Kachemak

As hoped, the weather improved for our day of hiking in Kachemak Bay State Park, calm, clear and sunny. We stuffed our day-packs and drove down to the marina at the end of the Spit to catch Mako’s Water Taxi for the 1/2 hour ride across Kachemak Bay to the park, departure, 11:00 a.m.

Kachemak Bay S.P. Is Alaska’s first State Park, approved by the legislature in 1970 and now incorporating 400,000 acres, part of which is a designated wilderness area.

Our plan was to spend the day hiking all of the trails west and downstream of Grewingk Glacier Lake within the big yellow rectangle, below, a total of 9.0 miles, and we had five hours to do it, our designated pick up time to catch the water taxi back to Homer Spit being 4:30 p.m. No problem.

And we did do it! Here’s the actual track of our hike, essentially a more detailed map of what lies within the yellow rectangle, above:

Our captain found a good place to beach her outboard catamaran on Glacier Spit, just beyond a bend that muted the growing swell now being blown into the bay from the Gulf, the beginning of the “Day Breeze” that often picks up to 15-20 knots this time of year.

We hopped ashore, then started picking our way south through sand and rocks along the shoreline. Several times we saw an eagle down the beach, perching on driftwood. Each time he would lift off when we got too close, only to settle again on another log further down the beach. He finally quit the game and flew off into the adjacent trees. I was able to take his picture as he passed us. After two miles of trudging along the beach, we reached the Glacier Lake Trailhead where we left the beach and turned in to the Sitka spruce and black cottonwood forest.

We had been warned that Black bears have recently been sighted in this part of the park and we saw plenty of active signs that bears had been ahead of us on the trail, including at least 25 piles of scat, littered with the seeds of Devilsclub and Canada Buffalo berries. Here’s a before-and-after photo of some Buffalo berries:

Part of our route was a river crossing at the end of the Tram Spur Trail. We didn’t know exactly what to expect the “Tram” to be, but I had read a trail report that said making the crossing was “hard.” The park service brochure merely said that the Tram takes two people to operate, is limited to 500 lbs. and hikers should wear gloves.

As it turned out, the tram was a rope & pulley river crossing in an aluminum basket. When we arrived, the basket was on the other side of the river. We pulled it across to our side, got in, and slowly made our way over to the other bank where we celebrated our physical prowess and had lunch before returning the way we came.

Most of our hike here was over the till left by the retreat of the Grewingk Glacier. I don’t know how you pronounce Grewingk, nor do I know what it means, but I did discover that the glacier was named by the Alaskan explorer William Dall in 1880, the same guy that named the Dall Sheep we had been looking for (but never sighted) in Kluane N.P. in the Yukon.

As we walked along the rock and gravel and finely crushed stone valley floor, we could see Grewingk Glacier off in the distance. Eventually, the trail opened up at the meltwater lake at the toe of the glacier, icebergs and growlers floating around. This was the headwaters of the river we had crossed in the tram. Out in the lake were the folks we had shared the water taxi with, paddling about in their Pack Rafts: packable, inflatable kayaks.

Our feet were getting sore from walking on so many rocks, so Dale took off her boots and soaked while admiring the scene.

We hung out at the lake for about a half hour, then made our way up to and over the Saddle. Near the top, a couple hiking the other way asked, “Have you seen any bears?” We said, “No,” to which they responded, “We have!” They had come upon a bear in the trail, but it headed off into the woods when it saw them.

We continued down the trail to Halibut Cove, keeping a lookout, but not seeing any wildlife. At the bottom, there were four more hikers, also waiting for a water taxi. They asked, “Did you see the bears?” What?!? Bears? Plural? “No,” we said, “Where?” “Just up the trail, a mother Grizzly and her cubs!”

Ten minutes later, our water taxi showed up and a few minutes after that our inflatable kayaking fellow passengers descended to the beach as well. On board, we related the conversations about the bear sightings to the captain. She said, “Well, I doubt they were Grizzlies or Brown bears. The bears around here are Black bears. But they do occasionally block the trails and tear into people’s stuff, looking for food.”

As we motored out of the cove, the captain of the boat that had beached for a pick up as we left shore radioed our captain that the bear and her cubs were back on the trail and she was huffing at the hikers now trying to make their way down. Sounds like we were the only ones that missed the action. Probably a good thing.

Back at the marina a half hour later, the weather was still wonderful.

Exhausted from a long day, we had a light dinner and relaxed. As I looked out the front window of the RV, I realized that the white valley I could see across the bay was Grewingk Glacier. So near, and yet, so far away.

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