Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club member Julie Williams, of Kenai, will tell you some of her favorite trails for snowshoeing on the Kenai Peninsula, with one caveat.
“I find I do a lot more ice cleats lately,” said Williams, who has been touring the peninsula’s trails for about four years now.
Yes, sadly, if what the Peninsula has experienced from November to March the last three years is the new “winter,” then Kahtoola MICROSpikes and their brethren are the new “snowshoes.”
But whether on snowshoes or spikes, the peninsula still offers plenty of places to get out in the winter.
Just last Saturday, Williams hiked into the Barber Cabin from the Russian River Campground, located at Mile 52 of the Sterling Highway.
Alas, no snowshoes were needed.
“The trail was great,” Williams said. “It was nice and packed down.”
The big excitement of the trip was the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that struck Sunday morning. With no cellphone coverage, Williams said friends were worried about her, but everything was fine.
“It’s a little log cabin and it just shook like everything else did,” she said. “It held up well.
“There was no danger from avalanches. The cabin is strategically placed.”
The trip to the cabin is 4.2 miles long in winter, slightly longer than in summer because the winter route goes over frozen Lower Russian Lake to avoid avalanche danger.
Another favorite for Williams is the east trailhead of the Kenai River Trail. At Mile 58 of the Sterling Highway, turn onto Skilak Lake Road and drive 0.6 miles to the trailhead.
The trail can be almost 6 miles round-trip, but great views of the Kenai River Canyon come quickly.
“It’s a great trail that takes you down to the river,” Williams said. “We do it a couple times a year and could have worn snowshoes when we did it, but we wore Kahtoolas instead.”
The Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club will do a trip up another year-round standard — the Resurrection Pass trail — to Juneau Falls on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
The trailhead is at Mile 52 of the Sterling Highway and Juneau Falls is 4.5 miles from the trailhead.
Those wanting to get involved in that adventure or other Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club activities can go to www.meetup.com/kenaipeninsulaoutdoorclub. Member dues are $15 a year, but Williams said the club isn’t deadly strict on them.
Williams said another unique winter experience can be had by waiting until Portage Lake freezes and hiking across the lake to Portage Glacier. The head of the lake can be accessed just over five miles down Portage Glacier Road, located at Mile 78.9 of the Seward Highway.
“Two years ago, I know some people who were hiking there and the glacier calved,” Williams said. “The ice was rolling underneath their feet.
“I wasn’t on that one.”
In low-snow winters like the last three, many times elevation is needed in order for snowshoes to be needed.
For that, Williams suggested a pair of trails.
The Fuller Lakes Trail begins at Mile 57 of the Sterling Highway and carries 1,400 feet of elevation gain in just under three miles. The reward is Lower Fuller Lake and then Upper Fuller Lake nestled between mountains.
Then there is the Slaughter Gulch Trail. To get there, drive up to the trailhead, which is a turnaround at the end of South Face Place, located just east of Wildman’s Convenience store, at Mile 47.5 of the Sterling Highway.
This is a steep one, climbing about 1,500 feet in the first 1.3 miles to get to a nice, scenic overlook. The trail requires care in a winter, such as this one, which has featured icy conditions.
“You get great views looking down on Kenai Lake,” Williams said.
Finally, Williams said, there are options for walking around in town. Tsalteshi Trails has a north snowshoe trail at 2,787 meters long and a south snowshoe trail at 872 meters long.