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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Harding Icefield...Staircase to Ice Age

Harding Icefield Trail, Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward, AK
Harding Icefield….from the face of one of its outflowing glaciers,
Exit Glacier from the Valley Floor
to the end of its trail,
End of Harding Icefield Trail
the experience will forever haunt my memory and inspire my senses. National Geographic lists this trail as one of the 10 best day hikes in National Parks and describes it as a staircase to Ice Age. I could not agree more. 
Let me bring you to our hike…I must warn in advance this will  be long, but promise not as long and strenuous as our hike!
The Rock Strewn Steep Slopes Remind Us the Value of Patience
This was our trail in the first mile, it started in the forested valley floor, which climbed steeply over this rocky strewn staircase. In hiking, patience is a virtue, it is not about getting to the destination as quick as you can, but it is about learning from all the lessons in its entire journey! Hiking is not only a test of physical fitness, but also mental and emotional.
Crossing Streams
Hiking fuels our curiosity and nourishes our spirits. What causes drastic changes in vegetation? Where all these rocks and their seams come from? There are so many questions that we know only God has the answer to everything. Notice the taller vegetation in the above pictures, then, compare it with the vegetation in the pictures that follow below.  
Lupines, Yarrows and Exit Glacier
After about 1 mile and gaining 1000 ft in elevation, the tall trees disappeared giving way to alpine wildflowers. 
Field of Lupines
In this field of lupines, I see the spirit of my TSS sisters who delights in blue and purple, Zen and Tes. I see the rest of the TSS sisters swaying, rejoicing, cheering, in spirit, I felt their presence. 
But we had to leave this piece of heaven to continue up.  Notice the snaking river below at the valley floor, that’s where we started!  We have gained a certain height already, but we were still very far from halfway of the climb.
After a while, we reached the bottom of cliffs! This is not even half of the way, but who would snob this sight? This may not be the destination, but hiking is not about the destination, it is about the journey. Every step of the climb is part of the journey!
Flying High Above Exit Glacier with Harding Icefield Further Up
We all jumped or flew above the glacier, without wings! Not once, not twice, but many times! Jumping is a celebration of happiness we found! Nowhere else had we seen a world like this! It felt like walking on the moon....I wish you were there, and we all can go flying!
For a lot of hikers we met, this is their final destination and went back to the valley floor! I cannot blame them, the bottom of cliffs is already a heavenly sight after 1.6 mile from trailhead and 1700 ft climb. However, for most, it's the 1700 ft climb that were already weakening their legs and already feeling the pain. From here, there is still about 2000 ft more to climb. 
From the bottom of the cliff, the trail became a combination of rocks and snow! I usually prefer the snowy trail over the rocky trail since rocks are hard on foot, but in this case, I did not know anymore which one was friendlier to our feet. When I was on snow, I wished for the snowy trail to end! When I was on rocks, I wished it were snow! Deep in my heart, I was just wishing for a dirt trail to tread! 
But thankfully, alternating with snow and rocks, were the alpine wildflowers. Their presence reminds us that life exists and blooms even in the harshest conditions. If they survive, so we  surely will in this hike :-)
Somewhere further up in the alpine slopes, I see yellow in the midst of purple! 
They are my TSS sisters in there, Chay, Zen, Car, and Tes! Oh where is my and Ruthi’s pink, MJ’s and Car’s red, Cher’s peach? I see Eng’s green and brown, they were everywhere! And I see little Beth's daintiness in those spots of white. In spirit however, their inspiration were with me in this hike.
The Youngest Hiker In Our Group
Sadly, as we went higher and higher, the alpine wildflowers disappeared :(.  The trail became all snow.
We were surrounded with everything icy white and nunataks, whipped by very strong freezing wind that if we were not careful, could blow us away. At that time, I did not know that I was facing the frigid ocean, that this 4000 ft thick of icefield with 38 outflowing glaciers sits below the sea level in the Gulf of Alaska. The vast ice surrounding me and the brutal Arctic wind felt like I was in the North Pole, or time has brought me back to the Ice Age.

Nunataks @ Harding Icefield
Nunataks are isolated mountain peak surrounded by glacial ice, once projected through a continental ice sheet or an Alpine ice cap. Nunataks are thought of as glacial refuges of vegetation to reclaim the land after glacial retreat. They have jagged contours because of freeze-thaw weathering. 
We all made it to the end of trail! We were so proud of our youngest member for making it despite carrying a very heavy camera in addition to several liters of water, layers of clothing and food! Young as she is, but she is strong mentally and physically. After the hike, she gained more emotional confidence that we never know what we could accomplish unless we give ourselves a chance! Exploring always drive her to read and learn more about our natural world, Earth’s changes and cycle!   
After the end of trail, what goes up must come down. And no, it is not easier going downhill with all those rocks and snow. 
But thankfully, there were some parts that were not on rocks, not on snow, but on dirt. These are the pressure relief part of the trail. But there's very short dirt trail compared to rock strewn and snowy trail.
Marmot Greeted Us "good evening, take care, make noise so you will not encounter bear"
On our way down, we saw a lot of marmots, the largest member of the squirrel family. Their presence reminded us of the presence of bears in the area. Though we would love to see them, but not on the trail. Thus, following the National Park advise on safety, we started making noise by talking more to each other, and purposely make our trekking poles produce sound sometimes as they hit the rocks. 
Melting Glacier
Thankfully, we reached the valley floor without encountering Mr. Bear. When we reached the valley floor, we added distance to our hike continuing to the edge of Exit Glacier. Up close at the edge, I did not only see the glacier cry, but heard its loud grumble from its many waterfalls. Its tears we met at the river stream, towards the ocean we swim. The ice is melting, the glacier is hollow. 
Despite the freezing air, I felt the ice melting in my heart. Looking at the turquoise blue and the fragile beauty, and listening to the crying of the Earth, I pray silently, "Lord, I trust in you, that everything happens for a good purpose. Grant me the wisdom and a heart to help take care of Mother Earth, the home you gifted us."

