Harding Icefield Trail, Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward, AK
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.
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 :-)
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 GroupSadly, 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.
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~