Inger and Jeff Latreille
Expect the Unexpected!
~Tuesday, August 16, 2022~
Day 57 of Alaska Trip
What could be a better way to start the day, then spotting a bald eagle sitting on a post just outside your bedroom window? Though it wasn’t the best quality photo, we were able to capture it on Jeff’s cell phone before it took off. We learned from our neighbor, Jordan, that bald eagles actually eat seagulls, though this eagle didn’t seem a bit interested in the ones flying around him.
It was an early morning for us to catch the 8:00 water taxi to Kachemak Bay State Park (about a 25-minute boat ride).
Knowing we were not in for a very good weather day, we made sure to dress in the appropriate gear for the adventure. The marina was only about a 2-minute drive from our campsite where we were met by Captain Mike and 2 other passengers from Michigan. We were seated in a very nice, toasty warm boat, and given very vague directions on the trails we would be taking. It was a bit frustrating that Mike didn’t provide a more detailed map for us newbies to the park. In fact, he wasn’t even sure if one of the trails we wanted to take to the Grewingk Glacier, was accessible,. He said, “Last I heard, the trail was pretty overgrown, so unless you like bushwacking, you may not be able to get directly to the glacier.” There are over 80 trails in the park, so I guess we can’t expect him to know the condition of them all. But because the distance was doable in our time frame, we hoped he’d know. So we’ll have to find out for ourselves.
While on the boat, it was jaw dropping scenery as we rode through Kachemak Bay and took notice of the stunning homes dotting the low-lying hills in the distance. What luck homeowners THEY are. Kachemak Bay is likely the most dramatic scenery we’ve seen yet. Occasionally we were visited by a sea otter or 2. There are about 5 “spits” that jet out from the park (a deposition bar or landform off coasts or lake shores). Our drop off point would be the Glacier Spit. I must say it was kinda strange to be deposited on a shore, seeing the boat drive away, feeling like we were participants on the show “Survivor”. The couple from Michigan was only doing a 4-hour hike as opposed to our 8-hour hike, so off they went with their more limited timeframe (I think they’re pickup time was 12:30). We began by leaving the beach and stepping onto the Glacier Lake Trail
where it didn’t take long for us to find a detailed map board that mapped out the trails very well. Now we’re talkin’. What I had preferred NOT to see were the 3 or 4 signs warning us of bears in the area and advice on what to do if you ever had an encounter with one. Thanks for the reminder! We did come prepared, however, each carrying bear spray, and yes, handily OUTSIDE our backpacks. Many people make the mistake of putting it in their backpacks or are not even sure how to use it. If that’s the case, you might as well not even bring any since you’d likely have no time to retrieve it in a panic situation.
Let’s enjoy the trail, shall we? Initially the path took us into a rainforest setting complete with ferns, moss, Cottonwood and Spruce trees (much of the Kenai region is rainforest which is why I keep using this description) and flat terrain. I think our elevation gain was only 200 feet on this section of trail. About 1.4 miles in, we came to a split in the trail to which we took the Grewingk Tram Spur Trail, hiking another ½ mile to Grewingk Creek and the tram. Jeff and I have never had the opportunity of riding a hand-operated cable car pulley system before, so this would be a hoot. The directions, unlike Captain Mike’s, were very clear in how to ride the tram. It’s best to have one at a time ride for a lighter load across, plus it helps to have the other one pull. Jeff went first and when it came to my turn, I realized just how hard it was to pull the tram by myself. Nice to have Jeff’s added muscle for sure, especially near the end in getting up to the platform. Once we made it across the creek which seemed more like a river, we wanted to continue on the Blue Ice Trail to the glacier, but about a ¼ of a mile in, we made the decision to turn around due to the overgrown vegetation. It was also very muddy. Had it been well maintained and not raining, we would have been able to do it and get to our pick up point on time. So back across the river (I mean creek) we went. Who knew we’d have an amusement park-like ride in Kachemak Bay?! Once we got back across, we reconnected with the Glacier Lake Trail to hike another 3 miles to Grewingk Glacier Lake. It was at that point I felt a sense of relief running into several hikers. Nice to know we weren’t the only crazies out there. Arriving to the lake, despite the mist and the clouds, it took our breath away. How often do you see a lake covered in iceburgs?
