This is quintessential Alaska!
Yesterday I was able to watch a mama grizzly bear and her two cubs
fishing at the bottom of the falls for salmon, the first time I've
witnessed this iconic scene. It was a thrill.
Mama Bear (in the water) and her
two yearling cubs head for the river to fish.
It was also fun to watch the salmon leaping upstream and to see birds
hovering nearby to catch weak or dead fish or to scavenge the scraps
left by the bears.
We hiked and/or cycled part of the Russian River Trail both yesterday and
this morning from our campground. At a fork in the trail a spur goes down to the falls.
The main trail continues past the Lower and Upper Russian Lakes
and ends at Cooper Lake, a distance of 21 miles point to point. It also
connects the Resurrection Pass and Resurrection River Trails, allowing a
72-mile traverse between the towns of Hope
and Seward on part of the
old Iditarod Trail.
This entry focuses on the 2Ĺ miles of
trail to Russian River Falls and includes
photos from both days. I'll show photos of the other part of the trail
to Lower Russian Lake in the next entry.
FINDING THE TRAILHEAD
My goal yesterday was a three- to four-hour hike with Cody on the
Russian Lakes Trail.
I had trouble finding it, however, and walked around for 2Ĺ miles along
the river and in the campground before realizing I had to go to a
different trailhead off the campground access road about 3/4 mile from our site. (I
showed photos of the interesting trail along the river in the last entry.)
Sign at upper Russian Lakes trailhead parking area
I saw Jim riding his bike through the campground loops and explained my
mistake. He offered to drive Cody and me to the correct trailhead to
save a little time.
[Note: If you aren't staying in Russian Lakes Campground
you can reach the trailhead by turning onto the campground access road
at MM 52 on the Sterling Highway. There are two parking areas about one
mile back this road. Both access the Russian Lakes Trail. The first one,
the upper trailhead, is the most convenient but there are very few
parking spots. If that one is full you can park down the hill at the
lower trailhead parking area and walk rather steeply uphill to reach the trail.]
DESCRIPTION OF THE
I encouraged Jim to take his bike in the back of the truck because the
Russian Lakes Trail is open to cyclists.
He was game to try it. We returned to the camper to get the truck and
parked in the last available space at the upper trailhead parking area.
Jim starts his ride yesterday from the upper
trailhead parking area.
I had read that the Russian Lakes Trail is an easy path to the falls but
didnít know itís as nice as it is Ė fairly smooth hard-packed dirt and gravel,
undulating with no steep grades, and four to six feet wide most of the
two-plus miles to the falls:
The part of the trail that goes to Lower Russian Lake and beyond is more narrow
(mostly single-track) and less smooth.
On the way to the falls the trail passes through attractive forests
filled with white spruce, birch trees, alders, and willow shrubs. Part of
the trail is shaded, part open:
There are lots of good views into valleys and toward snow-capped
mountains, an unexpected view of a glacier in the distance, and some
flowers, ferns, and other interesting groundcover plants along the way.
The trail splits at a bridge across the Russian River about 1Ĺ
miles from the trailhead:
I was surprised how much more narrow the blue-colored glacial river was at this point than it
is below the campground. Up here it's more like a creek:
Hikers going to the falls continue straight ahead and mostly downhill for about a mile and
don't cross the bridge at that intersection. Trail users heading to
the lakes turn left at the bridge and cross the river.
(More about that in the next entry.)
Jim rode ahead of me to the falls, turned around and rode back to the
bridge, crossed the river, and headed to the lower lake. When he didnít
run into me he figured correctly that I hiked to the falls first.
Iím glad I did because I caught the tail end of that classic Alaska
scene with a mama bear and her two cubs fishing below the falls.
OVERLOOK AT RUSSIAN RIVER FALLS
There are two large wooden decks overlooking the falls, the perfect
place to watch the salmon, birds, and bears.
I took this picture of the
falls from the first deck I came to, before realizing what was going on nearby
below the second deck:
When I went over to the second deck I saw these eight people intently
looking at the river flowing below them. They had just watched a female
grizzly bear catch a salmon!
Soon after I got into position at the rail Mama Bear disappeared with her cubs
into the woods on the far side of river to eat the fish:
Above and below: the bears are just to the
right of the fish weir.
Mama Grizz is on the left and one of her two cubs
is on the right.
Everyone was hoping the bears would come back for more.
To our delight, they did. In about ten minutes they ambled out of the
woods and into the water. The first picture in this sequence is at the
top of the page. The next photo shows Mom watching and/or instructing
her cubs where to go:
I was able to see both cubs clearly for the next five minutes.
Grizzly cubs remain with their mothers for three years. These are too
big to have been born this spring but they aren't very good at fishing
yet so I'm guessing they are a little over a year old.
I got some good pictures of them watching mom
fish. The one on the left tried to catch salmon swimming by (it was
unsuccessful this time) but the little moocher on the right seemed content to just watch:
Note those long claws!!
The people who had a good view of the mama bear fishing kept their
places along the deck rail and I couldnít get a picture of her until she came out of the
water. The close-up in the second photo below shows the salmon she caught:
Once again Mom was watching her cubs, this time making sure they were following her.
Note the bird that was brave enough to perch on the end of the weir
while the bears were still close. The first time I saw the bears there
were no birds in sight.
Shortly after the bears disappeared into the woods Jim came back to the falls
on his bike to see if I was there. We
waited around for several minutes but the bears didnít return while we
were there. I'm sorry he didn't get to see them.
Continued on the
next page . . .
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil