Rainforest

Our hike begins with a plunge through knee-deep glacial meltwater. We’ll be out here for at least eight hours, and I’d rather not hike in soaking wet XtraTufs all day, so I take off my boots and socks, roll up my pants legs, and pick my way gingerly through the rocks to the grassy estuarine edge. I hope I don’t get sliced up by barnacles, but the water is cold enough that my feet are numb and I may not even notice at the moment. This could be a really dumb move; maybe I’ll be lucky. Most of the other hikers in our group have simply walked through the water with their lightweight hiking shoes on, resigned to being wet already, this early in the day.

The new Tutka Backdoor Trail doesn’t extend quite all the way to a versatile water taxi landing spot yet, so we have to improvise. Depending on the tide (in this case it’s at about thirteen feet, and coming in) pickup and drop-off sites will vary for this hike, until the trail extension can be built. It’ll be low tide after our hike today, so we’ll have to get on the water taxi in a different spot farther out in the bay, where the water is deeper.

 

4TutkaBay

Near the head of Tutka Bay, glassy calm waters and misty mountains.

5Waterfall

Waterfall on the north side of the bay.

6RangerBrad

Kachemak Bay State Park Ranger Brad offers suggestions as to where our water taxi should land.

The head of Tutka Bay is strewn with dead and dying pink salmon, their humpy-backed carcasses draped over rocks, barnacle beds, and grass flats. Many more are still alive, drawing their spawned-out bodies up-river, up-stream, up-country. Their dorsal fins and the tips of their tails stick up above the surface of the braided streams. Glaucous-winged gulls and black-legged kittiwakes gather in great numbers on the bay, for once in their lives well-fed.

13Humpies

All spawned out.

After wading through the flats, we rendezvous on slightly higher ground, go around the circle and share names. We’re a mixed group of nine folks and from Homer and four from Seldovia, representing both sides of Kachemak Bay. Christina Whiting, the State Park’s volunteer coordinator, has put together this event, where we will explore the brand-new trail, and do a bit of trail work. It’s called the “Backdoor” because it starts on the populous Kachemak Bay side of the southern Kenai Peninsula and goes up, over, and across the mountains to the backdoor wilderness Gulf of Alaska side. Bret “Hig” Higman (along with two other trail parents, Erin McKittrick and Jeff Lee) was instrumental in the permitting, design, and construction of the trail. Hig tells us about the process of creating a new trail through the wilderness.

 

7Beginning

We would all do well to emulate Hig’s style: Goretex jacket, fleece jacket underneath, a drybag for his camera, light hiking shoes with thin wool socks, and TOTAL ACCEPTANCE of having wet feet all day long.

8SalmonWalk

We pick our way through the salmon. We don’t know it yet, but this will be a persistent theme today.

We enter the forest. It is raining. Sound gets tamped down, padded by moss. All the hikers grow quiet, slow down, breathe deeply, absorbed into the many shades of green. And the trees! It is good to be back among them, after a summer on the Bering Sea. I marvel, not for the first time, at the diversity and wondrous beauty of this planet. Two very different expressions of tree-ness: great magnificent vegetative beings of the rainforest; St. Paul Island’s tiny maritime tundra willows, the size of my pinky finger.

9Moss

Rainforest hush.

Moss, lichen, mushrooms. Running water, bear trails, salmonberry. There are salmon everywhere: in the trickling creeks, in the brambles, in the forest pools. Most of them are humpies, but a few reds catch the eye, a miracle of color in the lush green.  I am reminded of a painting by Alaska artist Ray Troll, “Deep Forest.”

10Red

Red (sockeye) salmon in a forest pool. Raindrops splashing down hard.

10Creekcrossing

My feet are still dry! Michaela and I cross one of the many tributary creeks. Photo by Christina Whiting.

We climb up and over a small ridge, through the ferns and devil’s club. Alaska’s September autumn colors are delicate and subtle, not like a deciduous forest’s, but they shine through the rain. Edible hedgehog mushrooms and deadly poisonous amanitas revel in the moisture.

11FernsDevilsClub

Ferns and devil’s club.

The trail follows the edge of the river for a bit. Alder thickets could hide bears, but there are enough of us humans in this big group that I’d guess any bear is long gone. Three winter-plumage Spotted Sandpipers flush from the edge of the water and flutter-fly upstream. When they land they bob their tails. A Belted Kingfisher makes its rat-a-tat-tat call.

12River

One branch of the Tutka River.

We re-enter the woods, and cross another knee-deep tributary. Salmon, both living and dead, are underfoot, both in the water and on the land. They splash around, are stranded in piles, scattered through the trees, lying across the trail. Bright pink roe spills out of the females. The eyeballs are the choice bits, and so they get eaten first. Empty eye sockets stare blankly at the white sky. Fish are dissolving, melting down like Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” painting. Soft parts go away, leaving only white backbones and spikey ribs.

We climb up, up, up. This was billed as an “easy” hike, but even the Austrian who spent her childhood climbing the Alps says it is not easy. Everything is relative, and I have found over the last few years that Seldovians, especially those who grew up amidst the mud, devil’s club, slippery boulders, stair-master root-ball trails, and dayhikes to the alpine zone, are superhuman — perhaps even mythical – in their hiking abilities. I don’t trust any of them anymore when they say something is “easy.” But I still take every opportunity I get to go out hiking with them.

 

17Tundra

It was tempting to stop when we first reached the tundra, for botanizing and snacking on lowbush blueberries and crowberries.

14Ridge

The final ascent approaching Lunch Mountain, approximately three miles from the trailhead at Tutka Bay.

 

18LunchMt

Lunch Mountain, at 1,200 feet elevation. Not much of a view today, but still a beautiful spot.

I’m super happy to be here, and relatively comfortable, but am observing that I miscalculated when I made my clothing choices for this hike. It’s been raining the whole time, and somewhere in the low- to mid-fifties. My Marmot raingear failed a while ago, and my backpack isn’t waterproof at all. Plus, it’s too heavy. Why did I even bring my binoculars? My camera will survive the rain, mud, and spruce sap, I hope. I’m too warm when I’m climbing up the mountain, but cold when I get to the top and take a break. And I’ll probably get chilled on the ride home. Next time I will bring a drybag and stash it in the trees at the trailhead, so I’ll have a change of clothes at the end of the hike. Cashmere, merino, and fleece: yes. Cotton: no.

Giddy and tired on the way down. The group of hikers spreads out. Some of us get to hike alone for half an hour or more. The solitude is a welcome change. Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers, and Black-capped Chickadees squeak and chitter, hidden in the thick vegetation. A Fox Sparrow perches where I can take a nice long look. I nibble blueberries and look at plants, stop for a chocolate and water break. Now I am lonely, and wait up for the next hiker back. Eventually a group of similarly-paced women, four of us, non-superhumans, end up hiking together. The companionship, like the solitude, is a lovely gift.

19Almost

Almost done! These are my new friends, from the Homer side. We are pretty tuckered out. I think Quito the dog expresses it most eloquently with her body language.

20ToregaPickup

Pickup by Bay Excursions water taxi M/V Torega.

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This entry was posted in Alaska, Art, Birds, Boats, Flora, Seldovia, Travel, Uncategorized, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Rainforest

  1. Thanks for posting! Good info!

    Like

  2. Good to read you back in the rainforest hush. Rains have started here, too, and you reminded me about the hike waiting along the Salmon River…

    Like

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