Alaska - July 1-15, 2009

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Introduction note: Christine's brother, Craig, still lives in Alaska--now in Anchorage with his wife, Katie. Christine and Katie have birthdays two days apart in July, and they planned to share this 40th milestone together in Alaska. We set aside a full two weeks for this trip in the middle of Alaska's mosquito peaking summer. This was the fourth trip to Alaska for both of us, but neither of us had ever been here in July. We were pleased to find south-central Alaska in a dry heat-wave during our visit. Temperatures in Anchorage were breaking records in the 80's F, while the dryness was keeping mosquitoes to a minimum. We didn't have any rain for the entire visit.

Moose cow and calf in Craig & Katie's backyard.

Shortly after our arrival, Christine and I (Joe) drove down the Kenai Peninsula to spend four days in one of our favorite towns, Homer. We stayed in a quiet B&B on the east side of town with great views of the Kenai Mountains and Grewingk Glacier across Kachemak Bay. Most of out time was spent leisurely exploring the area, but we did have one adventurous day when we took a water taxi across the bay for a day hike up along Grace Ridge, a peninsula between Sadie Cove and Tutka Bay. As with many of our wilderness adventures, there is often some element of mis-adventure involved. Our Grace Ridge hike delivered plenty of misadventure. After reserving our water taxi the day before, we returned to our B&B to pack for an early morning departure. The 8.2 mile trail starts at sea level and then climbs 3145' to the top of Grace Ridge. It then continues south along the ridge until returning to the sea in Tutka Bay. While preparing our gear, Christine noticed that she brought two left boots from two different pairs of hiking boots. She was frustrated with herself, yet determined to do the hike anyway in her gym shoes. The water taxi the next morning delivered us to the head of Tutka Bay along with two other men doing the same hike as us. We were the only four people on Grace Ridge this day. It was a beautiful clear day with mild temperatures and mild winds. Our climb up to the ridge was uneventful as we sang and clapped our way through the bear zone. We only saw one fresh pile of bear scat. From the ridge, we had fantastic 360 degree panoramic views of Kachemak Bay, the Homer Spit, Cook Inlet, Mt. Illiamna (10,016'), Tutka Bay, the Kenai Mountains, and Sadie Cove. Our hike was going so well (No Bugs) that we were on a pace that would get us to our pick up point several hours early. We decided to take a long break along the ridgeline so that we would stay out of the bugs likely to be at water level. This is when the misadventure continued. The ridge was so steep that we didn't have great choices to sit and rest. Christine set down her backpack and unzipped the outer pocket to retrieve something. This is when her backpack began to tumble away from her down the side of the ridge. It bounced over some rocks out of sight. I demanded that she not pursue it since she only had shoes on, so I put my boots back on an began retrieving her belongings. Her red wallet had separated from the pack and spewed all of its contents as it tumbled 400' down the cliff. I was able to pick up all her cards and ID's along with the wallet. I also found her book. The other two hikers on the ridge joined me in my hunt for the backpack. One of them found Christine's ipod. Everything else was still zipped in the main compartment of the backpack. I searched 700 vertical feet of that hillside down into the alder groves for nearly two hours yet never found her backpack. The Grace Ridge hike was so lovely that I'm sure we would have remembered it for years to come without the misadventure, but these mishaps ensure that this hike will reside in our permanent memories.

Click on thumbprint photos to see them enlarged.

Grewingk Glacier from our B&B.
Kenai Mtns. and Homer Spit.
Grace Ridge. We hiked from right to left.
West over Cook Inlet.
Christine looks north.
Mt. Illiamna northwest across Cook Inlet.
Joe with the west edge of the Kenai Mtns. descending to the sea.
Northeast over Homer.
Looking south at our route up to the top of the ridge.
Christine resting.
Southwest past Tutka Bay.
Joe with Homer behind him.
Homer Spit and Kachemak Bay.
Cook Inlet and the route that we had just climbed.
Looking south at the Kenai Mtns. covered in ash from April's eruption of Mt. Redoubt 80 miles northwest.
Joe atop Grace Ridge.
Christine along Grace Ridge.
Sadie Cove to the east.
The Grace Ridge Trail continues along the narrow ridge with Tutka Bay below, our pickup point.
Christine with wild flowers.
Location of lost backpack. Somewhere in the alder below the scree.


