Currently: 55 degrees, light rain, Soldotna, AK. Sitting under the covers on a loft, fireplace warming from below, waiting for the rain to stop.
What’d We Do?
Yesterday was exhausting and one of the biggest physical challenges we’ve faced together.
I started the day on the beach getting some cloudy shots of Resurrection Bay and waiting for the mountains to fall into sunlight. It was a quiet morning so I tried to record some ambient audio of the seabirds and waves coming into the beach, but unfortunately forgot about my audio recorder as I was busy getting other shots. By the time I remembered where I had set it, the tide had started to engulf it, and it was waterlogged. I’m airing it out now, we’ll see if it can be salvaged.
We packed our bags and left the hotel in Seward in search of a shuttle that could take us across town. Shuttles were supposed to run every 30 minutes but we waited nearly an hour before finally calling a cab and splitting it with another couple. The fare; $5…and the other couple paid. If we would’ve known it would be so cheap we wouldn’t have wasted the time.
On the other side of town we picked up our rental car and started out towards Exit Glacier, the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park that is accessible by car. Along the road we saw a moose and her calf walking and then crossing the road before crossing back into the woods.
Exit Glacier is amazing, but it’s hard. Like really, really hard. We thought the hike may be a challenge, but knew the views would be worthwhile. Well, let’s rephrase that. I (Scott) told Kirsten that this hike would be a challenge and we should set some realistic goals of what viewpoints on the trail we could realistically reach. Kir, on the other hand, said “Let’s do it all!”
The trail starts by winding uphill through heavy forest, the grade not too steep. Then suddenly the forest gets thicker and the incline becomes even more steep. There were a fair number of other hikers on the trail, but we still practiced good bear safety by making lots of noise and using our bear bells as the brush was so thick, and there were lots of blind turns on the trail.
Once we hiked through nearly 2 miles of heavy brush, we emerged at Marmot Meadows where there was an incredible view overlooking the glacier’s many crevices, and out towards the road and the rest of the valley below. Stopping here would make for a worthwhile hike. 4 miles roundtrip, 1250+ of elevation gain = pretty good workout, and the views = amazing. But we were (1/2 of we anyway) were on a mission to get to the top, no matter how many times we thought we saw the top and realized it was just another ridge we’d need to traverse.
From Marmot Meadows we climbed another 2.5 miles through low meadows, which eventually gave way to tundra which changed into dark soil and loose sediment as we reached the top of the mountain. As the trail climbed higher and higher, looking back showed us how far above the valley floor we had climbed and looking to our left gave us an incredible view of the huge glacier and it’s blue and white ice fields.
The trail featured lots of waterfalls and streams that needed to be traversed. It also gave us a view of a herd of mountain goats grazing along the mountainside below. As it was a particularly warm day in the sunshine, and the some of the goats gave up the grazing to lie in a patch of snow.
After about 4 hours of hiking steep inclines, we made to the top, a 3,000 ft elevation gain in just over 4 miles (or so says the map, FitBit thinks that mileage assessment is really low-balling it).
The view from the top was extremely rewarding. Looking out towards the glacier we saw ice-field as far as the eye could see capped off by mountain peaks spotted with snow. The glacier has retreated quite a distance in the past 150 years, but what remains of it is just incredible to see up-close. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Looking down towards the valley showed a snaking river surrounded by mountains, and looking the other direction showed us the side of the mountain we’d been climbing with it’s dark, soiled face.
After a long break for rest, food and rehydration, we started back down the mountain as the good sunlight was starting to fade. It’s summer so it doesn’t get truly dark until after 10pm, but we wanted to leave enough light to safely make our way through the steep, rocky sections of the dense forest trail. On our way down through the tundra part of the trail we saw the mountain goats starting to migrate closer to the trail and they eventually crossed as we continued our hike down. However, one goat and it’s kid played stubborn and munched on whatever plant-life lined the trail blocking our access down. After about 5 minutes of stand-off they made their way up the side of the mountain and let us pass down.
Hiking down the mountain was almost as difficult as getting up it. Our knees felt every rock and step we stumbled over, and we were cautious not to slip on gravel as we’d done a few days before on Flattop Mountain in Anchorage. It took us about 2.5 hours to descend the 4 miles down the mountain and return to our car. There were few parties left on the mountain by the time we left the top, but luckily we met another couple and hiked through the dense forest parts together.
So there we did it, the entire Harding Icefield Trail to see Exit Glacier. 8+ miles, 3,000 foot elevation gain up.
We returned to Seward to find dinner, and I crossed town to retrieve my hat and sunglasses from the restaurant where I left them last night at dinner. We again ate burritos as they were quick, and we still had to drive 2 hours to our Airbnb to sleep.
We arrived in Soldotna around 11pm after a couple driver changes as I was completely spent and not able to drive for more than 20 minutes. Kir was a champ and got us here in 1 piece.
This morning it’s raining and we’re in a tiny cabin overlooking a small lake.
Who We Met
Lots of couples along the trail. A nice couple from Texas who we finished the trail with.
What We Ate
Hotel breakfast. Cliff bars. Burritos. Exciting culinary day.
What We Learned
We can hike up a mountain without dying.
Wildlife We Saw
A mother moose and her calf. A family of mountain goats. Marmots. Tons of mosquitos and black flies.