We have heard so much about this trail and have seen so many breathtaking pictures taken from its apex that it's near the top of our to-do list in Cooper Landing. One morning, we decided it was the day.
It was August, and I was up at the Lodge for the second time that year. I had been there in May to help get the Lodge opened for the season and welcome the new employees. At the end of August it was near the end of the season and I wanted to visit to check on everything and get to have a little bit of fun.
Having inquired about the location of the trailhead from our employees, we had the kitchen pack sandwiches and snack for a picnic, and we set off. According to the Peninsula Clarion, “[t]raveling east from Mile 48 on the Sterling Highway, cross the bridge at the outlet to Kenai Lake. About .2 miles east of the bridge, find the intersection with Bean Creek Road. Immediately east of that, a short unmarked dirt road departs the north side of the highway and ends at the start of the Slaughter Gulch Trail.” At the turn off to Bean Creek Road, we noticed a couple of dogs by the side of the road. When we opened the car door a border collie looked up at us. The dog welcomed us and eagerly followed us up the trail. We didn’t think too much of it as we thought this is a neighborhood dog that likes to accompany people up the trail.
The beginning of the trail is in a temperate rain forest that was still wet from the previous night’s rain. Along the way we spotted many different kinds of mushrooms and fungi. There was a small creek of crystal sparkling waters along side the trail. We also passed a couple of secluded houses hidden in the trees. After seemingly walking a long time in the forest, we reach higher altitudes and steeper grade in the trail.
According to the Peninsula Carion, “The trail climbs roughly 1,500 feet in the first 1.3 miles, emerging on a bluff that overlooks Kenai Lake. The valley to the northwest runs to Slaughter Creek, which emerges from a small lake and drains into Juneau Creek by the Resurrection Pass Trail. Langille looms steeply from the valley’s northeast edge, ….” Finally, we were awarded the first glimpse of the turquoise blue Kenai Lake/River as we reached above the treeline.
We kept going, feeling refreshed and looking forward to even an higher perspective over Cooper Landing and Kenai Lake. The dog stayed with us and urged me on when I pause to rest or gauge the best spot to put my next step on steep slopes.
Periodically we would stop to catch our breath and take in the vista. We again remind ourselves that we need to get into better shape so we can tackle more trails like this. Many people tell me that Alaska is on their bucket list. I remind them that to really enjoy what Alaska has to offer, they need to make the trip while they can still physically hike the trails and climb the mountains. The views over Cooper Landing is breathtaking!
Some of the vegetation is already turning Fall colors, painting the hillside in patches of brilliant ochre and crimson.
We finally reach a bluff that looked like the perfect picnic spot. The border collie shared in our sandwiches and chips to reward her for being the perfect guide dog. Finally, we make it all the way to the top and the view was breathtaking.
There was a stone monument at the top, that said, “In loving memory of Wayne Fritz Koecher, 15 April 1981-2 January 2006.” What a lovely way to remember someone.
Our loyal hiking companion was even a little tired. After exploring the top of the ridge for awhile and taken many many pictures, we started back down. On the way we encountered a local and started chatting with him. He claimed to climb this trail at least a couple times a week as it is one of his favorites. So we asked him about the dog. He looked at the border collie and said he’s never seen her before. That totally negated our assumption that this is a neighborhood dog that just likes to take people on this hike. We looked at her tag and saw that the phone number on it wasn’t a local 907 number. So we called the number and talked to the owner who discovered the dog was missing that morning. Having made arrangements with the owner to meet her at the trailhead at the bottom of the mountain, we kept going down the trail. The owner was there waiting for us when we finally retraced our steps and reached the start of the trail. We were happy to be able to reunite her with her dog.
This was a wonderful hike that I will look forward to many more times. It can be a bit steep at sections, but it is definitely doable for two middle-aged not very fit people. I loved the companionship of the dog who kept our spirits up. What a wonderful way to spend a day in Alaska!