Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Grace Ridge - 1, Us - 0

Last weekend we took our first backpacking trip on the Grace Ridge Trail in Kachemak Bay State Park. The trail is open during the warmer parts of the summer months because only then has enough snow melted to make it passable.
We read that some people made the 8.8 mile hike in a day. We decided to give ourselves 2 days and nights. In hindsight it seems like complete b.s. that people made this trek in a day.

We met up with our water taxi early on Saturday morning and picked up our rental kayak, which was left at the end of our trail. We made plans to spend 2 days hiking and one day relaxing and paddling.


From the water taxi we could see what awaited us across the bay. Grace Ridge is the mountain on the right. We climbed up and over that whole thing, all 3150 feet high.

Despite the lousy weather our trail began with high spirits as we soon found some delicious blueberries.

But the blueberries couldn't hold a candle to wild salmon berries!

They looked and tasted a lot like large raspberries.


The concern of bears was very real on Grace Ridge.
Luckily, we didn't have any bear encounters, however we came across lots of proof that they were not far off.

Within the first mile of the trail is an elevation increase of 15oo feet.

It was a rough first mile, but the view was so worth it.

The clouds couldn't fully hide the beauty of the mountains.

We saw lots of Mountain Lupine. After buying a book detailing the wildflowers of Alaska, we've become much more acquainted to the ridiculously beautiful flowers that 24 hours of sunlight will bring.

After three miles of heavily wooded switchbacks we began hiking at an even steeper elevation into the alpine region of our tour. Keep in mind we have all our supplies on our backs. That's about 50 pounds each between tents, stove, food, etc.

After hiking for another mile and another thousand feet, we stopped for a scenic photo

At one point during this part of the hike we glanced down a few hundred feet to see an eagle soaring. Looking down and seeing an eagle was something new for both of us.

After the first mile into the alpine region of the hike the trail became less obvious and more 'implied.'

With nothing else in front of us but huge ridges we carried on for another hour.

Around 6pm we decided to make camp. It had been a long and tiring day and we were hungry.
We made the wise decision of hitting up the bulk dehydrated soup section at the grocery store before heading out on our journey. We made the very unwise decision of purchasing vegetarian chili instead of any one of the many other dehydrated soups available.

While resting at our camp near the summit we were able to appreciate the toughness of all the plants that were able to live in such inhospitable conditions. These flowers, no larger than the size of you pinky fingernail, were everywhere. While they appear to be pretty and dainty they are tough. Really really tough.

Soon after dinner we settled down for what we hoped would be a solid night's sleep after a demanding day. I was slowly getting comfortable in our tent when the rain started. This is nothing too unexpected. Every time we go camping it rains. It's kind of the Murphy's Law of camping.
But then the wind came. As we were literally camping in the valley of a mountain ridge, our tent was situated in a crazy wind tunnel. The rustling of gusts blowing through our tent along with the tapping of rain kept us up all night. At points it seemed like our tent was going to fly off of the mountain top. There's also some terribly unsettling feeling about sleeping 2500 feet in the air. Your whole body seems very aware that you shouldn't be there. It was not fun.


The wind and rain did not let up by the morning. This made repacking everything, which was now soaked, quite the task. Still we managed to collect our belongings and make our way through the most challenging part of the 'trail.'

As I mentioned before, the trail was more 'implied' or totally non existent once we reached the higher altitudes. This didn't really pose too much of a challenge until our map blew away, along with my St. Louis Cardinals hat. The lowest ridge towards the bottom left was were me made camp. We started our day getting over one ridge to find another larger one waiting for us. This was not the best way to start the day. The photo below is a view backwards of the "easy" ridges.

There were points where there was not much space to walk on, maybe 18 inches surrounded by two sharp declines on either side. At times it felt like I was going to be knocked over by the power of the wind. It was scary. We did not get many photos of that section of the hike. It was during this time that the 60 - 70 mph winds threw Nicki into a rock and tore the cartilage connecting her ribs to her sternum. Luckily, she didn't feel much of this until the next day.

Here I am leaning into the wind

Where's the trail?

After loosing the trail for a few unnerving hours and a few exhausting miles we spotted it over a few ridges about a mile from where we were. We zagged when we should have zigged. Oops!
As we decreased in elevation the wind stopped pushing us around so much and we found a much needed water source which we filtered.

Before the alpine region gives way to the forested area there was this:

We were soon back in familiar (not scary) territory hiking down through the trees.

I heard a rustle in the trees and before I could grab my bear spray we saw this porcupine scrambling up a tree! It was the size of an enormous pig!

Our spirits were high as we hiked the last few miles down the trail, even though everything we wore/owned was wet.

Around 6pm we made it to the trailhead and found this campsite waiting for us. We quickly made a life affirming fire and began laying out our soaked belongings.

As we were settling in for the night, we realized that we had an alarming lack of water for the next two days. It was decided that we should set out on our kayak to a water source on a different part of the island. However, Nicki thought she was much stronger than she is and tried to carry the very heavy double kayak to the water. Once she dropped it and the kayak zoomed down the beach and was carried ten to twenty feet out into the water by the tide, I ran/swam after it wearing three layers, rain boots, my glasses, and a heavy raincoat. The water voyage was delayed until the next day.

After waking from a much more pleasant sleep, we set out for the water source and made breakfast with delicious hot chocolate. Then, we were off on our kayaking journey into Sadie Cove!

Majestic Eagle

We were very lucky to be out when we were. Something about the specific tide and the weather and the location where we were turned Sadie Cove into a jellyfish party. We passed HUNDREDS of jellyfish. They were all sorts of colors and sizes. There were so many that it was difficult to not hit them with our oars!

We stopped at a cove under Grace Ridge, enjoyed some tea from a thermos, and marveled at our accomplishment the day prior. Then, we spent the rest of our afternoon walking along the beach, studying the hundreds of jellyfish that the tide had brought to shore.

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