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.

The Way of the Saturday

Today was an exemplary Saturday. We slept, with no disturbances, until 10am. After a breakfast of cereal and hot cinnamon toast, we packed up some snacks and water, and headed into town. We live west of town now, and there is a nice big overlook on Baycrest hill, before heading down into town. Here’s what it looked like as we came in:

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Brace yourselves, there are a lot of pictures coming.

First, we headed to the first farmer’s market of the season. There was a surprising number of fresh vegetables, though many were “starter” planters. A gypsy band was playing, and we ran into a few friends as we strolled around.

Our next stop was at the hardware store, to pick up a shower curtain, some squirt guns (doggie correction tool), and some snacks.

Then, we searched out a trail. After some misdirection and a return to town to get an actual map (hurr, we’re outdoor leaders!), we set out on a short 2.5 mile hike down to the ocean. Ashlee and Macgee went with us, and we used the opportunity to let Macgee carry some of the weight.

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The first part of the trail was just a gravel road, but it wound through the forest.

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Eventually, we hit a parking area, and then the real trail began.

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One of the spectacular things about Alaska is how everything goes from frozen and dead to vibrant green and gigantic in the span of a couple of months.

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Even with the sun shining fully, the temperature was still in the low 60’s. The trail was not very strenuous, but this was our first hike of the year (sadly), so it was a bit painful. We made our way down, listening to the sound of water running through the canyon below us. After a couple of miles, we started catching glimpses of the ocean. Ashlee also saw it, because she picked up the pace considerably. Macgee trundled along with his pack, occasionally running it into a tree, or my leg.

At the end of 2.5 miles, we entered a clearing and found ourselves on the beach.

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There are more big rocks on this beach than any of the others we’ve been to, so Skippy took some time to pose.

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It didn’t last long, though, since the rock was covered in barnacles, which are apparently uncomfortable to sit on.

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Ashlee, being half labrador and half walrus or seal or something aquatic, jumped right in. We forgot her ball, so we tossed rocks out into the surf, and she tried valiantly to find them.

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Eventually, she stopped falling for it.

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As I mentioned, there are a lot more big rocks. This one looked pretty interesting. I think it looks kind of like a big melting caramel. But I’m also kind of hungry.

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Looking back down the beach, I saw Ashlee meeting another dog. In the background, you can see some of the mountains in the chain that includes our three most prominent volcanoes: Iliamna, Augustine, and Redoubt. But none of them are in this picture. Sorry.

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While I was away taking pictures of caramel rocks and volcano-less volcano ranges, I tied Macgee to a giant piece of driftwood. When I returned to trade my camera for his leash, he was ecstatic.

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After running around in the fresh water creek on the beach (Macgee won’t go in the ocean. He gets close, but the waves scare the bejeezus out of him. Even the little tiny ones. He jumps back like a startled cat.), we walked further upstream and found a nice little waterfall.

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Since no outing with the dogs is complete without a little humiliation, here are some pictures of Macgee with a hat.

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We hiked out and returned to town to finish up our shopping for the day, and drove home. For dinner, I made a bbq sauce (ketchup, mustard, vinegar, brown sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, smoked salt, cayenne powder) while Skippy made a crust, and we recreated one of our favorite Aver’s pizzas.

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Of course, we put our own spin on it (meaning we used whatever we could find in the refrigerator): bbq sauce, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, bacon, shallots, red bell pepper, pieces of rotisserie chicken, banana peppers, and fresh jalapeno peppers (on my half). It was amazing. So amazing, I made a second one with the leftover ingredients, and froze it to eat later.

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And now I’ve spent over an hour editing photos and creating this post. Saturday is almost over. See you tomorrow.

Birds and Beaches

Friday, I received my first assignment for a potential part-time job. I haven’t actually discussed the terms of the job with my employers yet, so I won’t be posting anything more about it until I know the details.

Anyway, it took us down to the Spit on short notice, so we packed up the dogs (including the boss’s dog, as Libby hadn’t made it back yet), and headed down there. After I finished my assignment, we took all the dogs for a walk on the extremely windy beach. Skippy was kind enough to manage all three dogs while I took some pictures.

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She had her hands full:
Lot of dogs

A couple of friendly birds looking for handouts were nearby.

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Not yet, the tourist season won’t start for another couple months, little one.

Tiny beggar

Most of the businesses on the Spit are elevated up to road level, as the shoreline drops away a little too steeply. Here are the pillars holding up a series of restaurants and touring companies.

Stilts

We managed to stay out on the beach for about 10 minutes, before running back to the car to regain the feeling in our faces.

Video from outside and inside our cabin

Here’s about the 30th adn 31st clips I’ve taken with the D90. I found a sequence of steps to take to maintain the video quality as much as possible, but the D90 is no HD camcorder replacement. The optimal configuration requires a fully manual lens, of which I have only one. All my others don’t have a manual aperture ring. Looks like I’ll be trying to find some old Nikkor manual lenses for video work!

The first video is a simple pan of the surrounding area, taken from our porch.

The second is inside the cabin, where you can see my workspace, as well as Macgee.

I’ll have to come up with some stories to sequence, and exercise that video production degree!

Another day at the beach

Sunday, we took Ashlee and Macgee with us to run errands in town, then took them to the Spit to run around on the beach. Last time, it was covered in ice, but this time it was just really really rocky. And cold. Very cold.

Sunbathing?

Skippy took Macgee’s leash and walked around while I took pictures. The sun is still at about a 40° angle from the horizon most of the day, so the pictures are super contrasty.

Dogwalk

I think I need to go down and take pictures later in the day, maybe just before and during sunset. If I don’t do it soon, I’ll have to wait until after midnight to capture a sunset.

Rocky Beach

Ashlee Runs

Macgee even crept out into the water, and he’s usually apathetic, if not outright aquaphobic sometimes. He actually enjoyed it this time, pouncing on kelp and nosing under rocks for new smells.

Macgee Smile