Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hike to Russian River Falls

August 31. In the afternoon, we did a 4.5 mile hike out and back to the Russian River Falls. 50% of us hoped to see a bear, and 50% didn't. At the start of the hike was a sign that said on August 23rd, a grizzly had been wounded in the area, and had been spotted a couple of days later. While I hoped not to run into that particular bear, I felt pity for the suffering beast. I don't hunt, and don't fully understand the desire to. But I do feel that hunters have a responsibility to make sure they are clear about their target and to only take a shot if they are certain they will kill the animal and not leave it wounded. But in any event, a wounded bear is a very dangerous animal and we were very alert on this hike. Everything we read about the hike to the falls, including guidebooks and the signs at the trailhead, made clear that grizzlies are very often seen on this trail.

The trail itself was usually wide, level, and straight.

While we often hiked through what looked like prime wildlife country, we saw nothing bigger than a red squirrel along the way.

Devil's club is a good plant to avoid. It is covered with sharp spines and is supposed to be amazingly painful.

Autumn is just beginning on the Kenai. A few days later, much further north, we would run into peak colors.

This mushroom was as large as a dinner plate. I don't know if it is an edible one or not, but if it is, it would be quite a feast! If not, it would be your last supper.

The guide from the float trip, Beth, had told us about a short and steep game trail that led to vistas of one of the Russian lakes, so we hoofed it up there for a partial view.

The Russian River dropped steeply through a series of cascades. How the salmon make it through here is incredible.

From a view point, we could look down about 60 feet to the start of the falls. Exhausted salmon must somehow climb that 60 feet in relatively short order, jumping fall after fall. They gather at the base of the falls to rest in the swift current. The red ones are coho salmon, and the greyish ones are silver salmon - at least that is what I think. The cohos will spawn in lakes, but I think that the silvers will spawn in streams.

This would be the best place to see bear, with the abundance of fish, but we didn't see any. We watched the fish attempt to jump the falls over and over. They would smash into rocks and fall back.

They are near the end of their amazing return to trip to the place of their birth. Somehow, against all odds, they have made it this far during their five or six year life. Whether they get to spawn or not, every one of these fish is now dead by the time I write this a month later. Their rotting carcasses will fertilize the water for their offspring to get a good start in life.

When you think of all the hazards these fish have survived in their short lives, it is mind-boggling. Just to grow to a size big enough to migrate to the ocean defies the odds. Then there is life in the ocean for several years, avoiding seals, killer whales, and commercial fisheries. Finally there is the long trip up river to their exact place of birth, again running a gauntlet of commercial and sport fisherman, subsistence fishers in their summer fishing camps, and grizzlies. The tiny percentage that make it back mate and then die. Their bodies are decaying and battered even before their final death.

As we turned to hike out, a steady rain that lasted all the rest of the day began, and the camera was put in a plastic bag. We didn't see bear, but seeing the salmon jump made the hike very worthwhile.


  1. Amazing!!!
    Glad you didn't run into the bear!!

  2. Coho and silvers are the same fish stay out if you don't know anything that's how people get hurt!!