Sunday, June 28, 2015

Alaska, Part II: Adventures on the Kenai Peninsula

The cruise ended in Seward, 1600 miles from where we started in Vancouver.  We disembarked, said goodbye to Michael's family, and picked up our rental car, all before 7:30 am.  With only 3 full days left we had A LOT of adventuring to do!

Exit Glacier

Our first stop was Exit Glacier to hike the Harding Icefield Trail (8+ miles roundtrip). After gaining significant elevation through the forest, we crossed Marmot Fields (and saw marmots!) and began the snowy ascent to the Harding ice field.   I started to get a bit nervous when we stopped seeing the orange flags that the park service uses to mark the trail.  As we learned a bit later, we were in fact in an avalanche zone and the park service had deliberately removed the flags.

Beginning the ascent to the ice field.  The trail was still marked here.


Fastest way to get down the mountain!

After the Harding Icefield Trail hike, we followed the caravan of RVs (seriously, Alaska must be the RV capital of the world!) for the 4 hour drive to Homer.  Homer is a fishing village on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula in Katchemak Bay. The views from Homer are spectacular--looking across Cook Inlet you can see several active volcanoes and some impressive snow-topped mountains.   The town's most notable geographic feature is the "Homer Spit"-- a 5 mile piece of land (gravel, sand) jutting out into the bay.  According to a local, the spit was formed by now retreated glaciers.  

The Homer Spit

The highlight of our 10 day trip was bear viewing with Sasquatch Alaska in Lake Clark National Park.  It was a day I will remember forever.   

Lake Clark National Park is across the Cook Inlet from Homer.  While technically on the mainland,  it is only accessible by plane or boat.  I wasn't too comfortable climbing into the tiny Cessna 206 (6 person prop plane) for the 1 hour flight from Homer to Lake Clark's Chinitna Bay.  I survived with some deep breathing...

Our "ride," a Cessna 203
View from the plane on the way to Lake Clark

We landed on the beach (!!!) in Chinitna Bay where we had easy access to two bear viewing sites, one of which was a large meadow just over the dunes.   According to our guide, the bears were very much aware of our presence, as their sense of smell is excellent. However, since we were predictably situated at the bear viewing site, they never bothered us.

The bears at Lake Clark are brown bears.  We learned that the male bears are usually larger and have darker fur, while the females can be quite light skinned.  In late-May the bears have just come out from hibernation in the mountains.  We were a few weeks shy of the beginning of the salmon run, when the bears really get their nourishment.  In preparation for the salmon run, the Lake Clark bears were fattening themselves up on meadow grass.   At one point we could count 12 bears in sight!

For our last day in Alaska, we hiked the Grace Ridge Trail in Katchemak Bay.  Like Lake Clark, this area is only accessible by boat or plane.  The hike was a 9 mile thru trail, so we scheduled a water taxi drop off at "Kayak Beach" and pick up at trail's end.  We didn't see a human soul on the trail, only countless bald eagles and several marmots.  As with the Harding Icefield Trail, the first portion of the hike was wooded.  The second portion along the ridges was spectacular.

Just making it out of the forest on the Grace Ridge Trail

Starting the ridges...Yes, that is the path!

We were exhausted by trail's end and almost totally out of water.  The boat arrived a little after 5 and took us quickly back to Homer.

Water taxi pick up!

In spite of all our adventuring, we did get a chance to relax!  Kenai Peninsula Suites was our "Home(r) base."  Just a few miles outside of town, KPS boasts unique accommodations of subterranean rooms and cabins and is situated on a large property with breathtaking views across Cook Inlet. We stayed in a cabin, complete with a small kitchen, deck, grill, hot tub and million dollar views! In the evenings, we shucked oysters from the Homer Farmer's Market, grilled salmon, and drank beer on the porch.

I can't say enough good things about this little town.  Homer, you have won my heart!