Climbers Conquer Poot Peak

I came back alive. You wouldn't think a simple day climb up a tiny mountain that's part of my everyday scenery would create this rush of gratitude. Hey, I'm just happy I'm still here to look at that pointy little chocolate drop when I drive down the Homer Spit.

How do you get to Poot's Peak, you're asking, eager to experience the thrill of the climb in person. Well, a leg at a time. First, you fly or drive to Homer. Next you cross Kachemak Bay to the trailhead in Halibut Cove Lagoon by private boat, Mako's Water Taxi or float plane. The hike starts at the Kachemak Bay State Park ranger station accessible by boat when the tide is high enough to bury the sand bars at the lagoon entrance. You can camp in the park and hike on your own, or you can book into the Ishmalof Island Lodge and accompany their guide. Being a first timer on the far side, I did the latter. The tide was right to navigate through the sandbars by midday, and resort owner, Kevin Sidelinger, skiffed us in from the lodge to the ranger station. There we paused long enough to smear on bug dope, then headed up the trail.

Except for doing the final assault the hard way, the trek was a pleasantly sweaty hike on a well-cut path, with moss and pine needles cushioning our steps. A few steep places where the footing resembles chocolate syrup add contrast, but still no rush. We sort of meandered up to China Poot Lake inhaling air so fresh it smelled green, studying bear scat (it wasn't warm), and admiring riotous wild flowers along the way. At the lake we relaxed on a gravel beach in the sun, taking a lunch break while the fishermen among us landed a few trout.

Then we winded our way on up to the hard part. At first we strolled along the shore of the large lake, known locally as Leisure, then, switchbacking through dense foliage, we gained altitude. Poot was still visible from this elevation and we stopped frequently for photos, and, just incidentally, a few deep breaths. Below us the valleys and bays began to take on the dimensions of aerial photos.

***

From this perspective the top of Poot is in fact two peaks, with snow chutes defining each. A brief discussion ensued about the direction to take for the dash -- boy, is THAT a misnomer -- to the top. Mike, an experienced climber, preferred a direct frontal ascent while Norma Jean was in favor of following directions to take the easier way around the left shoulder.


Mike prevailed, and, heeding ingrained wisdom plus lodge owners' instructions to stick together, we all followed his lead straight up. Bad move.

Choosing this route, we left the marked trail at the rock. We picked our way upward through meadows of lush grass and deep purple violets, then were shortly traversing steeper terrain, breaking footholds into soggy moss. Scrambling up a patch of loose granite was tricky, but next came the real challenge; the snow chute. Ice-crusted from the summer thaw and freeze action, it resisted our efforts to kick in toe holds; I would have gladly turned back if I could have figured out how. But we climbed on and all too soon were facing even steeper landscape at the top end.

I have all but blanked out the last stretch. I do remember at one point resting my body full length against the mountain, only slightly off straight vertical, heels braced on granite. Looking back down the way we had come, I was seriously wishing for a chopper like the ones that lift models off mountain peaks when they finish filming ads.

***

"How the hell do we get down from here?" I panted when I finally reached the other four on a ridge, still short of the top. "I was just wondering the same thing," Norma Jean mused. She wasn't smiling.


Mike The Climber was disappearing up a slot toward the peak, asking who else was coming. "Not ME!" We unisoned. We were content to straddle the ridge and memorize the scene, from the silvery lakes nestled in the spruce a thousand feet below us to the hazy Homer Spit curling away in the bay and creamy Mount Iliamna on the far horizon across Cook Inlet.

What seemed like much later, with storm clouds blowing in fast from the ocean side, we finally spotted Mike on the next ridge up and shouted and mimed agreement to meet below at the big rock.

Getting back down was easier than I thought. I slid a lot. The other three controlled their descent down the icy snow by digging stout sticks in like pick axes. Mine broke. We won't call it falling but as I skittered down the snow chute on my back, out of control, I yelled a warning to the others ahead, "I can't stop!" Young Randy, his own foothold precarious, reached out a hand and caught at me as I whizzed by, braking my slide just enough to ease my abrupt stop on the rocks below.

Descending the left flank (the route we were supposed to use) Mike reached the meeting place first. He said that one was much easier. Another climber who recently climbed that side says the trail is marked with the triangular hiking symbols and was easy enough for youngsters. There's a whole network of trails in the park ranging from easy to nigh impossible. I plan to try a moderate one next time. The park service describes the two-mile Poot Peak trail thus: This steep, slick unmaintained route begins across the China Poot Lake inlet stream bridge and heads up to timberline. Climbing the 2600 foot peak is hazardous due to shifting scree and rotten rock. Hand and foot holds are poor at best and worse in wet weather. Your efforts will be rewarded above timberline with superb views of Wosnesenski Glacier and Kachemak Bay.


All true, but they forgot to mention virtually vertical snow fields. Wish I had read that blurb --before I went. Aw, I would have done it anyway. – by Randi Somers


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