BearFooting in the Kenai Peninsula

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We completed our “bear footing” (having a good time), in Alaska’s playground – the Kenai Peninsula. It left us full of wonderful experiences and spectacular scenery.  The bountiful wildlife in the peninsula borough allowed us to meet the real locals (critters) in Cooper Landing.  We got hooked, we clammed and then traded clams for Halibut in Ninilchik. We gazed at volcanoes and walked and biked the well-maintained pathways in Soldotna.  We went all the way to the end of the road in Homer and to the most westerly point in North America at Anchor Point.  The Harding Icefields and Kenai Fjords National Park formed the backdrop of stunning scenery on the horizon at Seward.  We witnessed frenzy Salmon fishing (or combat fishing as they refer to it) and dip netting for subsistence at the Kenai River in Kenai.  ML even met in person, for the first time, Gemma,  whom  she has been communicating with through FB for eight years.   We spent an afternoon with her, her husband also named Steve and sisters at their home in Nikiski.  The sea life, the Alaskan life,  the glaciers and everything else in between were just astonishing to watch and to experience.

Kenai Peninsula

Kenai Peninsula

The two weeks we spent traveling through the area were not enough. The pictures below are some of the many we took, attempting to capture the essence of what its like to be in the Kenai Peninsula.  We had a great time and we urge you to come and play in Alaska’s playground!

Anchor Point, AK

ML modestly posing at another sign

Homer Spit

Viewing snowcapped mountains from Homer Spit

Homer Spit

Beautiful Sunset at Homer

Anchor Point

North Fork Loop road in Anchor Point

Floatplane

Steve’s first floatplane trip, out of Homer.

Harding IceField

The Harding IceField covers over 700 square miles at the top of the mountain ranges, and spills over the peaks as hundreds of glaciers.

Grewingk Glacier

Grewingk Glacier

Glacier view

Yet another glacier, as seen from the plane from Homer during Steve’s flight.

Mt Redoubt

Mt Redoubt

Mt Iliamna

Mt Iliamna

Gemma, ML, Joy and Wennah

Ninilchik, AK

Steve attempts to fly with the seagulls. They were very graceful, he crash-landed.

Bald Eagle

Bald eagle hanging out near our RV site

Land of ice and rock – Portage Valley

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We back-tracked on the Seward Highway heading north.  The drive on Seward Highway, which is designated as National Scenic Byway, would have been spectacular for the scenery it offers along the way.  The highway winds along the coast and through two separate mountain passes, Chugach and Kenai Mountains.  But we could not enjoy it as much for on both ways in and out of Kenai Peninsula it was pouring rain.  Oh well,  the beautiful and colorful flowers adorning the highway were still visible and we enjoyed it.

Portage Valley

Portage Valley

Our destination was Portage Valley, a 14-mile isthmus that connects the Kenai Peninsula to mainland Alaska. It was carved by numerous glaciers that still straddle mountain peaks visible from the valley floor.  Portage Glacier once extended the entire length of the valley and has receded to the point where it is no longer visible from the valley, but there are cool icebergs floating in the lake which is visible from the visitor center.

Voices of Ice

When the curtains opened….what a fantastic view!

And for the first time we checked in into a US Forest Service managed campground, Williwaw.  Upon entrance to the campground, Middle Glacier greets you, Wow!  This campground though primitive  has breathtaking views of mountains and glaciers and for the first time our site was asphalt, not gravel.  It is primitive for it has no dump station, no hook ups, no shower facilities and just a hand pump for water.  But this place rocks!

Middle Glacier

Middle Glacier greets you at the entrance to Williwaw Campground

It is just beautiful and a quiet respite from our water views.  We recommend this campground if you like dry camping, which we did for 3 whole days – a record for us.  Our neighbors were trees, mountains, glaciers, and birds, and maybe wild animals that we did  not see or meet!

Williwaw Campground

Site #3

Birds mating next to our site

Birds mating next to our site

The campground is named Williwaw from the 130 mph winds that gust through the valley and we noticed trees and shrubs that are bare of branches on the side facing the wind.

Flag Tree, Williwaw

Flag Trees- branches only grow on the side out of the wind

The glacial remnants that can be seen today are Explorer, Middle, Byron, Burns, and Shakespeare glaciers.  In short we are surrounded by glaciers!

Byron Glacier

Byron Glacier

Byron Glacier

Burns Glacier

Burns Glacier

Explorer Glacier

Explorer Glacier

Shakespeare Glacier

Shakespeare Glacier

Our short stay here was enjoyed by viewing the glaciers, mountains and rivers.  We walked on the Trail of Blue Ice trail, a 4.7 mile route which we learned is the most expensive trail in Alaska, costing $4.4M  to complete.  We felt privileged to walk on this trail for it is really a gem.  We would have loved to bike it but the weather was once again conspiring against us.  Just our luck to pick a record-setting cold and wet summer to go to Alaska!

