Caines Head Part Two: There and Back Again!

So, the first post of our Caines Head adventure was all about the journey to our home away from home for the night: the North Beach campground. This second installment of our family adventure focuses on camp life on the beach and the trails that you can hit up while at North Beach.

Fort McGilvary Trail

The Basics:

Total Miles: 2 miles one way. Optional additional trails- South Beach (extra .5 miles) and the Alpine trail (2.5 miles from Derby Cove).

Total Time: This trail took us about 2-3 hours. Leave plenty of time to explore the fort and don’t forget to bring a flashlight!

Difficulty: Moderate. Steady incline, but nothing too extreme.

Kid Appropriate: This trail might be a little tough for children under 7. I’m sure carrying is always appreciated. I know Silas enjoyed it.

Dangers: Wildlife is always a potential hazard. Keep your wits about you. Also, stay safe around the fort. It’s pretty old and dark. There’s also many steep drop offs by the fort, so watch yourself!

Reasons to do this hike: History. I’m a history buff, so I think any fort is neat, but Fort McGilvray is particularly unique. The fort was at a strategic location to help defend Seward and most of Alaska (especially the all mighty railroad) against the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands. Plus the views are also as good as any reason.

The Journey

Like previously mentioned, when we finally made it to the campsite, it was all about relaxing (after we set up our tent and got out of our dirty clothes). Nick chose to put up our tent in the woods, back behind the beach and near the picnic area. I wasn’t feeling to good about his decision from the get go. I didn’t like the idea of being back in the woods, nor the fact that our camp was right next to the picnic tables and all of the food that was being stored away from bears. We decided that we would keep the tent there until we could see how far the tide would go up. If there was still lots of room left on the beach at high tide, we would camp out there.

Our campsite was originally over that bridge and through the woods.

The tent that we decided on at REI a week prior to our trip was the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2. A bit on the pricey side, but we figured it was a long term investment and cheaper than taking family vacations to Hawaii. I’m not sure what to think of this tent. It’s definitely great for backpacking, weighing in at less than three pounds! It’s also incredibly small (I guess that’s a given considering the weight). However, there’s not much to do in that tent besides sleep. I had to shimmy my way around to get in and out of clothes. With all that being said, it wasn’t too bad to sleep in and it snuggly fit Nick, Silas and I. The best part: No bugs or water snuck it’s way in! There was a battlefield of mosquitoes trying to ram their way inside our tent and none of them could scream “victory”! Also, I can’t personally tell you, but I’m sure Nick would be able to let you know that the tent is very easy to put up and take down. It took him all of about five minutes to do each one.

Along with the tent, we had our 20 degree weather sleeping bags, overnight pack, MRE’s, extra clothes, rain gear, hats, crank flashlight, first aid kit, bear spray, water conditioning bottle and lots of diapers and other assorted baby products. We bought a magnesium strip for lighting a fire, but that little guy managed to conveniently fall between the cracks of our couch while we were doing our packing. Needless to say, we never had much of a fire going. Luckily it wasn’t really needed on that beautiful, sunny Friday!

After setting up camp, we got busy eating. Nick packed some military MRE’s, which worked out amazingly, as our fire starting skills proved inadequate. We had some veggie burger and ribs, courtesy of the little chemical pack that heated up our water. We even had some bread, cheese, muffin top, trail mix, potato sticks, iced tea, etc., to go along with our main meals, all in this little plastic pouch. If you have a chance to score some MRE’s, I would recommend it. They’re super helpful while backpacking. Silas even enjoyed it, which really says a lot. We made sure to keep the picnic table tidy and dispose of all of our trash in an odor proof bag. You know, the bears… Nick tried to hang up a bear bag in the trees, but we ended up using the compartment in the picnic shelter provided for food and trash.

After high tide and going to the bathroom in the woods (which we later found out was not needed… There’s an actual bathroom at the start of the Fort McGilvary trail), we decided to re-set up our tent closer to the beach, in the perfect little patch of grass. Beach and ocean one way, lots of fallen trees and noise making things on the other. I’m pretty sure I would know if there was a bear coming. A few unsuccessful beach fire attempts and another close-to-shore guest appearance from our sea lion friends and we were off to bed. I should say Nick and Silas were off to bed. I think I maybe possibly slept an hour, at most.

