Two last days at Alyeska and then on to the Kenai Peninsula.

After our last backcountry trip to Hatcher Pass we decided to come back down to Alyeska as it was forecast to get up to 15″ of snow on the final weekend it was open. The forecast did not quite come true, but it did get some new snow up at the top of the mountain.

We woke up Saturday morning to steady rain, which was predicted for the base. The real question was whether the top of the mountain was getting snow. I was super lazy about checking it out, but Sara finally geared up and headed out. As the snow report said the mountain only got a couple inches I was suspect that the new snow would just be piled on some nasty ice so I convinced her to call me when she got to the top and checked out the conditions.

The top was snow, not rain, and it was actually still warm enough that the layer under the heavy new snow was rather slushy, so I headed up to meet her. We had fun playing in the new snow and we focused on riding switch (the opposite foot forward from your natural stance on a snowboard) all afternoon. It was really good practice and a good way to spend the last resort time we will get this season.

A bit different view toward Turnagain Arm than we had before.
This was as sunny as it got. Most of the time it was slushing – literally snowing instant mashed potatoes.

Sunday was more of the same, but it snowed about 7″ so we had plenty of fresh turns. If the Sierra gets Sierra Cement and the Cascades get Cascade Concrete, I think it is fair to call what we got Alaska Asphalt. The 7″ was essentially pure, heavy slush that just crush down into instant mashed potatoes. It was very fun, though, and well worth sticking it out in the stormy weather. I finally got up the nerve to jump a couple times off a small cliff I had been eyeing and the soft landing was helpful. (Let’s just call my landing something between a clean landing and a crash. It was kind of a butt plant from which I could stand up and keep going.) Despite not getting the 15″ we hoped, the two last days at Alyeska was a great way to finish the resort season. With our late start on the season we still got in 22 days on our Max Passes (plus 7 at non-Max Pass resorts) so we won’t complain too much.

On Sunday afternoon we went back to Anchorage for a quick shopping trip and then headed down to Seward. We drove out as far along Resurrection Bay as the road goes before heading back to town for a $10 town camp site right on the bay. Sea otters, seals, and sea lions all swam by; Bald Eagles perched in the trees right next to the van, and the weather lifted just enough to see the amazing mountains still surrounding the bay. Monday morning we visited the Alaskan Sea Life Center to get up close with a bunch of the local marine life. There was not a bay/fjord/marine tour we could get that day, but we may stop on our way back for a tour of Resurrection Bay.

This accommodating sea otter swam right next to the road as we drove along the bay.
Otters spend an inordinate amount of time grooming, which is largely how they manage to maintain their body temperature in freezing waters. They also eat up to 25% of their body weight every day! Rolling in the water both helps them clean and traps air bubbles in their ridiculously thick fur (1,000,000 hairs per square inch).

Everyone always thinks otters are so cute, and they are, but they are also related to wolverines and badgers so I should probably not follow my usual habit of trying to touch one.

Monday morning was practically sunny in Seward. After the huge earthquake in 1964 the waterfront was condemned so now this amazing waterfront is a large park. I can’t imagine how crowded it must be in the summer tourist season.
How cool is this King Eider swimming around at the Sea Life Center? He has feather spoiler fins!
I already looked as grizzled as a bear. I might as well start learning to catch fish like one.

Sara watching the seals at the Sea Life Center.

Monday afternoon we drove over the peninsula to Kenai. As many of you know, Sara was touring Alaska with her brother in 2010 when we got Kenai (the golden retriever) and I asked her to be on the lookout for good dog names. Too many Denalis and Yukons so we settled on Kenai. Now that we are here, Kenai has been able to visit his eponymous peninsula, lake, river, town, laundromat/shower, and numerous other local businesses!

The Seward side of Kenai Lake. With much of the glacial lake still iced up it looks like even the ice is turquoise.
Kenai swimming in the other end of his lake.
The swans have started making it to their eventual breeding grounds. We were at Swan Haven in the Yukon a few weeks ago and only a few had made it there. In the last few weeks they have obviously made it there and continued on the additional 1000 miles or so to places here in Alaska.
A pretty pair of Barrow’s Goldeneye.
The male’s head is actually purple, but it is rather hard to get a good picture of the color.

We camped Monday night next to the beach right down at the mouth of the Kenai River. Though it is permitted, I didn’t dare drive the Hund out on the beach as I’m pretty darn sure it would have gotten stuck in the soft sand before we could even get to the firmer sand. I doubt AAA covers that tow!

Kenai standing in his river.

Sara took the dogs for a walk while I made dinner, and during her walk she met Kim, a scientist with NOAA who is studying the Beluga whales that live in Cook Inlet. These whales are a distinct subspecies of Beluga as they don’t migrate out of the inlet. She told Sara there is a pod of whales that swim up the Kenai River essentially every rising tide and swim back down as the tide goes out. Part of her research is to monitor this population as it is not entirely understood how and why they use the river. The river is tidal for roughly 12 miles and the Belugas have been seen up nearly that far.

Unfortunately, this conversation led to an early Tuesday morning as we had to get up before 7:00 a.m. (super early for us) to see if we could spot the whales heading up the river as the tide started coming in. We missed them. They either went well before or, more likely, well after the absolute low tide. So we went back to the van and took a nap. As the high tide approached we drove a few miles to the park where Kim told Sara we could see the whales coming back down. Kim pulled in at the same time we did so we had expert commentary as the whales started coming down. Only four came by, but they milled around a bit and we had a great time listening to them and watching them slowly come up for air. It was quite an idyllic scene with light coming through the storm clouds and the Kenai Mountains in the background. There were also some seals hanging out in front of the park and plenty of birds so we had a good time watching the various marine life and chatting with Kim.

Beluga surfacing in the Kenai River with the Kenai Mountains in the distance.
Cute seal watching us watch him and the Belugas.

On Tuesday afternoon (earlier today as I write this) we drove on down to the Homer, AK at the tip of the peninsula in a ferocious rain. It is the halibut capital of the world and I haven’t been fishing in the ocean in ages so I’ve booked a halibut fishing charter for Thursday. Hopefully it is not as stormy on Thursday. So, tomorrow we will just hang out and explore this cool little town and do some bird-watching on Kachemak Bay.


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