Trail of Blue Ice, Portage AK

Trail of Blue Ice

Views on the Trail of Blue Ice

Views on the Trail of Blue Ice

Portage Valley

Rain Clouds are gathering

Strike a pose at the trail

Rainy Daze in Seward

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After basking in the sun in Kenai, we packed up and moved to the southeastern side of the Kenai Peninsula to  Seward. It is a  small picturesque city ringed by steep mountains on one side and the sparkling waters of Resurrection Bay on the other.  This is not only a fishing town but  it also offers a little bit of everything, hence tagged as  “Alaska starts here.”

Old Seward

Old Seward

Seward, nestled in by Mt Marathon

Seward, nestled in by Mt Marathon

We left the sun shine and drove thru rain again.  The plan was to stay here for five days but the forecast for that time was rain, rain and more rain.  The consolation however was that the RV park we stayed in had awesome views – we were entertained daily by playful sea otters, bald eagles, sea gulls, kayakers, and cruise ships passing over the bay outside our front window.

Miller Landing

Awesome view but surrounded by mud pools

Millers Landing

Kayakers ready to go

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle with prey ready for take off

Bald Eagle

Seagull flying after the fish that the Bald Eagle caught

Sea Otthers

Sea Otters frolicking right in front our window

Seward

Cruise ship passing thru

What to do on a rainy day and not get wet?  Go see some  animals at the Alaska SeaLife Center.  The center serves as a marine research center as well as an educational institution.  This sea life center is filled with amazing and wonderful displays of sea life and birds in Alaska that would otherwise be a rare sight.  There is a bird rockery display where beautiful and cute puffins were flying around.

Alaska SeaLife Center

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffin

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

It  continued to rain the following day, but we went ahead and explored Exit Glacier, one of the attractions in Seward.  Exit Glacier is one of the most accessible by foot and it emerges from the Harding Icefield .  We followed a moderately strenuous hike which lead us to the wall of the blue ice at the edge of the glacier.  The trail has markers showing where it ended on various years as it continues to recede during the past hundred years.

 Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier

Lines shows marking of moraine as glaciers extent in a year

Edge of Exit Glacier

Edge of Exit Glacier,note people at the edge

exit glacier

Result of a powerful river of ice carving the bedrock

Exit Glacier

The year where the toe used to be

There will be a part 2 of Seward to talk about the Kenai Fjords National Park tour in my next blog.

After the 4th day we realized that the rain was going to continue, and we had seen just about everything we wanted to.  So we hooked up the car and headed to Portage, which also had some nice surprises to offer.  Stay tuned!

Some fishy facts about dip netting in Alaska

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Mt Redoubt

After a few days in Homer, we back-tracked on the Sterling Highway and went up north to Kenai, the largest and the oldest city on the Kenai Peninsula . This was a “lazy stop,” since we had been in this area before and didn’t need to explore much.  The RV park we stayed at had spectacular views of the Kenai River, Cook Inlet and on a clear day two of the four active volcanoes, Mt Redoubt and Mt Iliamna.

Kenai Peninsula, Alaska’s Playground

When we pulled into the park we noticed immediately that all of the guests seemed harried and in a frenzy, full of energy.  We later learned that we arrived here at the peak time of the Kenai River personal use salmon dip netting season.  The season began on July 10 and ends July 31.  This is the period during which all Alaskans put everything on hold and fill their freezers with FRESH SALMON.

Watching the action below from the bluff at the RV park

So what is dip netting?  To dip net, anglers stand in the mouth of the River holding large nets with long handles.  As the fish move from the ocean to the river, they swim along the shoreline in large groups.  When the time is right, one can catch enormous amount of Salmon in this way.  And this type of fishing is exclusive only to Alaska residents, no tourists allowed.  However, the seasonal harvest limit is 25 per household, plus 10 per dependent, and all fish must be marked.  As you can imagine, it’s somewhat of an “honor” system.  As I mentioned in my previous blog, fishing regulations are complicated .

Mt Redoubt

Mt. Redoubt on the background

Old man showing off his catch

dip netting

Women are great “fisher people”, too!

Dip Netting

Bleeding a Salmon

The catch, Sockeye Salmon

Lady busy cleaning her fish

We  became spectators of the shore-based dip netting frenzy at the Cook Inlet shoreline while we were there. Especially on the first day, we saw hundreds of fish literally jumping out of the water and into people’s nets.  It was an amazing sight to see hundreds of people, including children, intent on the family project.  Only in Alaska can you see this kind of frenzy.

