“In case we get eaten by a bear, we went out hiking the Indian River Trail. Left at noon, should be back no later than 7. We have bear spray and a small amount of food.”
It’s Saturday, and my roommate Christina and I leave this note, along with our phone numbers, on the whiteboard in the kitchen as we head out to hike the Indian River Trail. I’ve gotten in the habit of leaving these notes whenever I go hiking, partially in good humor, partially in all seriousness.
We bike the short distance to the trail head, lock our bicycles to the wooden sign, and plunge into the chilly Alaskan rainforest. The day is a strange mix of light rain and sunshine; it seems like it can’t make up its mind if it’s going to be warm and sweaty, or chilly and damp, but we spend the entire hike putting on and taking off our rain jackets.
The moodiness of the weather does nothing to our high spirits, however. In fact, we both agree it’s perfect and couldn’t have hoped for a better day to conquer the 10 mile round trip journey, though we’re not sure how far we’ll actually make it.
As it turns out, the trail is spectacular. The deeper we are swallowed into the rainforest, the more beautiful it becomes. Gigantic fallen trees spanning over the riverbed have been retrofitted with sturdy planks and hand railings to make precarious bridges across the gaps. Each one crosses the gurgling, rushing Indian River where the salmon will soon be running upstream in just a matter of weeks.
About an hour into the hike, we stop in a beautiful clearing with a view of the last bridge we’d just crossed, and hungrily chow down on our packed sandwiches, before hitting the trail again. We keep a comfortable pace, and I am grateful for the level terrain — the last few hikes I’ve done in Sitka have been horrendously steep and fast-paced, but here I’m feeling as if I could walk to the ends of the earth without tiring.
|One of my favorite bridges 🙂|
Just as our legs are starting to become the slightest bit sore, the sound of the river becomes louder, and in the distance, a giant waterfall comes into view. Suddenly all hints of fatigue are lost. Here we start seeing more hikers than we had before; the trail ends a few hundred yards before the river, and only a few people have ventured further to bushwhack closer to it.
|First view of the river|
Christina has never seen a waterfall of this scale before, so we decide that bushwhacking is definitely in order. We scramble up a narrow unofficial trail through thorny devil’s club and thick berry bushes, slide down a rocky bank, and find ourselves standing alone at the base of the waterfall. It’s large enough to be creating it’s own powerful wind, swirling mist and spray through the saturated canyon.
|Time for silly selfies|
|Getting blown around and soaked – We are Mountain Women!|
|We made it!|
After spending some time slipping and sliding and exploring around the base of the falls until our hands were numb with cold, we picked our way back to the trail, trying not to get soaked along the way.
|Mountain view from the trail|
The hike back was definitely a little harder. Having already gone 5 miles, and knowing we had 5 more to go — and with the weather starting to become rainier — we knuckled down and trudged our way back at a slightly slower pace, experiencing the green tunnel of the old growth forest in a little more of a blur.
By the time we had gone 8 or 9 miles, I felt like I was on autopilot. Even if I wanted to explore some of the side trails, my legs decided we were sticking to the main path and getting back to our bikes without any pit stops. Fortunately, we made it back in a total of 6 hours since we’d left, and besides being sore and exhausted for the remainder of the night, the rest of my mind, body, and spirit felt incredibly refreshed and invigorated. I will definitely be doing this hike again this summer.