By Christina Whiting
With the long, luscious days of summer sunshine melding into gray and rainy ones, thoughts turn to the cooler weather that’s just around the corner.
Watching the fireweed bloom to the top, my boyfriend Taz and I decided to hike and kayak Tutka Bay, one of our favorite spots in Kachemak Bay State Park.
A last-minute, online search yielded an available yurt, situated close to a trailhead near Tutka Lake and the Tutka Creek Falls.
Four trailheads in the area lead to Tutka Lake, but this one is the most primitive, steep and unstable of them all, offering a challenge that we joyfully accepted.
A quick, 30-minute water taxi ride took Taz, our dog Zip and me to the rocky shores near Tutka Bay Lagoon.
Nestled into a thick spruce forest and surrounded by the crenulated south shoreline of Tutka Bay, haunting cries of an eaglet greeted us as we trudged our gear up the muddy path to our canvas home away from home.
In the yurt, we found someone had left a half-full bottle of tequila, a chocolate bar and a tin of peaches. Toasting our adventure, I took a small sip of tequila and a bite of chocolate. Taz, who neither drinks nor cares for chocolate or fruit, celebrated with trail mix we brought along.
The yurt accommodations were simple, but comfortable. The padded, wooden platforms — each with a sleeping pad — created a semi-circle of beds that follow the wall of the structure. A small wood stove, an axe and a maul, some wood, matches, a pot and pan, a water jug and a camp stove with fuel were the amenities left behind. Having brought our own supplies, we left most of these things for the next adventurers.
The water was calm and flat as we set out to kayak. We explored the shoreline, maneuvering our boats between the mussel and barnacle-covered greywacke outcroppings that jut above the water in the receding tides and disappear when water levels rise.
As we paddled to the lagoon, silence filled the air. Salmon leapt, fish and jellies swam, a seal spotted us and a pair of calling eagles soared nearby.
Returning to the yurt, a fire quickly warmed the cozy space and we feasted on soup. Loading our food into a plastic bucket, we hoisted it halfway up a tree, away from bears. Our sleeping bags summoned us to rest and we fell asleep to the rain tiptoeing across the canvas roof.
Morning comes and we head out on the three-mile hike around Tutka Lake to the Tutka Creek Waterfall. The first section of this primitive trail is unkempt, hazardous and nearly vertical. We scramble up the steep and slippery dirt path before reaching the grassy wetlands at the top, near the junction with the primary, well maintained trail. We adjust our packs and poles and begin our journey through moss and lichen draped trees in this high-canopy, cool, moist, old growth spruce forest.
Circumnavigating the western end of the glacially formed Tutka Lake, the winding, root gnarled trail traverses gently up slopes and down through an old growth spruce forest, with an elevation gain of about 300 feet. We pass stream channels and walk among mushrooms, fungus, bright orange Chicken of the Woods, blueberry bushes, dwarf dogwood, monk’s hood, fireweed and tall grasses. This is one of the few spruce forests unaffected by the bark beetle in the Kenai Peninsula.
Sadie Peak and Broken Knife’s ridgelines are visible high above the roaring Tutka Creek. We hear the waterfall long before we see it and climb down to the water’s edge to eat and doze beneath a canopy of alder branches that keep the drizzling rain from soaking us.
A three-hour hike in, we make the return trip in about an hour. Taz carries Zip down the steep, primitive trail while I edge our packs and hiking poles down one muddy, root-laden step at a time. Wet, cold and tired but happy, we build a fire, hang our clothes and gear to dry and eat a hearty dinner of hot soup followed by cups of hot chocolate. We fall easily in to slumber, tucked back in to our sleeping bags, with the steady drops of rain that bounce off the canvas nudging us deeper and deeper towards rest.
In the soft morning rain, we set out for one last paddle around Tutka Bay. Hundreds of brightly colored sea stars hug the shoreline and cling, dangling one- and two-legged from the rocks. The jellies glide past us once more and the salmon continue their leaping.
We enjoy a fire and wait on the beach for the water taxi that will shuttle us back to Homer. Our exploration of the pristine beauty of this remote bay and the surrounding rugged forest lifts our spirits and we return home, more peacefully easing back in to the remaining summer days as they bend towards autumn.
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