Both sides of the shoreline were packed with frenzied fishermen

Kenai, AK

The aftermath

The aftermath, and it really stinks here 😦

The clean up crew, not a great job and the odor is almost unbearable on the beach

On our last day here we were invited to a BBQ party in Nikiski, 17 miles from Kenai. I finally met Gemma in person whom I initially met on a Yahoo group for the high school I  graduated from. We continued our friendship on FB and finally visited her and family in Nikiski. That was an exciting day for me  and I met her husband  also named Steve, her sisters and cousins. We had a great time and we met nice local residents.

Halibut and Razor Clams in Ninilchik – yum, yum!

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Ninilchik,  meaning  “peaceful settlement  by the river ” was our next stop on the Kenai Peninsula.  This town has a rich Russian influence dating back to the early 19th century.  A Russian Orthodox Church was built in 1901, and the historic cemetery on the hill continues to overlook the rustic village of Ninilchik.  This is also a town from which world-class Halibut and Salmon fishing charters are launched to the Cook Inlet.

Old Ninilchik Village

Russian Church and Cemetery

Russian Church and cemetery

We had a lot of excitement and action during our four-day stay here, and we just loved this little town.

First off, I caught a fish – not just any fish – a HALIBUT!  Yes I did!  I hopped aboard one of the charters and went with a group of six for some serious ocean fishing.  My first scheduled outing was canceled due to 50-knot winds and 4-foot waves, but I managed to get on a trip leaving the next morning.  Unfortunately, I had to shell out an extra $20 to get another 24-hour fishing license.  Steve decided to stay home and defrost the freezer to prepare for arrival of the bounty.

Ninilchik, AK

Some of my fishing buddies, Sarah and Nazly

Launching of the fishing boats is a choreographed dance of tractors and boats – in goes one boat and out comes another in a matter of seconds.

Ninilchik, Alaska

Tractor launching boats

It was raining hard as we sped off several miles into the open ocean.  The excitement built as our bait was grabbed by the Halibut.  The hard work began once the fish was hooked and I had to reel it up some 250 feet from the ocean floor.  Halibut are bottom feeders, so a 5 lb. sinker is attached to the end of the line.  I had to reel that in, plus the weight of the bait, plus a 30 lb. fish.  To say it was extremely tiring is an understatement.

I had to take rests during my reeling, as my arms tired and took much of my energy and effort – and the rain was relentless.  The good thing was that Sarah and Nazly cheered me on and helped reel when I needed a break.  I was warned that it would be hard work, but I didn’t know how hard until I caught my first Halibut.  And the worst part is that I had to let go of the first three I caught, as they were too small according to the skipper.

I also caught a black cod which had to be released as well.  I think I reeled in six but got to keep only two, per regulations.  I was totally exhausted – what day!

Halibut Fishing, Ninilchik Alaska

The hard-working fisherman and women, Nazly, Mark and Sarah

We were soaking wet and cold after our six hours on the ocean, but we were very happy with the catch – check it out!

Ninilchik Charters, Alaska

Our catch of the day

And after filleting it for us, this is what I got to take home, almost 20 lbs. of Halibut fillets. Woo hoo!  But I won’t ever go fishing for them again.

Halibut Fillets

We’ll be eating this tasty Halibut for the rest of our trip!

One of the most popular activities in Ninilchik is digging for Razor clams.  It turned out that the following day was a monthly “minus tide”, and the beach in Ninilchik was exposed for hundreds of feet down to the waterline.  Perfect for digging for Razor clams.  Steve went out with fellow RV’er Jacob to learn how it’s done.  They caught a lot of clams, and only came home when the tide chased them back.

Razor Clamming

It’s worth getting muddy for these excellent Razor clams

Alaskan Razor Clams

Alaskan Razor Clams

Razor Clamming in Ninilchik, Alaska

Steve is excited that he found several clams during their trek

Razor Clamming

The clammers bringing back the catch of the day.

We all agreed to trading Razor clams for Halibut.  Hey, what a deal – we didn’t have to dig up or clean the clams, and although it was my hard-earned Halibut that we had to give away, we were looking forward to trying the clams.

Razor Clams

Here are the 26 clams Jacob and Steve harvested and bartered with our halibut, about 3.5 pounds. It was painful to give up the halibut, but the clams are awesome raw with wasabe and soy sauce, fried, or in clam chowder.

Clam Stew

Clam stew is what’s for dinner

I want to give a shout out to Roadlife for her Clam Stew recipe.  What a wonderful dinner we had that night!

