It's called the Glory Hole, and it takes first-time visitors to the Caribou Hills by surprise.
"You're driving around on the top, and it's all kind of rolling country. All of a sudden, you come up on it, and it's, 'Whoa, where did that come from?'" said Soldotna's Steve Tarries, who published the "Alaska's Caribou Hills Snowmobile Trail Map."
The Glory Hole, actually a deep south-facing canyon, lies not quite two miles northwest of 2,860-foot Ptarmigan Head, one of the higher humps in the hills that lie east of Ninilchik between Tustumena and Caribou lakes. It is a steep 300 feet from the rim to the canyon floor.
"It's a spectacular view," Tarries said. "You can see the mountains and glaciers across the Fox River valley. You can see Tustumena Lake and the volcanoes across the inlet."
The Glory Hole is a breath-taking stop along the route from Clam Gulch to the Caribou Lake Lodge near Kachemak Bay. Tarries said there are several places to start -- the Centennial Lake Trail from Tustumena Lake Road, the Falls Creek Trail from Falls Creek Road in Clam Gulch or the Water Hole Trail from Oilwell Road in Ninilchik. Tarries' map, available from Carquest of Soldotna, will help first-timers find the way.
The Water Hole Trail runs about six miles to the tree line. From there, riders climb the open ridge to Ptarmigan Head and the Glory Hole, then take a trail around the southwest side of 2,541-foot Caribou Dome to Caribou Lake and the Caribou Lake Lodge. An alternate route back runs up the north side of Deep Creek, over an old logging road, then up the Center Plateau Trail, skirting the tree line to the Water Hole Trail.
The trip from the end of the Water Hole Trail to Ptarmigan Head and Caribou Lake Lodge is about 18 miles. The trip back via Deep Creek is a little longer. Depending on the weather, trails above the tree line can be difficult to find, Tarries said.
Pat O'Leary, a recreational planner with the U.S. Forest Service in Seward, said Lost Lake is one of the most popular snowmachine destinations on the eastern Kenai Peninsula.
"Once you get up on top, it's a spectacular area," he said. "It's relatively safe. Unless you're climbing some of the steep hills or high-marking, there's a lot of land that's relatively avalanche-free."
Access is difficult, especially for novice riders, he said. The safest route is over the Primrose Trail, which departs from Mile 18 on the Seward Highway.
"But there are seven miles of extreme moguls and bumps to get to the alpine area," he said.
Another route is off Snug Harbor Road by Kenai Lake in Cooper Landing. There is limited parking near the turnoff to the power substation at Mile 7, O'Leary said. From there, it is a couple of miles to Rainbow Lake, near the southeast end of Cooper Lake, and a couple of miles more to reach the alpine valleys that lead to Lost Lake.
However, the climb from Snug Harbor Road is difficult.
"There's some narrow passages and a couple of deep gullies," O'Leary said. "You have to go down a steep hill, through a narrow gully and shoot back up. Without a powerful machine, it's sometimes difficult to get back up again, especially if there's deep powder."
The Carter Lake Trail, which begins at Mile 32 on the Seward Highway, is easier, he said. An old Jeep trail climbs steeply for about three-quarters of a mile to the alpine valley that runs from Carter Lake to Crescent Lake. Ice fishers catch rainbow trout from Carter Lake, he said. Beware of the ice on Crescent Lake. On a trip two weeks ago, O'Leary saw open water on both sides about halfway up the lake. The mountains bordering Crescent Lake are prone to avalanches.
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