The rugged backcountry on the south side of Kachemak Bay is getting a fresh look from hikers with an eye on connecting two coasts.
As part of KDLL’s Adventure Talks series, the Tutka Backdoor trail took center stage Thursday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center in a small presentation and discussion with two men who are most familiar with the project that attempts to connect one body of water with another with a long distance route that spans backcountry woods and open tundra.
Bretwood Higman, executive director of nonprofit Groundtruth Trekking, and Eric Clarke, a park specialist with Kachemak Bay State Park, have combined knowledge and resources to help vitalize the effort to create a 21-mile stretch of trail in the Kenai Mountains.
“People like the idea of a point-to-point trail,” Clarke said.
Clarke and Higman — or “Hig” for short — have both spent a lot of time out in the region over the past several years staking out the best route through rugged wilderness that would best suit the needs and interests of hikers and park management.
Billed as the peninsula’s newest long distance hiking trail that connects Tutka Bay to Taylor Bay, or more broadly, Kachemak Bay to the Gulf of Alaska, which opens up to the Pacific Ocean, the planned route essentially crosses the southern tongue of the Kenai Peninsula, a mountainous region that is dominated by the Harding Ice Field on its northern edges. The southern flanks feature a plethora of bays and fjords that house communities and villages like Seldovia, Nanwalek and Port Graham.
The two men originally came together with a plan in 2014 to clear a path, but the permit was issued beginning summer 2016. Clarke said there is no set date for completion.
Higman said the trail would be the only ice-free route from Kachemak Bay to the outer coast, and the eventual idea is to reach Gore Peak, a 1,411-foot summit that overlooks Port Dick, a larger bay that opens up to the vast ocean. Taylor Bay is one of a few recessed bays that shares water with Port Dick and represents the end of the line for the Tutka Backdoor Trail.
The height of the trail includes a pass between the two trailheads that reaches upwards of 2,500 feet elevation, and some of the surrounding peaks top out over 4,000 feet.
The trail begins in Tutka Bay and already shares part of a trail that links Seldovia to the region surrounding the bay. Higman said the additional stretch of existing trail would put the length at over 40 miles.
Much of the trail has already been carved out thanks to volunteer efforts organized by Groundtruth Trekking and the state park. Clarke said since 2016, when efforts began to clear a path, groups of 10 to 12 volunteers have traveled out there to bushwhack through the woods and extend the route little by little.
Of course, that also leads to measures being taken to account for park rules and regulations. Clarke said there has never been a cleared route through the mountains that leads to the other end, so there must be the right amount of resources for hikers to get rescued should they need it, trail standards and reports, and field training and inspections.
“It comes down to what kind of trail would we want to see?” explained Clarke.