 



 

Salmon Frenzy in Soldotna

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Kenai River

We arrived at Soldotna in the midst of the salmon frenzy. Mid-July happens to be the the second salmon run for King Salmon (Chinook) and Red Salmom (Sockeye).  Fishing seems to be on everyone’s mind for locals as well as tourists, as you see them swarming along the banks and in Kenai the river.  Steve reported that the hardware/fishing supplies store was jam-packed with folks buying gear, and it seemed like every boat was heading to/from a launch loaded with supplies.  Most anglers and tourists alike are here,  since  Soldotna is the central hub of the Kenai Peninsula and home of the World Record King Salmon caught, at 97.4 lbs.

Kenair River Salmon Fishing

Locals and Tourist alike are fishing on the river.

Soldotna Fishing Salmon

Watching the fishermen at play

Kenai River

View from the bridge

Fishing regulations are complicated and well regulated.  You can only fish during a certain period of time, at certain river locations and for a certain species of Salmon in particular.  You have to know the fish you catch and know when to throw it back in case you got the wrong one.  Fishing in the Kenai river is extremely popular and on these days quite crowded.  The glacially turbid streams flowing into the Kenai river support the largest recreational fishery in Alaska.

Salmon Fishing in AK

Catch of the day.

Soldotna

Fish Cleaning by the river, there is a rule for that too!

Mt Redoubt

At the mouth of Kenai River.

 

It’s fun to watch the beautiful fish being reeled in, and even for “non-fisherpeople” like us it can be exciting.  We are considering scheduling a salmon tour during our stay in this area.  We still have plenty of time to do it, and our freezer is pretty small so we may have to eat fish for every meal – not a problem!  We’re getting spoiled on the best salmon you can imagine, and we’re afraid  of how much we will miss it while sitting in the desert during the winter months.  Oh well, by then we will have switched our diet to fresh scorpions and cactus- yum yum!

Salmon Fishing

Another salmon pulled from the river!

Soldotna's trail

More fishermen across the river.

We really like Soldoltna.  Even though it is very busy during July, it is basically a small town but big enough to have decent stores and services that make life a lot easier.  We took a long bike ride  on their nice paved trails paralleling Kalifornsky Beach road and went all the way to the mouth of the  Kenai river which is about 11 miles away.  There we saw more people fishing for the tasty salmon.  On this ride we caught the first glimpse of the active volcanoes and with nary a cloud.  We were gazing at Mt Spurr, Mt Redoubt and Mt Illiamna, all viewed from the mouth of the Kenai River.  Just beautiful !  We wished the nice sunny weather will hold up for more days to come.

Soldotna's trail

Biking along Soldotna’s trail with Mt Redoubt at the background.

Kenai River.

Lunch at the mouth of the Kenai River.

Mt Redoubt

Mt Redoubt – wow!

Bear encounters at Cooper Landing!

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Bear in Alaska

We arrived at Cooper Landing on our way down to the Kenai Peninsula.  Although the weather was really bad with high winds and lots of rain during the drive, it is true that the Seward highway south of Anchorage is truly beautiful. As we followed the very high traffic highway, it offered breathtaking views of mountains, mud flats and the ocean.  After arriving at our site, we were pretty much housebound until later in the afternoon, when the rain finally stopped and we ventured outside to look around.

Seward Highway

Snow capped mountains and a train cruising along the Seward Highway.

Mud Flats

Keep off the mud flats or you get trapped in sinking mud. Bad way to die.

Seward Highway.

High traffic on the Seward Highway.

Kenai Peninsula

Welcome sign to Kenai Peninsula.

This area is really all about the fishing.  The next morning people left the campground very early to get out on the river, and we also took off early for a nice hike to the Russian River Falls.  We met another couple, Kurt and Debbie on the way and talked with them until time for pictures at the falls.  Unbelievably, just as Kurt was preparing to take our picture a grizzly bear walked out of the woods only about 40 ft. from us!  You can see our reaction in the photo he snapped just as we were pointing to the bear.  Fortunately,Kurt spun around quickly to get a picture of the bear, but it had already begun fleeing through the woods so he only got the “bear butt” shot.  We could hardly  believe what had just happened and how close the encounter was!  The bear apparently had not heard us because of the loud water, and he likely got a lot closer than he had wanted to.  He looked as surprised as we did!

Just after that hike, ML asked to stop near a bridge so she could get a picture of the beautiful green-blue Kenai river.

Kenai river

Paddlers and Rafters along Kenai River

Imagine my surprise when I looked across the river and there was a big black bear mama with two little cubs!  These bears were a lot further away, but we enjoyed watching them walk along the far bank of the river for a couple of minutes as they searched for a salmon breakfast.  A great bear-sighting day!

Bear in Alaska

Black bear fishing for salmon, her cubs are in the weeds behind her.

Mama bear and cubs

Bear Clawing marks

Signs of Bear clawing on tree,note the claw marks

Russian River

At the Russian River.

Kenai River

Playing along Kenai River.

 

Next up: Salmon Frenzy in Soldotna