Kenai Wilderness Cabin

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The Kenai Peninsula's outer coast is notorious for its wet, overcast, and often stormy weather. So it's no surprise when we awaken, our first morning along the coast, to discover the sun has vanished behind thick gray clouds. At least the skies are dry and the air still. North Arm, a remote, fingerlike bay at the extreme western end of Kenai Fjords National Park, is glassy smooth. Perfect for coastal kayaking.

Trailed by swarms of white sox, those small but vicious white-legged biting flies, my brother Dave and I take our double Klepper for a short exploratory paddle along the arm's eastern edge. We turn into a small embayment, where seals and otters play hide-and-seek with us and a low-flying eagle spooks a large flock of mallards into flight. Then we watch as three dozen crows leave their roosts in old-growth hemlock and chase, in Keystone Cops fashion, a sharp-shinned hawk. Ducking into the forest, the hawk finally escapes its tormentors and the crows, with raucous caws, return to their beachfront perches.

Continuing to the arm's northern headwaters, we approach a small creek that's drawn a mix of fish eaters: gulls, mergansers, crows, eagles, and two-belted kingfishers. Handsome, loquacious birds with big, shaggy heads, the kingfishers scoot across the water, grab a seat in an old spruce, and speak in their raspy, rattling way. Still several hundred feet away, Dave spots a black bear browsing in salmonberry bushes; perhaps sensing our presence, it retreats into the forest shadows.

Our final stop is a large glacial river. Walking across sandbars, we find many sets of tracks: gull, duck, coyote, and black bear. The bear tracks are fresh; looking up from them, Dave sees two black bears in the distance, fishing for salmon in a smaller, clearwater stream that cascades down from the steep, lush mountains. One soon leaves; the other grabs a fish and moves to a clearing where it sits down to eat. A couple salmon later, it too slowly ambles into the forest. We stay a few minutes more, then return to the cabin for dinner. Our planned two-hour paddle has become a seven-hour journey.

Bill Sherwonit is the author of Alaska's Accessible Wilderness: A Traveler's Guide to Alaska's State Parks (Alaska Northwest Books, Seattle); he lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Check out Bill's GORP features on Chugach State Park, Denali, the Arctic Refuge, and the McNeil River Grizzlies.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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