Prince William Sound - Following our long weekend in Homer we made our way back to Anchorage. We stopped in Ninilchik for a long visit with Mike & Ellen Davidson, retirees from our town of Green River, Wyoming. Back in Anchorage, we enjoyed a few days with Christine & Craig's parents, John & Carol. They were visiting from Wisconsin on a trip that partly overlapped with ours. Christine and I then began preparations for five days of fishing on Craig's boat in Prince William Sound. Craig has a Glacier Bay 169 catamaran named Lungta (Tibetan mythical creature--means "windhorse") with twin 150HP Yamaha outboards. It is the perfect boat for the high frequency chop on PWS, yet also handles the big ocean swells. It has a bow berth for Craig & Katie, but Christine & I had a USFS cabin reserved on Green Island.

Our first day mostly involved getting the boat in the water and motoring the 70 miles from Whittier to the Green Island cabin. It took several trips in Craig's dinghy (named Fred) to get all our gear and coolers into the cabin. The next morning we began a pattern we would repeat each day of getting motoring around 8 AM. We were primarily going after halibut, but any game fish was welcome on our hooks. We first fished the rocks of the southwest edge of Green Island, but we only hooked rock fish. Please read the following link for Orion Charters , it gives a great explanation about rock fish. I just googled "rock fish" and found their website, otherwise, I know nothing about Orion Charters. Our limit for rock fish was two per day per person, and two in possession. Since we weren't in the position to process our catch (cut, bag, seal, and freeze), whatever we caught would always count against our possession limit. One way we got around this was to eat our rock fish catch for dinner each night. We gave up on that fishing locale and motored over to Snug Harbor on Knight Island. We again found ourselves catching rock fish at the mouth of the harbor, even some yellow eye rock fish (also called red snapper), and pacific cod. Meanwhile we could see coho salmon (silvers) actively jumping inside the harbor. Exercising our adaptive inclinations, we stowed the halibut rods and pulled out the salmon rods to start trolling for silvers. According to recent reports, these silvers had started their run only in the past week. They were still actively feeding in the harbor before starting their death trip up freshwater tributaries to spawn. We quickly hooked three 10 -15 pounders before action slowed down. We made a note to come back to this harbor if the halibut fishing remained slow. Craig then began filleting the fish right off the back swim deck of the boat. We bagged the cleaned fish in zip-locks, then cooled them in the on-board refrigerator. Back at our Green Island cabin, we iced the fish down in coolers filled with block ice. We would not be able to freeze the fish until we got back to Anchorage.

Our third day in PWS was Katie's birthday. Her request was to fish off of a prominant rock formation in Montague Strait called The Needles. This pile of rocks is a popular charter fishing destination due to the population of sea lions that resides there. If no one is catching fish, they can at least be amused by the marine mammals. Marine Mammals would actually become the theme for this day. On our approach to The Needles we witnessed a humpback whale in the distance slapping its tail fluke no less than 20 times. We actually counted this non-stop display. As we closed in we could see that there was a small pod of humpbacks in the area. We were fishing for lingcod and halibut off of The Needles. The regulation for keeping a lingcod was that the fish had to be at least 35" long. We only caught one, and it was not a keeper. I pulled in the first halibut, a small one (20-25 lbs). It was a beautiful day so we hung out at The Needles for quite a while, even though the fishing was slow. We were later treated by a pod of orcas that split left and right as they swam past our boat. We left our baited hooks on the ocean floor as these killer whales passed us, not wanting to hook a whale. We were amazed to see them breach in front of us. Katie got a couple excellent photos of this, which is a real challenge from a bobbing boat. Farther off from the orcas was the pod of humpbacks that we saw earlier, and they also were breaching and slapping their tail flukes (sorry, no photos of the humpbacks). We later read that this behavior by the humpbacks may have been in response to the threatening presence of the orcas. Craig and Katie both remarked that they had never seen so much marine mammal activity in one place at one time in all their years of living in Alaska. Craig joked that someone must have opened the gates at Sea World (there is no Sea World in Alaska).

