Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

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Mary had three and a half days off this week and we decided to see if we could book some last minute travel. We were able to find a full-day kayaking trip among icebergs, a four-hour horseback ride, and a half-day fishing trip on the Kenai Peninsula. Finding lodging was not quite as easy. We finally found a place with over priced space available (everything in Alaska is expensive and although this place had less expensive rooms advertised, they said they were not available). We booked the room and the activities regardless of price - when will we be back to Alaska? Maybe never better take advantage now.

The Kenai Peninsula is known for it wildlife, fishing, beaches, rivers and glaciers. It advertises itself as Alaska's Playground because there is so much to do in its over 15,000 square miles of which 90% is wilderness. As with the rest of Alaska, the Kenai is beautiful. We saw it's beauty through rain and fog this trip. The Kenai Peninsula is part temperate rain forest and part boreal forest, it gets a lot of rain. Unfortunately the rain was accompanied by temperatures over twenty-five degrees below normal. We had taken plenty of warm clothes and all the outfitters and guides we went with provided gear to keep us dry. However, after hours in the cold and rain, keeping warm became pretty much impossible. So here we were out in the elements amongst beautiful forests, aqua-blue lakes, both crystal clear and aqua-blue rivers, and stunningly beautiful glaciers and icebergs. One might think, "What an awful trip!" but it wasn't.

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On the first day of our trip, we went horseback riding in the Chugach National Forest outside of Cooper Landing. Fortunately both of us are comfortable on horses because neither of us had ever been on a trail quite like the one we rode. The trail was very narrow, very rocky, extremely rooty and had some beautiful views of rivers, lakes and mountains that we could only imagine because they were hidden by low clouds and fog. We felt sorry for the horses tripping over the maze of roots, sliding on the wet rocks and slogging through the deep mud. When we stopped for lunch, I asked the guide about the trail condition. He told me that they were not sanctioned trails, but trails that the horse stable employees had made for their own use. Good thing these folks could lead horse trips because they could never keep a job as trail builders.

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On the second day we dressed in drysuits and took a speedboat to a lagoon at the base of Bear Glacier where we would spend the day kayaking. On the way we saw several sea otters, a humpback whale, puffins and bald eagles. Bear Glacier is largest glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. It terminates in a lagoon. The lagoon is filled with beautiful icebergs. The icebergs are huge and always changing. The icebergs break, crack, roll and collapse. They deserve the utmost respect because within seconds their haunting beauty can transform into a serious hazard.

Kayaking among icebergs is definitely a bucket list experience. Yes, we were very cold, the rain continued all day and we could not see the mountains that surrounded us, but nothing took away from the magical majestic beauty of the icebergs - miles and miles of stunning icebergs, many larger than houses, many quite colorful. We saw blue, white, striped, translucent turquoise, and dark rock colored icebergs. The dark colored icebergs come from areas of the glacier where rocks or sediment were picked up. The blue icebergs are very dense. The translucent turquoise icebergs are very old. The part of the iceberg that can be seen above the water is about a third the size of the part that is underwater. Because icebergs roll over, crack, break, etc., our guide was careful about keeping us a safe distance from the icebergs and the glacier. We saw several smaller icebergs (no bigger than a truck) roll over. When large icebergs roll, break or crack they can create huge waves - not something we wanted to be too close to in thirty-eight degree water. We heard loud thunderous booms several times while in the lagoon. Either icebergs or the glacier itself was cracking or breaking each time we heard the loud booms. We saw several seals swimming in the lagoon among the icebergs. Kayaking with the icebergs was like being in another world. I think the fog and low lying clouds might have contributed to that feeling, but it sure didn't help with getting good photos. At the end of the day, a small helicopter picked us up three at a time and flew us back to Seward where we had started our adventure. We had never been in a helicopter and we both agree that it was the smoothest mode of transportation we have ever experienced. It was also very quiet because we were given headsets where all we could hear was the pilot and the other two people from our kayak trip.

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On day number three we went fishing. The guide gave us waders and boots to keep us dry and warm. Our trip was for half a day fishing on the Kenai River in a drift boat (the most popular sport fishing destination in Alaska) . Mary has wanted to learn to fish for at least five years. She has spent hundreds of dollars on fishing license and never caught a fish - what is a few more hundreds of dollars to fish on the most popular river in Alaska. Mary was determined to catch a fish on this trip. Our guide asked if we wanted to fish with the fly fishing rods or the spin-cast rods. My response was which ever was easier. Mary said that once she actually learned to catch a fish she wanted to learn to fly fish. Our guide decided we would do both. We would start with fly fishing. He brought out the fly rods and showed us how to cast. We both practiced a couple of times and the guide said, "Ok, lets catch some fish!" My hook barely hit the water before I had a bite. Within five minutes of getting in the drift boat I had landed a twenty-two inch Dolly Varden. I caught a few more fish and Mary still hadn't had a bite. I suggested that she might be on the wrong side of the boat. We switched sides and it wasn't long before she landed a large Dolly Varden. I caught a few more Dolly Vardens before the guide said lets go on down the river and try to catch some salmon. On the way down the river, I caught a trout. Mary kept trying. Several miles down the river our guide started talking about catching salmon. The salmon in Alaska are a little challenging - they fight. We were going after sockeye (or red) salmon. When we got to the perfect spot, we cast our lines and once again, a fish grabbed my hook. As soon as the guide realized I had hooked it, he had Mary pull her line in. By this time the fish had taken off swimming and i was doing all I could to hold onto the rod and reel. I must have fought with it for at least thirty minutes before getting the bright red sockeye salmon close enough to the boat for the guide to get it in the net. The guide said it was too "red" for it to be good for eating so we did not even pull it into the boat. It was big!!!. Mary cast her line out again and I casted mine after resting a bit. Once again a fish jumped on my hook. I thought the last one had been a fighter, but this one was even stronger and more determined. We finally had to chase it down with the boat. By the time I got it close enough to the boat to be netted, my arms were about as strong as jello. This was a female sockeye salmon and the guide said we should let her continue on upstream to spawn so we let her go. She was too weak to swim out of the net. The guide held her in the water until she regained her strength and off she went. (I always said girl fights were the worst when I was a principal - the fight between the fish and me added credibility to my belief.) Mary put her line back in the water and I slowly cast out mine again. I told Mary if I caught anything she was going to have to reel it in because I couldn't fight another one. But alas…. Mary got a bite. She hooked it and had it reeled in to within about twenty feet of the boat when it suddenly started swimming toward the boat. Mary lost tension on the line and the salmon got itself unhooked. The guide had told us that this had been happening and that once they started swimming toward the boat it was hard to keep enough tension on the line to keep the fish hooked. Unfortunately, this was the only fish hooked that had the potential for being our dinner.

Did it rain? yes - buckets full!!! Was it cold? - freezing!!!. Did we enjoy the trip? - tremendously!!!!!! Would we go back??? - Lets us grab our down jackets, hats and gloves!

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