Saturday, July 20, 2019

Alaska Day 10 - Russian RIver Falls and Kenai River Float

It is sunny again. Our last two days have been sunny though today is a bit hazier than yesterday. This is our last full day in Alaska. Tomorrow we will drive back to Anchorage for an afternoon flight to Seattle where we will stay the night before returning home. Right now I am sitting in a sunny spot in the dining room of our guesthouse realizing that we still have a solid 5 hours of light left in this final day. Our last day has been a pretty sedate one though we still managed to do a few things and see more wildlife, at least by the numbers, than we may have any other day so far. At least it felt that way.

We planned to do a raft river float on the Kenai River during the afternoon which left us with the morning to fill. We had first thought we could hike to Crescent Lake from the other end but the notes in the guide suggested that the trail could be difficult and overgrown. Another option specifically said the trail would be overgrown if it hadn’t been maintained recently and given what we had already encountered an executive decision (Mom) was made to skip Crescent Lake trail. We settled on what promised to be a simple easy hike to the Russian Lakes Trail to a waterfalls on the Russian RIver on a trail that anyone can walk and should be in superb shape. It is a totally accessible trail which means a good surface, wide, gently graded, no overgrowing foliage to push back. It sounded perfect for a 4.8 or so mile morning hike that would leave us with plenty of time to have lunch and then find the river rafters.

We had a bit of a surprise at the entry fee into this National Forest managed area. The full fee just to park is $11.00. We have both Golden Eagle and Golden Access passes which cuts the price in half. We thought most National Forests were free. We found a parking spot in the small pretty full lot and hoisted our day packs at about 09:10 under hazy blue skies with a temperature of about 60F and steadily rising. We strolled easily through the forest. Surprisingly few wildflowers were blooming or even really visible along the trail. The forest was often dense except where we passed through a valley where a forest fire had cleared brush out 50 years ago. In that stretch it felt more open. I can’t tell you what trees we saw just that they were abundant. After the 2.4 miles of easy walking with a few little ups and downs that would total about 180 feet up and down (one way) we reached the waterfall overlooks (a trail heads off to the right for another 600 yards to a place sport fisherman can get into the river and try their hand at catching the hundreds, if not more, of salmon that are swimming up stream to breed).

The waterfalls are pretty enough. What helps make them special are the salmon that you can see trying to work their way up stream. Mom and Dad both saw a few jumping trying to get up the falls. In a pool just below the waterfalls countless salmon seemed to be laying at rest. They looked like reddish rocks laying there. Signs along the trail talk about bear activity and it is easy to imagine bears being plentiful here trying to catch salmon as they swim by. If you are fishing you definitely have to pay attention to your surroundings in case a bear decides that the fish you just caught is their fish and not your fish.

Photo  taken July 18 2019 at 10:14

I realize this is probably a gull which makes it nothing really special but it is still wildlife we saw. I wonder if it is waiting for a salmon , tired after some jumps up the lower part of this waterfall, to appear and become a tasty meal.

--July 18 2019 at 10:14. Cooper Landing, AK, United States

Photo  taken July 18 2019 at 10:20

They are hard to see. They look like grayish (maybe with a slight red tint) rocks. How they can move is a bit of a mystery. In this pool just below the waterfall are who knows how many salmon. They have already run a gauntlet of fishermen and fisher women on the Kenai River and Russian River. They have probably avoided the jaws of bears too. Somewhere up stream are the places most of them were surely born and they are returning there to spawn the next generation.

--July 18 2019 at 10:20. Cooper Landing, AK, United States

As we hiked back we saw even more people heading out than we had on the way in. Quite a few of them were wearing their fishing waders and other fishing apparel. That clothing must be heavy and rather warm to wear. I think it would be hard work to just carry the apparel in a backpack. We had a pleasant 2 and a quarter hours on this trail in the Kenai-Russian River Confluence (I believe it’s part of Chugach National Forest ).

The river float is run by Alaska Wildland Adventures which seems to do a lot more than just short river floats on the Kenai River. They bundled us up in heavy-duty rain pants and boots. If the weather is iffy, as it was our first full day in Moose Pass, you would certainly want to wear the rain gear. Today the temperature was probably edging towards 70F when we boarded our 12-passenger raft. Amanda, the guide, was the sole person with oars. She was using oars in a rowing fashion but she was facing forward. I think she was mostly using them to control our direction as the river was flowing pretty well. We had a 10 river mile float and 2 hours to do it.

Photo  taken July 18 2019 at 12:39

Mom and Dad in their rain boots (calf high) and rain bibs.

--July 18 2019 at 12:39. Cooper Landing, AK, United States

Photo  taken July 18 2019 at12:39:53

Dad and Ken in our rain gear provided by the rafting company. Given the weather this afternoon, sunny but hazy with an air temperature easily in the upper 60s (yes the river is quite a bit cooler as far as the air goes) I think we would have been fine not wearing this stuff. You would, of course, get very cold feet getting in and out of the raft but that would have been tolerable enough. Photo by Judy.

--July 18 2019 at 12:39. Cooper Landing, AK, United States

--July 18 2019 13at 39:53. Cooper Landing, AK, United States

It is definitely a scenic float if you are looking for wildlife to see. The river itself is not that special except for its gray-green tinged color caused by all the glacial silt suspended in the water. The Kenai River is glacially fed from the Snow Glacier. The section we floated has a few riffles and some rapids a raft like ours should avoid because they have rather large pointy rocks but I doubt the rapids are Class II and easily avoided entirely. If you want excitement this trip is not the one to take. We did find ourselves wishing for a bit more of an energetic trip. However, there were plenty of opportunities to spot salmon trying to get to the Russian River.

Even I managed to see a bald eagle briefly as we floated on by. The little girl sitting in front of us counted 16 sightings of bald eagles (I think most mature though we did see at least a couple juveniles). Gulls were present along with several merganser ducks. As we passed by dozens of fisherman we now and then saw a salmon jump too.

Photo  taken July 18 2019 at 14:06

Just one batch of people fishing the Kenai River. We saw quite a few as we floated towards Jim’s Landing.

--July 18 2019 at 14:06. Cooper Landing, AK, United States

Photo  taken July 18 2019 at 14:39

Look carefully and you will see a bald eagle in the upper center right of the picture. This is one of 16, mostly mature, bald eagles people saw either perhaps perched on branches or flying over the river. Photo by Judy.

--July 18 2019 at 14:39. Cooper Landing, AK, United States

A sedate trip where all we had to do was sit and look out. Probably worth doing to get another glimpse of Alaska but if we had been a bit more involved that would have been a good thing for all of us. After we shuttled back to our car we felt it was time for an ice cream. We had learned earlier that the convenience store in Cooper Landing had good ice cream. Dad had bought a scoop of Umpqua Strawberry: a rather big scoop for $3.75. Mom and I tried the mint chocolate chip and espresso madness. The strawberry was the best of the bunch but Umpqua, out of Oregon, makes some good ice cream.

With that our day pretty much come to an end. We have all packed up and are relaxing in various ways before going to bed. This trip has had its ups and downs and we have seen a fair bit of each. There is a staggering amount we did not see and if we were to do it again I think we would likely do things a bit differently. For example, there is probably something to be said for the various tours that are available if you are willing to pay the extra money. I don’t think we can say that this visit to Alaska has knocked our socks off or will live quite as well in memory as some trips have done. Above average but not stellar.

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