PUBLISHED: 3:55 PM on Thursday, December 28, 2006
Winter hikes at Echo Cove
by Barbara Turley

Barbara Turley photo
  A rising tide can make a beach walk a bit more challenging. Winter beaches can be just as much fun in January as in June
With boats put away for the winter and limited fishing opportunities, the quiet winter beaches are not visited much. However, a bonfire with the kids, or a stroll exploring the low tide can be just as much fun in January as in June. A person merely needs to dress for the occasion. In the Juneau area, the public road ends at the head of Echo Cove. There is a parking area there and boat launch. Often getting onto or off of the water is the extent of one's contact. However, walking the shore of two-mile long Echo Cove can be a good outing itself. In the past, there was no winter road maintenance this far north of Juneau. However, it's now possible to drive there almost any time.

In winter, the seaside scenery is usually very monochromatic. The water may be leaden or silvery, but it's gray. A band of white snow marks the high tide line. The rocks are various shades of gray and black. Even the sea gulls and winter plumaged ducks match the color scheme. A 3 p.m. sunset, however, can turn the sea and the sky to technicolor. The tide pools can look like paint pots. The color depends upon whether the pool reflects the rose part of the sky, the golden part, the pale yellow, or the azure blue. This can be a beautiful completion to a pleasant afternoon walk.

Curious to see the spot where the new private road that extends from Echo Cove goes down to the beach, my husband, Kim, and I parked by the dock last winter to enjoy a beach walk. We brought along the spotting scope so we'd be able to identify most of the bird species out on the water. Glaucous-winged gulls, mew gulls, horned grebes, marbled murrelets and several duck species were out there. It was a bit more difficult to see those in the trees above the beach, but we recognized some of them by their voice, such as golden-crowned kinglets, juncos and chickadees.

Barbara Turley photo
  Winter beaches are very scenic and empty. The tranquility of a calm winter day on the beach is a rewarding experience.
The tide was out, but rising, as we started our walk. At first the footing was easy on gravel and large pebbles. As we continued, larger rocks scattered over the beach still didn't obstruct our walk. Fire pits here and there on the upper beach reminded us of pleasant summer times that we'd been there. Our daughter, Laura guided us to this area once to show us where she sometimes fished from the shore. Her little son was always happy on the beach.

At the end of Echo Cove, the beach contracts into a narrower, rocky corridor between the water and the steep hillside. On this particular hike, we'd chosen our day based on getting through this area with the tide low. As often seems to be the case when we make this sort of plan, we were just a little behind schedule when we got there. We'd seen people's tracks on the beach ahead of us. We met them here, on their way back. They said the rocks looked too difficult for them to get around. We hurried on. We'd talked a lot about this walk with our son-in-law, Gerry, who had already done it as a run. On this day he'd chosen to do a run that looped down Cowee Creek out to the ocean, then back to the road past the Cowee Meadow Cabin. That's only a couple of miles from the Echo Cove parking area. After his run, seeing that our car was still at Echo Cove, he ran up the beach. He caught up with us soon after we'd met the hikers who'd turned around. Hoping we'd still be able to get around the rocky point, we hurried on. "Hurried" is a relative term as we stepped from one boulder to another.

When we reached the first spot where the cliff behind the boulders dropped almost straight into the water, we made our way around it by taking big steps from the top of one submerged boulder to another. Kim and I were wearing XtraTuf boots. The water wasn't over 16" deep, so we were OK. Gerry's running shoes had been wet for a long while, so he didn't care. Kim succeeded in making the jumps with the big scope and tripod in one hand. Gerry ran ahead to the next point. "This looks really bad," he called to us. He was standing on top of an eight-foot boulder. There were enough rough areas that I could get hand and toe-holds and scramble up. Kim removed the scope from the tripod and attached them to his pack before he came up. From several yards ahead, Gerry's voice sounded even more worried. He knew he could get around it, if he hurried before the tide came up any farther, but he wasn't wearing a bulky pack or big rubber boots. There wasn't time to really analyze the situation. I was in front of Kim and I said what I'm in the habit of saying: "let's give it a try." I immediately remembered an incident at the Mendenhall Glacier face a few days previously, and quickly added, "but whatever you think, Kim."

We'd been running that day. I wanted to touch the glacier face. Kim said "no," but I did it anyway and he followed me. The ice didn't break under my running steps, but he fell through. He only went in up to his knees, but his shoes and pants were frozen so solidly that he could hardly run by the time we got home, and he seemed to think it was my fault!

I was very surprised when Kim said, "OK, let's try." Gerry repeated his warning. Hand and foot holds were a bit scarce on this rock. He leaned around from a secure point and held out his hand for me to grab as soon as I got within reach, then did the same for Kim. In another 10 feet or so, the going got really bad. We'd have to "chimney" (put hands on one rock and feet on the other) down a 3'-wide section between two boulders with a potential fall of about 6'. When Kim said "no," I turned around without argument.

However, the rock we'd just come around looked worse to me from this side. I couldn't quite figure out where to put my hands and feet to get started. Apparently Kim agreed with me. He said we'd try the chimney. Gerry had already done it and looked around the next corner. He assured us that that this was the last bad spot. We could see the road coming out of the trees several hundred yards ahead in the middle of the protected cove. Gerry came back to the chimney. Bracing himself, he told me to step on his shoulder. Kim kept a firm grip on one of my hands as I worked my way far enough down to reach Gerry's shoulder. It seemed to me that good handholds were few and far between, but I made it. Kim didn't use the shoulder with his full weight, as I had done, but it was still a big help. We were very grateful for Gerry's assistance. Now that we were safe, he ran on ahead.

Kim and I had no trouble at all from that point on. e enjoyed the hike through the woods back to Echo Cove. We'd had a fun day, but Kim commented, "The next time I go for a walk on the beach, I think I'll take a rope."

It isn't necessary to go beyond the end of Echo Cove to have a very pleasant winter walk. The tranquility of a calm winter day on the beach is always rewarding.