I tried something a bit different on this trip: I made an audio log as I was going along. The new digital voice recorders are easily small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, and that's where I kept mine, except when I was talking into it.
My son Glen and I went to the Kenai Peninsula to travel the Swanson River Lakes canoe trails on Thursday evening September 21, 2006. This is something I have wanted to do since I was in my 20’s, but for one reason or another, I’ve never taken the time for it.
These lakes, formed by the glaciers that covered the landscape not very many centuries ago, are, as seen from the air, like little gems dotting the rolling forested landscape. The lakes are on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
, and are located in a formal wilderness unit. (Read: no power anything. You can't even land a floatplane on these lakes or use a chainsaw in the woods. But that's part of the charm.)
Decades of enthusiastic canoeists have made a relatively easy to use trail system between the lakes. One needs only a canoe and camping gear to make a trip of as many days as desired back into the lake country.
Trip Audio Log
Where the canoe came from; first night (0:40)
Rain in the tent (0:43)
At the west entrance (0:48)
Description of the country 0:52
Logistics: car and bicycle 0:42
A beautiful time of year 0:27
Leeches and the first portage (1;19)
Repairs and duct tape (0:49)
The first long portage (0:35)
A new way to pack (0:48)
Making a wet wood fire (1:00)
Looking over the country from Swan Lake (1:20)
Swan Lake portage and tea drinking (1:02)
Stopping for an MRE (0:30)
Gavia lake and loons (0:42)
Trout lake trout (1:05)
The fall forest (0:46)
The smell of fall (0:30)
MREs and swans (0:47)
The water portage (1:06)
Salmon along the way (1:21)
West entrance (1:24)
Glen is a good traveling companion: hard working, wilderness savvy, strong, full of interesting conversation and happy to be outdoors, even when it rains.
Our outfit was not complex, but on the longer portages, one questions EVERY item in the bags. Was the windbreaker really needed, or was the rain jacket enough? (Yes) Et cetera.
In retrospect, we both wished that we had planned more time for the trip so we could have relaxed a bit more...and eaten the one really nice looking rainbow trout we caught and released. I think the trip we took (via Gavia lake) would have been better with three or even four days. As it was, we got a bit of a late start on the first day on the lakes, and then pushed hard from about 8 AM to 6 PM from Swan Lake to the West Entrance.
Saturday morning showed the Kenai Mountains across the surface of Swan Lake. We actually did see a few Swans later in the trip. The golden leaves on the trees and the dark green of the spruce was beautiful to see as we paddled through the lakes and walked the portages. Swan Lake is one of the largest among these lakes. We stopped Friday night at the north shore of this one because the long fetch of the lake makes big waves.
When I see whitecaps on wave tops, my enthusiasm for venturing out in a canoe on these waters tends to diminish. We were tired, anyway. Had it been a little calmer, I think we would have gone a bit further.
After grunting over the portages, it was easy to stop for a moment on the far end. It was nice to have a bit of wind because it kept the whitesocks (a colloquial name for a small biting fly) from chewing us. This country is pretty thick with mosquitoes earlier in the year, but we saw only one on this trip. The whitesocks were only irritating when the wind laid down. These irritating little pests act like they aren't doing anything important, but then sneak under your shirt cuff and cut out chunks of hide and then make their getaway, a small puddle of blood the only sign of their passing.
One thing I wished for was a couple more waterproof bags. The dark green bag in the picture at left was perfect: it held my sleeping bag, clothes, lantern, and assorted trip necessities. This bag doesn't mind the rain, floats if it goes overboard, and has good straps for backpacking. Fewer items in the canoe makes for easier portages.
The portages are well marked with little brown signs. Mostly it's easy to spot them from some distance away, but one should use a map to find where the trails start along the lake shore to save paddling around. We used the Alaska Road and Recreation map.
The portages themselves are mostly dry, but a few lake edges are pretty boggy and make for muddy entrances into the canoe. We wore X-TraTuff boots that come up to just below the knee, and never needed anything more....although I did get my pants wet a couple of times due to failure to watch water depths.
There aren't any high climbs along the portages that we followed, just some higher elevations along trails between the lakes.
We used an Old Town fiberglass canoe with no keel. That worked okay, although I have found that some keel makes lake paddling simpler. Max and Annette at Alaska Canoe and Campground near the Swanson River Road fixed us up with all the gear we needed and added some good advice (see post #2 above).
We had a good trip. I believe fall is a great time to make this trip, although it tends to be more rainy than the early summer months. We did run into several other parties, but mostly we were by ourselves. We'll be back!