, past the falls, and were already heading back. Young whippersnappers! The weather had warmed up rather than cooled, the snow fell sporadically and the wind had died down so it was actually pleasant walking.

All in all, it was a delightful weekend until we had to drive home Sunday morning. It had continued to snow all night and then it began to rain. And then it warmed up and all the packed snow on the roads turned to slush. What a mess! But I've now decided that Cooper Landing should be a winter destination as well as a summer one. It is far enough away to be "away" but not so far away as to eat up a whole day traveling. Yea for spring break in Cooper Landing!