Down the Kenai

Down the Kenai

Shortly after I first moved here almost eleven years ago, I often heard people talking about “the Kenai.”  What “the Kenai” is really depends on the context.  Sure, there is the Kenai Peninsula, and there is the Kenai River, but there is also Kenai Lake and the town of Kenai.  Certainly, this body of land has met its share of creativity-free land planners who were at a loss at some point on what to name things.  But it also reflects how “the Kenai” is not just a place, but an idea.  It is often referred to as Anchorage’s recreational back yard, and so much of that is true.  “The Kenai” is where you go to get away for the weekend, whether it is to fish on “the Kenai” River, go camping on “the Kenai” Peninsula some where among its several public campgrounds, or float “the Kenai” River.

I went with a group of coworkers recently to do the latter, putting in at the common public landing near the Cooper Landing bridge over the headwaters for the Kenai River, and taking out at Jim’s Landing, just off the Skilak Lake Road.  All-in-all, a trip of some 12.5 river miles.

There are not many ways you can have a great, low-key seemingly backcountry rafting experience in Alaska than on the Kenai River.  The rapids, such as they are, never exceed Class II, you get lots of opportunity to see wildlife, you can take your time and relax while floating with a pole in the water (our raft caught a Dolly Varden that we released), and it’s not too crowded.  The main challenge is when you approach the confluence of the Russian River at this time of year, you have to run a gauntlet of anglers on both banks of the river fishing for the running sockeye salmon. 

I kept my camera gear in a Pelican case while floating and had ample time to take photos, as my boat had a single set of oars manned by Steve.  It was his wife, Karen, that caught the fish.  As is often the case, we stopped on a gravel bar a little more than halfway down the float to have a trail lunch.  Austin took out his fly rod and, often joined by his faithful retriever, Carta, tried his luck at catching something while wading out in the stream.  No luck.

The three-boat group continued on, taking out at Jim’s Landing.  I went with the group of drivers back into Cooper Landing to retrieve all the vehicles, then headed out to Skilak Lake to secure a couple of  public campsites on the lake, which lies in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  It was cloudy, but with nicely-textured, dramatic clouds, rather than those flat, overcast clouds.  With a 0.9 Lee GND, I was able to really bring out the texture in the clouds and get some balanced exposures of the landscape.

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