Sunday, September 14, 2014

Alaska — Summer of 2014

This was a strange up and down sort of summer. The time I spend in Alaska is always good but this summer was special for several reasons one of which was because, for a change, I had a very nice place to stay. Thanks to Paul & Jenny my summer quarters were new, nicely furnished, and wonder of wonders, had running water and a flush toilet. On the sad side, my mother's death in June cast a pall over everything that I'm still trying to deal with. I'm thankful that my family and I got to spend a short time with her before she passed but my mom was constantly in my thoughts as another Alaskan sojourn wound its way to a close. The high point of the summer was having my son Tuli and grandson Harper came up for two weeks, a much anticipated and long overdue visit. I finished up with a 6-day car camping trip over the scenic Denali Highway, a repeat of a trip I made during my first summer in Alaska back in 1983.

Almost as soon as I jumped off the plane in Homer my cell phone rang. It was my good friend Jambo inviting me to dinner. She also had a suggestion, "Let's do a hike on Tuesday, my day off. We can maybe make it a regular thing, bring a lunch, ..." We had a couple of hikes in June and later after our Homer buddy Alice from Eugene, Oregon, showed up for a 2-week visit, we did a nice hike from Emerald Lake on the other side of Kachemak Bay, across the Portlock Plateau then down to the ocean. In order to do that trip in one day we had to hire a float plane to drop us off. Although it's not far in distance from Homer, there are no roads anywhere near Emerald Lake so it was a fly in, water taxi out deal. We contacted our friend Mark over at Steller Air and set up our 15 minute "commute" to the lake. Captain Lance of Mako's Water Taxi would pick us up at Humpy Creek at 6 pm. It was to be an Alaska style hiking trip.

Homer Boat Harbor on the Homer Spit

With Jambo and Alice at Emerald Lake (N59.63031, W151.07683)

After the obligatory photo session, off we went. We climbed from the lake to about 2000 feet above sea level while enjoying stunning views of Emerald and Grewingk Lakes and the surrounding mountains. In the screenshot below our flight and return by boat are shown in blue. Homer is about 16 miles SW of the lake. (click to see full size images in a new window)

Our track with Emerald Lake situated on its high bench
The Homer Spit from the Portlock Plateau
Aurora Lagoon and the barely visible trail ahead
About midway through the hike we noted a squall advancing from the direction of the spit but it ran out of steam soon after that so our walk ws as to remain pleasantly cool and dry. Except that the long, 2000 ft descent was tough on my knees. And my rigid, Vibram-soled hiking boots bludgeoned my feet, feet habituated to wearing flip-flops most of the year. By the time we got back to tidewater I had reached the lamentable conclusion that my old body is no longer the dependable vehicle it once was. At one point, a hidden tree branch lying across the trail caused me to lose my balance and sent me reeling headlong into the brush. My daypack weighed no more than 10 pounds yet there I was, staggering along the trail like a drunk trying like hell to stay upright. Next time I venture out for a hike I'll be using trekking poles and wearing lightweight trail shoes. 

Tuli and Harper arrived on July 5th. I had occasionally wondered if we would be able to find enough interesting things to entertain a 5 year-old for 2 weeks. No worries; we played tennis, we went fishing, Tuli hung out with his two best friends from high school, Max and Lance, giving me a chance to bond with Harper over bedtime stories, and Lance, now Captain Lance, took Harper along on water taxi rides. Tuli left Homer in 2002 after graduation and with work and family demands has only been back a couple of times since. Their entire visit was uplifting, a blast, and a very special time for me. 

"Harpzilla" striking the ball

My two wonderful boys at the Homer High courts
 With Harper at the Anchor River
I haven't been fishing in the Anchor River for years. I thought Harper would enjoy it so I dug through my storage area and pulled out my old fishing gear, my lightweight pole and XTraTuf boots, a few of my favorite Vibrax spinners (#2 silver) and we took off. Back in the day, my buddies and I didn't miss many chances to go fishing and as we left my place I boasted to Jenny, my gracious hostess for the summer, that if the dollies were running I could catch them standing on my head. Well, I never could stand on my head but I can (and did) catch dollies.

Dollies for dinner!
On their last day in Homer we went fishing in Tutka Bay with Lance. We caught a bunch of red salmon and had a ball on a picture perfect summer evening. Alaska is always beautiful but to be out on the ocean on a day such as this one was a special treat. Thank you Lance-o-later.

Tutka Bay - 10 pm

"Hanging" with Captain Lance on the M/V Mulligan
End of the day on Tutka Bay
After such a long day, Harper fell asleep 10 minutes after this pic was taken ... LOL
After they left I fell into a funk despite the fact that it had been a wonderful visit and a lovely summer. Some of my dearest family members were gone now and I was already preparing to leave my Homer friends. Like I said, it was an up and down sort of summer. But I had added some sweet traces to the old memory bank, memories of scenes I will always treasure.

Before I left Alaska, I packed up the old Ford Explorer and during my last week there I drove the Denali Highway. Stay tuned...


GPX file : Emerald Lake Hike

Click on the file link and select Download from beneath the cleverly hidden "More" menu (those three blue dots), at the top right of the resulting page, browse to a folder or your desktop where you want to place the file and click on the Save button. You can open them with Google Earth or any other application that can display GPX files.

The file contains only portions of the Emerald Lake Trail and the Humpy Creek Trail that we hiked.