I woke up to the sound of crunching leaves around the tent. Slight panic led to the realization that it was just one of the many dogs at the campsite and then I was left hoping that they wouldn’t pop a squat near our tent or decide to make a flying leap onto it. While I’m pretty sure it didn’t rain the previous night, condensation was all up in our abode. I guess that’s what happens when you have a tiny space and two and a half people (not that I consider Silas only “half,” but that’s the question we always seem to get when out to eat… “Table for two and a half?”) Opening the tent door, however, released worries and slight annoyances to a beautiful view of the sunrise, right in our faces.

Sunrise over Caine's Head

Yep. Sun's still rising!

We decided to start our day early and set out on our hike, so that we could be back in time for a boat taxi pick up. One of the many luxuries of Caines Head is that if you don’t want to hike back, you don’t have to! There are two taxi services that run back and forth to the North Beach campsite. One of them (the one we happened to use), is from Miller’s Landing, a nice looking camping area that also provides kayaking tours, fishing excursions and, of course, boat taxis, among many other things. A short jaunt to the edge of the campsite led to more campers, the beginning of the local trail and… A bathroom! It’s OK, I’m pretty sure anyone who saw my bare bottom in the woods would have thanked me for it!

Sunrise on the Rocks

Fog rolls in.

Where oh where can the little trail be?

While in our minds, we started off fresh, our feet were not pleased with our decision. As I waddled my way up the trail, I began to relive the previous day’s hike all over again. I just kept telling myself that it was only a couple of miles and who didn’t love an old WWII fort? The thing with old military forts, is they always seem to be out in the middle of nowhere. Such was the case with Fort McGilvary. As the trail led higher and higher, I began to wonder if it would ever end (it didn’t help that we decided to carry all of our gear with us. I would recommend leaving it at the campsite. Don’t take my word for it, but I trusted the people there). On our way, we passed forest, swampland (which I affectionately deemed Dagobah), and sneak peek ocean views, high above the ground. We were even lucky enough to spot some harbor seals (I think) from the little outlook complete with memorial plaque, dedicated to the soldiers who manned the fort during it’s glory days.

Military memorial plaque.

Dagobah! The first of many, I would later find out.

Though this trail is only two and a half miles, it’s close to a constant incline. Once again, I found myself acting like a baby, muttering things under my breath like, “I can’t make it up any more hills, I’m not a freaking fit soldier!” I’m pretty sure I threatened my husband on multiple occasions… Luckily, the trail is well maintained. It did used to be the main road for those buff army men, after all. Legend has it (well, it’s not really legend… More of a fact) that the soldiers were dropped off at North Beach and then had to hike to the fort. No thank you.. As for wildlife, we didn’t see much (maybe luckily?) I had a close encounter with a ptarmigan (is that horrible of me? What? It scared me… Ok here’s a nice picture of a ptarmigan), who conveniently fluttered around on a tree branch right as I was passing by. You know you’re paranoid when you jump in horror because you think a little bird is a big, angry bear.

Just waiting for the bears. This was also near the area where I ran into evil ptarmigan. I think I was justified to freak out.

Once you get about a mile and a half into the trail, you start seeing signs of the fort. Abandoned, scary looking buildings lined the trail and left over, rusting metal cans were nestled off in the woods. It’s also at this point that the trail forks off another one and a half miles to the South Beach trail. South Beach is where the soldiers used to call home. I’m sure it’s a wonderful little place, with more abandoned buildings in a beach setting, but I wasn’t ready to go that extra mile (and a half). I would like to go back one day, if only to do the hike to South Beach and the other, longer Alpine trail (which forks off from the tidal trail around Derby Cove, a little bit before North Beach). I’m sure it’s nice when you’re not carrying an overnight pack.

