Friday, June 24, 2016

Revisiting Cooper Landing...A Short Camping Trip and Some Hikes

Following Denver's schedule with 2 1/2 days off each week, we've been hitting all our favorite Kenai Peninsula haunts (aka hikes and campgrounds) this month as Aurora packs in as much Alaska as possible before she leaves for her summer job on the Aleutians and then college out of state. Last week our locale of choice was Cooper Landing. As luck would have it, the temperatures were slated to hit 82 degrees. Insane! This is the Kenai Pensula, not the Interior! We start melting at 65 degrees, but managed to survive the heat wave, which by the way, did not extend to Homer which was a pleasant 65 degrees that day.  As always, I get ahead of myself.

We opted to stay at the Quartz Creek Campground on the north end of Cooper Landing because it was closer to the hikes we planned to do:  Slaughter Ridge, Crescent Creek and Devil's Creek, and also because there is a pleasant gravel road to walk on for evening strolls, which cannot be said of the Cooper Creek Campgrounds. We did not go car camping once last summer as we backpacked, went across Kachemak Bay boat camping, and did day trips, so there were a few things that struck me about the campground. First, for a Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m., it was surprisingly full. There were exactly TWO sites out of probably 50 that were available for two nights (a Wednesday and Thursday night). Crazy. 

Since when did Alaskan campgrounds fill up mid-week in June, even with gorgeous weather? Well, since folks with campers and RV's took over the campgrounds--and likely the reservation system adds to that. The campground was eerily quiet. The campgrounds I have known had kids playing and yelling, dashing around, biking and being very active. This campground had maybe 3 tents in the entire park, and 2 were on our site. Apparently tent camping is on its way out. And kids? I saw a few, but they were staying close to their site. Of course, our second evening there, a car pulled up to our site and a man honked to get our attention. Apparently a momma brown bear with a cub had just walked through the campground and they were warning everyone. Half hour later another lady stopped by and let us know the news again--probably slightly aghast that we were sleeping in tents--the courage we must have! We never did sight the bears, but we did batten the hatches and put more of our gear in our vehicle that night. No dishwashing rags left out to dry...

On to the hikes...
Slaughter Ridge would have slaughtered Doug and I had we attempted it. We were tired to begin with, and the sun was blindingly hot and the 3000 or 4000 foot climb would not have been pleasant. The kids did it though. They said it was hot and dusty, and they rewarded themselves with ice cream from Wildman's for their efforts. I say that was well deserved. I enjoyed my nap, thank you very much (gee, I'm sounding old!).

Since we'd skipped the big hike of the day, Doug and I still needed a hike, so we drove up to the end of the road 3-4 miles to the Crescent Creek Trailhead. This is one of my favorite hikes--and was more so because we met only 2 bikers the whole time we were out there. Part of this trail was ravaged by forest fires last year, opening up what is normally a deep, dark canopy of trees. Luckily, though, it was only a small section, maintaining the beauty of this trail which is a gradual uphill quite a ways, with some flat sections and a few short downhills here and there. It was perfect for our evening stroll, which we supplemented with an evening stroll on roads and trails around the campground as well.

The Devil's Creek trail winds along the valleyside

The spread arms was to catch the spray from the waterfall, a welcome relief on this hot day

The next day we decided to hike Devil's Creek Trail (which in my blog post 4 years ago I called Devil's Pass, and I only just realized I have been calling it the wrong name for years. It is Devil's Creek Trail). I enjoy that trail very much. It has no boggy parts, the trail is smooth and hard, there are no insane grades to make my lungs and quads burn, and the view once you get further up the valley is beautiful. Streams from snowmelt cross the trail intermittantly as you climb along the valleyside, so I would plunge my wrists into the icy water to numb them in a few seconds, then trudge onward.  The kids were able to hike/run the 10 miles to the intersection with Resurrection Pass Trail, and then back in 5 hours (yes, you read that right--20 miles), while Doug and I set our sights on 2 hours out and 2 hours back, which we figure was 10 miles total. We could have done more, but that was enough as the heat was draining. That trail was relatively busy, with 3 bikers, 2 backpackers and 2 dayhikers passed during our 4 hours on the trail. Ha! What standards we have! So spoiled!

Of course, after hiking Devil's Creek we had to eat at Summit Lake Lodge, which has a very nice restaurant for being, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. It was an enjoyable cap to our day, gave us plenty of cold fluids to rehydrate (love the strawberry lemonade!), and gave us courage to go back to what we knew would be our very hot campsite.

Once again, Cooper Landing did not disappoint. It was delightful to go back and hike trails we'd biked on our trip there 4 years ago, seeing them from a different perspective. And the kids have grown up so much since that trip so it was a walk down memory lane to compare "then" with "now". For us, it is a relief to let the kids be able to hike their own rate and pace, and we just set parameters of time. For Doug and I, we don't go as hard or as far perhaps, but we're trying to be kind to aging bodies while still getting out there and doing things.

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