Day 3 - The big day
dawned fairly clear and calm. The ride across the bay to our drop-off
point on Glacier Spit was uneventful. On the boat with us was another
couple from England and a single guy from New Zealand. Waiting for us
at the spit was a bald eagle perched in a dead tree, one of many we were
to see in the Homer area. Getting off the boat onto dry land without getting
our boots wet was an interesting exercise. To disembark the boat, the
driver first drove the high bow up onto the shore. Then we had to climb
up onto the forward deck and then climb down a step ladder ladder to the
rocky beach. Doing it with a heavy pack on made it all the more "fun".
Fortunately, everyone made it dry and safe. After the boat took off, we
let the other backpackers get ahead of us so we could peacefully enjoy
the natural beauty of the beach and the trail before us.
The Glacier Lake Trail started out thru a thick forested area before
breaking out onto the flat, gravel, glacial moraine of the Grewingk
Glacier. At the first fork in the trail, we headed north on the
Grewingk Glacier Trail across the moraine over towards Grewingk
Creek and the hand-operated tram across the creek. Fortunately,
the British couple was also at the tram at the same time. I say
fortunately, because operating the tram was very difficult. We loaded
Diane and our two backpacks into the tram for the first trip, then
the British lady and their two packs for the second trip, and then
the British guy and I took the 3rd and 4th trips. When we were all
done, I was dreading having to do it all over again in a few days
on our way back.
The trail to Emerald Lake continued on up and over Foehn Ridge
. The first part of the trail was great since it had just been cleared
the previous day by a group of Boy Scouts doing trail maintenance.
(editor's note: The Boy Scouts were part of a troop from Michigan
doing trail maintenance in Alaska. All the backpackers were dreading
the presence of about 30 Boy Scouts crowding the area but in fact
they camped in out-of-the-way areas and greatly improved the trails
with their hard work. I wish they could have stayed longer and did
more maintenance!) Later when we got closer to the lake, the Boy
Scouts' efforts ended and the trail was HEAVILY overgrown. The weeds
on either side of the trail were sometimes taller than we were.
We couldn't actually see the trail. Instead, we looked for the easiest
route thru dense trees and brush and for other signs like wear markings
on fallen logs from hiking boots stepping over them. We also "felt"
for the trail with our hiking poles feeling for the easiest way
thru the growth like blind people feeling their way around with
their white canes.
We eventually found our way to the lake. It was a beautiful lake nestled
against the green gentle slope of a mountain. There were two wooden tent
platforms there but the preferred location was along the narrow gravel
beach. There was already another couple camped there named Steve and Jen.
There was just enough room to pitch two more tents (us and the Brits)
and still have privacy between each site. There was a toilet provided,
but there was no outhouse around the toilet. The weeds were so high, they
provided the privacy walls. You just called out as you approached the
john to make sure it was vacant.
Here's our campsite on Emerald Lake. There are two other tents
camped down along the
shoreline also, back in the bushes just like us.
Day 4 - Today we planned a day hike
up to the top of Portlock Plateau. We no sooner started out and
it started drizzling. It drizzled almost all the way to the top
of the ridge. This trail was just like all the rest, HEAVILY overgrown
with head-height weeds (where were the Boy Scouts when you needed
them !). Fortunately, the drizzle stopped when we reached the top
of the ridge, and while the low clouds hung around we were able
to get enough of a view to reward us for our arduous efforts to
get there. After a quick snack and several photos, we turned around
and returned to our campsite at Emerald Lake.
That evening we were treated to a loon swimming on the lake. He
kept swimming up and down the beach checking out the intruding backpackers
camped by HIS lake.
These are the views from the top of Portlock Plateau.
Above is the view to the north and below is the view to the south.
Day 5 - This morning we broke camp and headed
back down hill to the tram. Fortunately, when we arrived at the tram,
Steve and Jen were there. They had just arrived also, so we were able
to help each other get across the tram by taking turns hauling on the
ropes. Unfortunately, Steve and Jen were in a hurry as they had only about
an hour until their appointed water taxi pick-up time and they still had
about 3 miles to cover. We often wonder if they made it in time for their
pickup We on the other hand were on no schedule as we slowly ambled along
the trail to Grewingk Glacier Lake. We found a nice campsite on the gravel
beach with a view out the tent window of the mountains, glacier and lake.
When camping here it is wise to find a site that is close to the trees
so that it is sheltered from the strong cold winds that can come down
from the mountains following the path of the glacier and then whip across
the open lake.
There were several "icebergs" floating on the lake. The wind
would push them ashore onto the beach in front of our site as they slowly
melted. I didn't even try to take a dip in this lake. I knew it would
be too cold without even having to stick my hands in the water to check
Finding fresh water for filtering was a little difficult. The glacier
lake was very silty and unsuitable for filtering. Fortunately, there was
a small hidden spring back near the junction of the Glacier Lake Trail
and the Saddle Trail. You had to follow an old abandoned trail thru dense
weeds and Devil's Club (a large, tall, particularly thorny and prickly
weed) to find the spring.
You can see our tent nestled alongside some
trees for wind protection. The wind would come down Grewingk glacier
and blow the icebergs up on the shore.
We rigged a tarp to protect us from the wind as we cooked
Day 6 - Today we had another day hike
planned, this time to the top of Alpine Ridge. Alpine Ridge was
the rocky mountain ridge just south of Grewingk Glacier. From up
there we should get great views of the glacier, the lake and hopefully
of Halibut Cove further to the south. Again the trail was HEAVILY
overgrown. The trail was also VERY steep in sections, like about
a 60 degree slope. The Alaskan State Parks didn't seem to believe
in switchbacks. These steep sections were also bare of vegetation
from erosion. We were glad it hadn't rained too recently otherwise
these sections would have been like trying to climb up a muddy sliding
board. Eventually we broke out above tree line into a rolling alpine
meadow that stretched on for what seemed like forever. The views
of the glacier were fabulous and we could also look south and see
almost all of Halibut Cove and the river delta at the end of Halibut
Creek. After taking lots of photos, we descended the trail back
to our campsite.
Here I am standing on Alpine Ridge. We continued hiking beyond
the peak you see just behind my head. The trail was pretty much
nonexistent at this point. You just made your way as best you could.
It was rather steep going at times.
That night we were "treated" to a very strong wind storm. The
wind just HOWLED down from the mountains, across the lake and straight
at our tiny tent and dining tarp. I was glad that the small trees next
to us were sheltering us a bit, that I had put large rocks on top of all
the tent pegs and that we were in the tent to help hold it down. I didn't
sleep well that night!
Here's the view of Grewingk Glacier from Alpine Ridge.
You can click on the image for an enlarged view (90k).
Day 7 - Today was the last day of our backpack
trip. We were originally going to be picked up later that afternoon. But
last minute last night we decided it would be better to be picked up earlier
this morning. That would give us more time back in Homer to do laundry.
Fortunately our cell phone worked from Grewingk Glacier and we had been
able to contact the water taxi office across the bay to reschedule our
It was a quick short hike back out to Glacier Spit where Mako's Water
Taxi picked us up promptly and took us back to Homer. We did 4 loads of
wet, muddy clothes and then checked into Beeson's B&B again for the
night. Our friend Karen drove down from Anchorage and joined us that night.