Alaska! (Part 2: Exit Glacier and the Harding Ice Field)

My last post ended as I woke up in Seward. There wasn’t a whole lot to see on the train at that point, so I drearily got my stuff together and we pulled into the station. From the station, it was a 5 minute walk to the Fish House, a local True Value/fishing charter station. We had a few last minute items to pick up, like the fuel for our MSR PocketRocket stove. For anyone asking, the Fish House does have MSR fuel!

I handed the guys the bag of goods I bought, and used Spencer’s phone to call a taxi. The guy on the other line said that since there wasn’t any cell reception on the mountain, I’d have to pick a time to be picked up by the glacier. “How about three? That’ll give you about three-and-a-half hours to explore,” he suggested.

“Actually, uh, we’re going to camp up there. We’ll need a pickup time for tomorrow.” I told him.

“Wait, really? You’re not kidding me right now?”

At that point I started to worry (not realizing that this was his first summer in Seward as well), and figured that I’d better give us extra time in case the climb really was more difficult than I thought. To give you a frame of reference, the slope of the trail was near 26 degrees. You gain 1000ft of elevation per mile. I had foolishly thought that we’d have a moderately difficult hike, and then spring back down the trail in an hour or two. It takes most day hikers six hours round trip if you aren’t carrying anything. Make note of that. It’ll be important later on.

Anyways, I assured the guy that we were indeed set on camping up near the Harding Icefield and that this wasn’t a joke. He picked us up outside the Fish House at about noon, and brought us up to the Exit Glacier Nature Center. We agreed that he’d pick us up at 5pm the next day.

Almost from the moment we left the taxi we hit the trail. Down among the trees, the mosquitos were thick. They swarmed Spencer, especially, as he was dressed in mostly black. It got so bad, that Spencer and I donned our mosquito netting. TJ carried on like nothing was amiss…just another day with mosquitos trying to enter any open orifice! We trudged on and on over rocks and roots, swatting bugs and guzzling water. We could see the glacier, and thankfully this hike was a mere 4 miles.

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The climb was killer, but what a great view!

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These rocks were so hard on the knees.

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Trudging on up towards the glacier!

Figuring we were close, we asked a man who was coming down how far we had to go. He looked at us and our heavy packs, laughed, and said “You’re only about a quarter of the way.” I was crestfallen. Surely he was mistaken, just like the man who told us, “No more bugs after this next turn!” Maybe he meant only a quarter of the way left!

Sadly, he was correct. We walked on and on and on. Slowly, we left the protection of the trees. The winds blew, but they also blew away the mosquitos and left us able to shed some layers. We were passed by tour groups, elderly folk, children, and the occasional park ranger. Spencer stopped looking at his watch. Every corner we came to we thought, “This must be it! Just around the bend! It can’t be long now!”

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Looking back towards where we came from

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Spencer takes a rest. The trail was a lot easier along these points.

Finally, we came to what are called the Marmot Meadows. It has a beautiful view of Exit Glacier, and is frequented by marmots, dall sheep, and the occasional family of bears. The trail becomes slightly less rocky, and winds its way up into the snow.

Marmot Meadows

Marmot Meadows

Crossing the snow was the easiest part. You could almost slide/ski your way along. TJ fell once, out of the blue, just right into the hard packed snow. We laughed and attributed it to sheer exhaustion. Finally, we were able to see the emergency cabin that signal the end of the trail.

TJ skiing along behind.

TJ skiing along behind.

Spencer following the pre-flagged trails.

Spencer following the pre-flagged trails.

TJ standing next to a crevasse...this is why the park service flags where the trail is! Don't want to fall down one of those!

TJ standing next to a crevasse…this is why the park service flags where the trail is! Don’t want to fall down one of those!

Once we got to the cabin, we collapsed on the front porch. We strongly contemplated attempting to sleep in there that night, even though the cabin is supposed to be used for winter emergencies only. We were so tired, and all we wanted to do was set up camp and eat. The thought of climbing a moment more to find a tent site was more than we could bear. Our hike up took nearly 6 hours, and our legs were begging for mercy.

The emergency shelter. There's nothing inside it, but it would work in a pinch!

The emergency shelter. There’s nothing inside it, but it would work in a pinch!

I decided to start dinner (mac and cheese with veggies!), while Spencer walked to scout out potential sites. By the time dinner was done, he was back at the cabin with a site in mind, and we had our fill of food. We packed our gear back up and hiked to a small bowl in a shale-y area.

Our tent, with Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield in the background.

Our tent, with Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield in the background.

I set up the inside of the tent while Spencer and TJ boiled water for dessert. Around this time, the wind and rain picked up. Thankfully, it was nice and warm in the tent, and the bowl we were in kept us protected from most of the wind. We were able to sleep about 10 hours while the storm raged outside.

One thought on “Alaska! (Part 2: Exit Glacier and the Harding Ice Field)

  1. Pingback: Liebster Award! | To Stand Alone

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