Eklutna Lake: Walking a shore less traveled
‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.’
As I crossed through the grassy bog on the north end of Eklutna Lake near its outlet, I was surprised that I was only sinking in a couple of inches. My feet were staying dry! That morning I had thoroughly snow-sealed my boots, and it was really paying off.
It was a brilliant sunny day in early June, a year ago, and the lake was unusually low. I decided to hike around to the lake’s less traveled, western shore and possibly, reach the new state cabin a (named “Kokanee”) a little over half way down the lake.
The Kokanee cabin is best reached by kayak or canoe in summer and by skis or snow machine in winter, which is about a 3-3/4 mile trip one way. The shoreline hike is about 4-1/2 miles. The cabin, along with other Chugach State Park cabins, can be rented. For reservation information go to:
Over the years I’ve thoroughly explored the popular eastern side of Eklutna Lake and its many hiking opportunities. But I’ve often been drawn to the west side because very few people go there, which increases the chances of seeing wildlife.
From the west end of the dam at the lake’s outlet, there is a good trail that takes you left, or south, toward the lake and its western shore. But it peters out quickly–in about 1/10th of a mile–and enters a brushy bog that discourages even the most enthusiastic hiker. That’s why I always opt to stay close to the shore if I want to go on that side of the lake.
Hiking along the sandy shoreline, I noticed fat-tire bike tracks.
I soon learned that following the rider’s tracks was a good idea because he or she was homing in on the hardest packed areas that made traveling easier. I was not surprised when after another mile the tracks stopped abruptly. The entire beach had become too soft.
Hiking around the west side of the six-mile-long lake requires going around several points of land, which remind me of a mountain’s false summits. To reach the Kokanee cabin by shore you need to walk around at least four of those points, and it seems like there is always one more ahead.
The sign and pathway up to the cabin are not easy to see, even from shore. I was surprised that people traveling by boat, or snow machine in winter, could readily spot it. The cabin is 16’ x 20’, sleeps up to eight and rents from the state for $60 per night. It has a wood stove, and guests are requested to bring their own wood. Again, reservations can be made at //dnr.alaska.gov/parks/cabins/reserv
Just beyond the cabin, there are rock outcroppings that I’ve never found elsewhere around the lake. From these small “cliffs” you have a terrific view of the lake’s south end and East Fork Valley. Proceeding further south along the lake you will find no trail in the woods – I’ve tried.
Going primitive: Back in the days when outboard motors were allowed on Eklutna Lake, I traveled to the south end and then bushwhacked up and southwest into a small hanging valley that lies behind a peak called “The Watchman.” I’ve been told that in recent years, sheep hunters have beaten a primitive trail up into this area. In the early 2000s during a sheep hunt with a friend, I hiked the length of that small valley to an overlook where I could see Mount Rumble and Wall Street Glacier, which drains into Peters Creek Valley.
On another boat trip one summer, we caught small rainbow trout near the south end of the lake in front of streams that flowed off the western slope.
The combined volume of water from the East Fork and West Fork that join to create Eklutna River is surprising. When wading across one summer we encountered at least four channels, each with water volumes equivalent to the Eagle River crossing on the Crow Pass trail.
In winter I’ve skied along the lake’s western shore and on occasion spotted wolf and coyote tracks. I once observed a completely black wolf crossing the lake–and with overflow present just about everywhere–he seemed to be floundering and having as much difficulty as me.
But now, sitting on a rock in the warm sun sipping coffee, those days seemed far behind me. I had spent much of my life going around, across and above this lake, yet I never grew weary of coming here. There didn’t seem to be as much wildlife as in the past, but it was still around if one spent the time looking and listening.
If I’ve learned anything over the years from my outdoor experiences, it is that nature is a grand teacher. It teaches us to be patient and observe – to look and listen. It instructs us to tune into what is seemingly silent and still, and to focus on everything – from large to small.
A couple of ducks startled me as they winged past just above the lake’s surface. “Important things are happening here all the time,” I mused. “I wish we had more time to notice.”
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired Birchwood ABC school teacher. To reach Frank, email: firstname.lastname@example.org