There is really only one hike in Kenai Fjords National Park. It is an 8-mile round trip hike up to Exit Glacier and the Harding Ice Field. We lucked out and had an absolutely gorgeous day. The sun was out and it was bright and clear the entire way.
The hike itself is not very significant. You are hiking up switchbacks through alder. There were salmonberries on the way up and it was one of those hikes that just seemed to keep going up and up and up. When you looked back upon what you had hiked you could see the glacial river that was created by Exit Glacier, but you often couldn’t get a view of the glacier.
After awhile you come out into some meadows and there it is! It is white and blue and all the shades of both of those colors. It is also massive! It was an incredible sight to behold. When you first see if you still have another 1.5 miles of hiking until you get to the top. You are still surrounded by grass and then you move to the scree and rocks.
There is a small hut near the top that is supposed to serve as an emergency safety shelter in case weather rolls in while you are up there. It’s actually quite terrifying without trees, or anything else to protect you if rain or snow, or wind picked up you would be completely exposed. Given the right conditions all of those things would be coming off of a glacier.
Next to the safety shelter I saw mountain goats. You know you are high up when you are hiking among goats, they rarely leave their mountainous realm and I got to hang out with several small groups of them as they munched on the sparse vegetation and walked around.
The glacier and ice field are both incredible large, it is really hard to describe. It is ice that just keeps going and going, for 50 miles. 50 miles of ice! From our vantage point it looked smooth and easy to cross, but we knew that if you got close there were cracks and crevices that could easily swallow a person. We did our usual headstands, had lunch and made our way down.
We did have one pit stop on the way back down, but I think this little video is all you need to get an idea of what that pit stop was.
On the way down, I took a detour out to the foot of the glacier. While the ice field and top of the glacier had been impressive this part was actually quite sad. They had markers that showed where the foot of the glacier had extended in previous years. I walked past the 2005and 2010 markers and was surprised by how much it had receded in 10 short years. You always hear that glaciers are melting, but it is quite another thing to see exactly how much they are losing their size.
When you finally get back to your car you remember that there were signs on the way in. These signs list years and the represent how far the glacier as receded; it’s really quite astounding. It’s no surprise that several weeks later President Obama came to Kenai Fjords National Park, hiked Exit Glacier, met with Bear Grylls and talked about climate change.