One hill after another finally led to the main fort. Nick and I decided that the inside of the fort looked too scary to really even peek in. It is Alaska, after all. Scary people abound and this looked like the perfect place for a schizophrenic psycho killer, looking for some private locale to settle down. I decided to climb up the little path I had found on top of the fort, hoping for a view of Resurrection Bay. After a brief jaunt around large pieces of concrete, there it was, a beautiful, pristine view of the ocean! For a minute, I went back in time, imagining I was stationed out at this beautiful spot. Picturing this as the view outside my office window. Then I remembered the hike to get out here and that pesky four letter word that kept popping up in my head… Bear. I think I’ll stick to Wasilla.

View outside my office window...?

I got a little lost trying to get back down. It doesn’t really seem possible, considering how small the area is, but it does happen (or maybe it’s just me… I do tend to get lost going just about anywhere!) As I struggled to find my way back, the idea of running into a big, brown bear ran through my head. Kinda ridiculous. I’m pretty sure not even they would hike all the way out there. After I found my way back to Nick and Silas, Nick decided to check out the view, as well. After we were all satisfied (I can’t speak for Silas, because, well he doesn’t really speak), we headed back down. The way down is (as seemingly always) much easier and relaxing. As the weather started to cool and the clouds darkened, I began to dream of our taxi ride out of this joint.

We got back earlier than we had anticipated, so Nick called the water taxi to see if we could catch an earlier boat. We were in luck! While we waited, Nick set the tent back up and we made friends with some campers who had a nice fire going. As the boat arrived and the skipper jumped out to skip rocks, I was ready to get back to Seward. We decided that we’d spend another night in Seward, like we had planned, only in a hotel room, instead of a tent. As we boarded the tiny skiff, we were all awarded life vests that in no way fit us. Mine was too small and Silas’s was way too big, but it allowed for a good laugh. I’m pretty sure poor Silas was embarrassed. I’d post a picture, but I vowed I wouldn’t take one of him at such a low point in his life. The good news is, he slept like a baby on the boat ride back.

Waiting for our taxi to come.

Goodbye Caine's Head.

Until we meet again!

After about fifteen minutes (really? Only fifteen? I thought it took us five hours to hike out there…?) we arrived at Miller’s Landing, a cool little gypsy looking campsite. You can rent a cabin, hitch a tent, or bring your RV, plus they have tons of tours and services. I would recommend this place. I know I’ll be back! Silas and I went inside and grabbed some coffee (well, I did… Another reason to recommend Miller’s Landing: free coffee) and sat by the fire, while Nick hiked out to the car. We packed everything up, said goodbye to our Caines Head experience and headed back into downtown Seward to look for a hotel.

We ended up staying at the Hampton Inn. It felt like paradise. Clean sheets, nice bathroom, shower! I could go on. Not only did it feel good to sleep on a bed, but this was the first time that we had really gone on any sort of vacation since last summer. It was nice to just relax. We ate at our favorite restaurant in Seward, Apollo Restaurant. I couldn’t say enough good things about this restaurant, and I probably don’t have to. They are mentioned in Frommer’s, after all. With dishes like this (from their Facebook page), how could you go wrong? You can even bring in the fish you caught and they’ll cook it for you! I got the fried halibut, good as always, and Nick got fettuccine alfredo. Delicious! Another place I would highly recommend. After dinner, we headed straight to bed (even though I had grand plans of staying up all night and watching cable, a luxury considering we haven’t had it in months).

We woke up at 6 a.m. for breakfast (yummy), a quick walk around the harbor (that was Silas’s choice. I really had no say in the matter, as I had to chase him around), and to pack up our belongings and head out. Our next stop was Exit Glacier, the second hike in our book and also the next chapter in our hiking saga! Stay tuned!

Seward Harbor. Always beautiful!


2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Sugel said,

    I decided that I wanted to go backpacking for my birthday as I have often done in past years. Another half mile and we find the fork so we know were on the right road..The next 5.5 miles of road to the trail head and campground were by far the most difficult that I have ever taken my Honda Civic on. The book that I got the directions from said The road is pretty rough but if you take it slow it is passable.

  2. 2

    Errign said,

    Fun adventure. I used to really like camping, but now that I haven’t been in years, I’m not so sure I would love it anymore… 🙂

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