We started our fourth day by going straight back to Snug Harbor to catch our limit of Coho. We were just approaching the harbor entrance when another pod of orcas swam in front of us. This worried us for a time because we did not want to be trolling for salmon with orcas around. The anxious moment was short-lived as the killer whales moved off. We entered the flat water of Snug Harbor and immediately started to catch salmon. We never had a chance to get all four lines in the water before a fish was on. This is as hot as fishing gets. In less than two hours we had filled the locker with nine more silvers. This gave us our possession limit of 12 fish for the four of us. We spent the next couple hours filleting salmon and eating lunch. We returned to our cabin to put our catch on ice and enjoy a little down time. We made plans to go back out in the early evening to fish the hours on either side of slack tide. The tides in PWS rise in fall about 15 feet, twice a day. These tides create a significant current that makes it difficult to drift fish in deep water. We were bottom-fishing in 100-300 feet of water for halibut. It takes a heavy weight to get the hook to the bottom in slack tide, incoming and outgoing tides make it that much more diffficult to keep the bait on the bottom. Anchoring is possible in these depths (which we did), but it is less productive because the boat stays in one place. Fishing around the slack tide (low tide or high tide) is when the current is the slowest, so drifting is mild and productive. Game fish are more active at this time as well, since they also are not swimming against the tide. Our evening on the water was beautiful, but only produced one halibut--Christine reeled in a 20 - 25 pounder.

The fifth day in PWS was our last, and Christine's birthday, so we packed up all our gear and reloaded it on the boat. The tide table gave us a slack tide in late morning, so we motored back toward Whittier with a mild detour over some mud flats north of Green Island. We fished for halibut on a drift, making several passes over a very productive spot. Christine was the first to pull in another 20-25 pounder, her birthday fish. Later, she handed her rod over to Craig while she took a bathroom break. As soon as Craig got the rod in his hands he hooked our big fish of the trip, a 78-pound halibut. This fish even rewarded Craig with a sporting fight before he landed it. Not long after getting this fish aboard, Craig took hold of another rod and hooked a 50 pound halibut. Even though we were no where near catching our limit of 20 halibut between the four of us, we were all very satisfied with the 200 pounds of halibut that we landed. We motored back to Whittier, trailered the boat back to its storage lot, then drove back to Anchorage to start packaging and freezing fish. We took care of all the cod, rockfish, and salmon that night. We packaged all the halibut the next day. Christine and I packed our cooler and an insulated box with 53 pounds (about $800 at retail prices) of packaged frozen fish, and checked it as luggage for our trip home. It had been a very rewarding trip to Alaska. We both always enjoy ourselves whenever we visit the land of the midnight sun.

Leaving Whittier.
Our USFS rental cabin on Green Island.
Katie & Craig.
Christine making dinner.
Steaming-hot rock fish -- mmm.
Craig & Joe.
Christine & Joe after four days without a shower.
Craig's boat - Lungta - (means "windhorse") anchored in the cove in front of the cabin.
Everyone took their turn rowing Fred, the dinghy.
Skipping stones.
Island flora.
Craig & Joe.
Eagles abound.
The beach in front of the cabin would expose starfish, sea stars, and other marine life as the tide moved in and out.
Joe holds a Pacific cod . . .
. . .coho, rock fish and yellow eye (red snapper) from our first day of fishing.
Joe's small halibut.
Katie's birthday red snapper.
Christine with The Needles.
The Needles with sea lions, birds, and orcas.
Orcas passing with Montague Island behind.
Orcas breaching.
Limiting out on coho (silver salmon).
Katie holds a big one.
Hanging out on the boat, catching halibut (Christine), fishing, and eating fish tacos (Craig).
Craig's 78-pound halibut. Even Craig enjoys catching big fish.




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