Grace Ridge (no relation)

Last Friday, Skippy and I, along with two of our friends Adrian and Krista, packed up our backpacks, hopped on a water taxi, and spent the weekend hiking the Grace Ridge Trail in Kachemak Bay State Park. Both Skippy and I purchased new hiking boots to replace the ones we had blown out before leaving Indiana. Yes, it’s been over a year since I last took a serious hike!

The Grace Ridge Trail always comes up as a favorite destination for locals who actively hike, so we decided to try it out. We also brought along Ashlee and Macgee.

The water taxi dropped us off on a remote beach in Tutka Bay. The first mile of trail was maintained and makes good use of switchbacks to slowly gain elevation.

Then, abruptly, the switchbacks end, and we found ourselves at the base of a very long, very tall, nearly vertical (so it seemed) uphill climb.

We struggled mostly to the top (or so we thought) for the next couple of hours. Once we reached the top of what we could see, we discovered that there was another tall hill. Having spent our energy reserves already, we made camp and scouted out the trail. On the other side of the big hill, we found…yes, another big hill.

That evening, Adrian fixed halibut burritos (yes, he packed in a vacuum-sealed bag of frozen halibut), while we sipped a concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and whiskey. Ashlee and Macgee fell fast asleep on the alpine tundra, which was like a springy bed.

The next morning, we climbed our two hills to find a taller freaking hill behind them. Thinking this surely must be the summit, we traversed an extremely narrow path up, with not quite vertical drop-offs (you would roll a long way if you fell) of hundreds of feet on either side.

We finally reached the top of the hill, and found the tallest hill yet. Now, remember in the first paragraph, where I mentioned the we had just purchased new boots? Well, 5 days isn’t really enough time to properly break in boots. So our feet hurt, pretty badly. I had taped up my toes and applied a preemptive layer of moleskin over most of my foot, but that only delayed the inevitable. Oh, I had also hurt my ankle the week before, stupidly running on the beach at high tide with Macgee. He stopped suddenly to sniff a large dead salmon, and I stepped on a big rock and rolled my ankle.

Basically, my feet hurt.

A lot.

So instead of climbing the last hill, we decided to cut across the sweeping alpine meadow in front of the summit. It was a lot longer and steeper than it looked, but we made it across without losing anyone.

On the other side, we found a path down over a large patch of snow. We pulled water out of its run-off, as we were almost completely out. It was cold and delicious.

As we made our way down the trail, we dropped into the clouds that had rolled in to cover the Bay that morning. It was a welcome respite from the constant sun we had been subjected to on top of the hill.

I’ve done most of my hiking in Indiana, Utah, and California, and I’m used to the flora of those states. Big trees, shorter scrub trees that tangle you up, and ground-level ferns and other plants. Here in Alaska, the ferns are taller than I am. And there’s a giant plant here called “Devil’s Club” that’s basically a medieval torture device with a pretty green leaf on top. We walked through densely packed sections of Devil’s Club, with the trail barely visible.

After what seemed like an eternity to my poor raw feet, we finished our hike on Kayak Beach. We set up our tents, cooked dinner, and went to bed in a dense fog. The dogs were so tired from the ordeal, they fell asleep right on the rocks as soon as we stopped hiking. We eventually moved them to a grassy patch, so they had a softer bed to nap on.

Our last day was spent crawling around the rocks, looking for sea creatures exposed by low tide (okay, that was just me), and waiting for our taxi to come pick us up. While we were playing cards, a pod of orcas swam by, with a really annoying sailboat giving chase.

It was an excellent trip, and long overdue. I’m looking forward to tackling Grace Ridge again, with broken-in boots, healthy joints, and no dogs (while he did great on the way up, Macgee would not stop pulling on the way down, and that’s both dangerous and annoying. If only he wouldn’t run away off-leash…).

Here are seriously more pictures than I should be allowed to post. Wade through them at your peril. They are in chronological order, so you can even follow along with my story.