Though small, they were still beautiful….many of them clear, some white, and some even black. We later found out that the black ones have a significant amount of volcanic ash deposits in them; thus the color.
Intermittently, we saw the mist give way to reveal just a little bit of the glacier, but it didn’t last long. So trust me, I had the camera ready at all times. One couple we met had spent a few days backpacking at the lake and said the previous evening was an absolute stunner with the sun casting light onto the glacier. Now that would have been amazing to see. They even had an inflatable kayak with them to be able to float between the iceburgs; some even tall enough for them to float under.
We enjoyed a delicious, though brief lunch due to being wet and cold. The minute you stop hiking, the chill starts setting in. Before getting back on the trail, we noticed several interpretive signs explaining the triggered events that happened here in October of 1967. Due to a landslide, a devastating Tsunami inundation occurred from a landslide source that is still visible to this day. When this occurred it displaced the glacial water in front of us, 200 feet into the air and 4 miles out
into Kachemak Bay….basically a tsunami that flattened the entire forest around it. More recently, in 2015, a 200-million metric ton landslide in Icy Bay, Alaska generated a wave that was approximately 300 feet high with a run-up of 633 feet. These and other recorded events are sometimes called “mega tsunamis” by scientists to distinguish them from earthquake-generated tsunamis that do not reach as high. And we thought the ground that had been under our feet on most of the trail was from a glacial moraine. So that explains why the noticeable difference in terrain from the lush rainforest landscape to stubby shrubs, rocks and trees. They still keep the area closely monitored (let’s hope nothing decides to slide off the mountain today). Mother Nature is such a force!
We returned to the trail about a ½ mile to connect with the Saddle Trail. This is what would get us to our pick up point at Halibut Cove. It was a pretty steep descent (about 700 feet in a mile’s distance), and it was muddy and slippery from all the precipitation. Hiking poles would have definitely been a good thing to have. This portion of the hike was a much denser rainforest feel until we became distracted by beautiful, placid Halibut Cove. We made it down to the beach at about 2:30 where Captain Mike had been keeping in touch with Jeff about our pickup status via text (yes we had cell service). It wasn’t a problem picking us up earlier, that is until we got a text that said he was having engine trouble on the boat and that he’d be delayed about 20 minutes. Well, 20 turned into 45, with a final text saying he was sending another boat out to pick us up and to look for an orange boat and a guy named Joe. While playing the waiting game, we had set ourselves and our packs about 5 feet from the water when about 30 minutes later, we realized our packs were about halfway immersed in water; that’s how fast the tide comes in there. Luckily, no harm was done. We were finally picked up around 3:45 along with a few other cast aways. And then we were off!
Just when we thought the day couldn’t get any better, on our return trip back on Kachemak Bay, we spotted orcas!!! Not just 1, but 4. Captain Joe said it looked like a harem with the 1 male and 3 females (the male’s dorsal fin was triple the size of the females). It was absolutely breathtaking. It would have been the perfect time to have a fancy zoom lens camera right about then. Even so, my awesome, Sony digital camera did a great job! Thankyou Joe for picking us up late and slowing the boat down to take a look. Even he was amazed that we saw them. I guess they’re a rarity and unpredictably seen in these waters. And just as we were pulling away from their playfulness, a wide, faint rainbow appeared from where we had just been. WOW!!! We were definitely lucky to have witnessed such awesomeness!
Being in rain gear and wet shoes most of the day, we couldn’t wait to get changed and warmed up. We couldn’t believe how the day unfolded for us as we are 2 very lucky travelers to witness such amazing beauty! While unloading the car, there was Jordan, doing a little fishing like it was just another day at the office. It’s so funny to see these guys on a whim decide to catch tonight’s supper. Way better than buying at your local grocer, and it’s FREE!! Offering us a fresh catch, we told him about our encounter with the orcas. Being a local, even he was blown away that we had the experience. Only in Alaska!