~post by Bechai of The Joys of Simple Life~


  1. Oh Sis, I am so touched that even if you are having fun somewhere you never forget us. Thanks for sharing this with us. Hope that one day we will able to do some hiking together and write about it.

  2. wow, beth! i honestly felt like i just took a hike with you on the Harding Icefield Trail! i love all the lessons you shared with us. lessons you gleaned through your hike - lessons of patience, hard work, perseverance, and thankfulness to God, the creator of all the amazing glaciers and nunataks and marmots and lupines and everything beautiful and interesting you encountered on your hike:) thank you for taking the time to share all this grandeur with us through your photos and words, beth! and yes, like ruthi, i, too, am very touched that you kept us, your TSS sisters, with you in heart and spirit, even as you conquered yet another nature trail. i wish, too, that within this lifetime, i may be granted the wonderful opportunity to go hiking with you. or boogie boarding:) or both!:) thank you again, beth! loved this post immensely!

  3. Unbelievable, beautiful and very courages from you all.


  4. thanks Ruthi, MJ and Filip.

    @ Ruthi and MJ, it is a dream, that we can go hiking together one day, and we all write about it. Hopefully, with the other TSS sisters too, who would be willing to go on a hike as well.

    @ MJ, yes, I think boogie boarding is just you and Tes :) who express interest to face and ride the waves. Ruthi definitely said she won't because she will look funny, :) but I hope she will too when you are around and everybody else. It's a dream MJ, one day, with Teyla, kids always have a great time at the beach, and they cry when they leave. But I am always inspired at the beach seeing a lot of kids having a great time of their life, makes me feel like I am a kid as well :) Boogie board and hiking, would sure be fun MJ.

    Thanks Filip. It was a very safe and fun hike, though strenuous. I guess it was only towards the peak where we doubted if we should continue because the wind was blowing us crazy, but we persevered. If the wind was very strong and could wipe us out, we would sit down and wait til the wind is not as dangerous. Slowly playing with the wind, we finished the whole trail.

  5. i love the first picture! looks breath taking! Is there a bigger resolution one that i can make it into wallpaper? :D

  6. wow! I enjoyed reading so much! I could almost hear your voice Betchai...I feel that...you seeing us wherever you go...i see you too each time i am with mother nature :-) How young was your youngest hiker? whew...i wish i could someday walk that trail with you and the rest of the TSS sisters...I love all the photos...it really does look like walking on the moon! you must have had such an indescribable happy feeling! the marmot looks so cute!!!! and i am glad you didn't encounter any bear hahahaha, oh yup the waterfall is so grand there...so beautiful...and i truly loved reading your words...on patience, and on love for mother nature... may we all be able to take good care of everything God has given us unconditionally..Your friendship is a gift..thank you for opening my eyes...love yah!

  7. thanks Zen, for sharing and understanding my joy of the natural world. it's really a wish to share the joys of nature in the trails with you one day.

  8. Beth, such beautiful photos! Thank you for thinking of us and for dedicating this post to us. I feel the same way. So many things remind me of our beautiful friendship. I echo Ruthi, I hope all of us TSS sisters can explore together someday. Love yah, Beth! *hugs*

  9. you are so welcome Tes, after that reunion and the walk with Ruthi at La Jolla, it seemed like I never got enough of our TSS exploring together and finding simple joys in nature that wherever I go, I dream about the reunion :) haha! hope to be able walk some trails with you Tes and the rest of TSS.

  10. What a priceless trip you had here Beth. I love looking at those trails you guys passed by. This really looks exciting.

    I wish the same thing, that one day TSS family would have a short hike. Short hike only (hahaha) cause most of us doesn't have the training like you guys have.

    What a beautiful place... thank you for sharing and for thinking of us when you saw those pretty flowers !

  11. the glacier looks like the ones we went in New Zealand.

  12. Wow, such an adventure. I am shivering from the cold. I love your pics and your narration. It is all so inspiring.

  13. Thanks for sharing your amazing adventure, I enjoyed seeing the stream, the alpine wildflowers, the marmot, and the incredibly beautiful blue ice!

  14. Simply amazing! Thank you for walking us through, Betchai. I feel like i've hiked with you through this post haha You're a great inspiration. I get to realize i should get my butt up and start exploring like you do, in my own little way.

  15. I don't think i have the energy to climb that high and with all those ice around me. i would have stopped at the bottom of the cliffs where of lot of hikers did. so i salute you guys, especially your youngest member for such an amazing feat! looking forward to more adventures from you :)




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