Eagle with a Keen Eye

The 1.5 hour drive through the Chugach National Forest from Whittier to our next destination, Kenai Princess RV park at Cooper Landing, was uneventful.

With the exception of its western shore, most of the Kenai Peninsula is owned by the federal government and incorporated into one of the following: Chugach National Forest; Kenai National Wildlife Refuge; or, Kenai Fjords National Park. In large measure, that is why we had come to Cooper Landing, a fisherman’s mecca right in the middle of these public lands and nearly straddling the boundary between the Chugach NF and the Kenai NWR, right at the headwaters of the Kenai River as it flows westward from Kenai Lake.

The morning after our arrival, we set out to hike the Skilak Lookout Trail, a 4.5 mile roundtrip with 750 feet of elevation gain, that begins with a leisurely walk through boreal forest.

The ascent is gradual and steady with occasional glimpses of Skilak Lake to the south.

We took along our bear spray and air horns since bears are known to frequent the area this time of year due to the ripening berries and lakes and rivers filled with salmon on their journey upstream to spawn. Even though we were well prepared, a couple things happened on our way up to the lookout that put us on high alert. Of the ten hikers we passed on our way up (they being on their way down), four were packing handguns. Then, as we rounded a bend in the trail, I ran head-on into another hiker going the other way. She let out a gasp, followed by, “Oh, good, you’re not a bear!” I hadn’t heard her, nor she, me, because the vegetation was so thick it absorbed all trail noise. And the trail itself became more and more overgrown. At times the fireweed was head-high and completely covered the trail.

As it turned out, there was no need for concern. We didn’t see any wildlife at all, but Mother Nature kept us entertained, nevertheless.

Here’s the view from the lookout. That’s Skilak Lake dominating the scene, fed by two rivers: Skilak River at the top, its delta formed by the silt it carries down from retreating Skilak Glacier (such clever names); and the Kenai River on the left. [By the way, the picture below is not a panorama photo; it’s two photos that I stitched together – amazing what you can do with photo editing software these days.]

The following day, we went rafting down the Kenai River for about 10 miles, ending our trip just upstream of the part of the river you can see in the photo, above. We launched next to the bridge at the river’s headwater, the outfall of Kenai Lake.

We sat in the bow and shared the boat with two other couples. Our guide, Hannah, was from Wisconsin and this was her second year in Alaska. She rowed the boat backwards while standing. It was a little disconcerting at first, sitting in the bow, facing aft, but going downriver stern first.

We immediately started seeing fishermen. I love the flat-bottom dories they use here. They are all rowed since motors are prohibited in the river.

Hannah spun the boat around and took this photo of us with Round Mountain in the background; it’s one of the rare instances we that we headed downriver bow first.

There were a couple mild rapids, but nothing dramatic.

At the confluence of the Kenai and Russian Rivers, we passed a water-powered pedestrian ferry that takes fishermen over to the south bank…

… to a popular fishing beach to engage in some “combat fishing.” Silver salmon are spawning now and we saw several fishermen carrying their daily limit along the shore.

Near the end of our journey we passed under the watchful eye of this fisherman,…

… our national symbol, the bald eagle.

And then it began to rain.

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