June 2, 2018
We woke up this morning and decided it was time for a real hike. Well equipped with a couple of cans of bear spray, we drove 20 minutes into the Kenai Fjords National Park Seward entrance. The great part about Alaska unlike the lower 48 was that we didn’t need a National Parks entrance pass. Whilst the cost is $80, it is the best money you will ever spend (at least in my experience of having lived in the USA). In any event, we didn’t have to spend money to enter any of the gorgeous parks in Alaska.
The trail we decided to do was the Harding Icefields Trail. Now being the ‘tour leader’, I had done my research about the best hikes in the regions we were visiting and this one was right up there. We got to the visitor center and the Park Ranger informed us that the complete trail wasn’t open as it was early season and avalanche hazard risks were very high – a real shame as the top is where you are supposed to have these mind blowing views. So whilst we couldn’t get to the “End of the Trail”, we could get to the “Top of the Cliffs” or at least to “Marmot Meadows”.
Anyhow, we set off since we needed to get some exercise on this trip. The trail wound its way through forest and then after about 1500 feet of elevation gain you get some wonderful views. At a certain point, (at least early season) there is snow and you are hiking through lots of it to get to the higher reaches, following orange flag markers.
There weren’t too many people venturing above the start of the snow line, but us being us, we had to. No spikes, crampons or anything like that. There are some pretty steep climbs in the snow which we had to come back down on our butts. After about a 30 minutes’ ascent from Marmot Meadows, the orange markers get scarce and even hard to find. The four of us were by ourselves and the trail seemed to be getting really really sketchy – if you could even call it a trail. We bumped into two other girls hiking the trail who said they got lost and were going back down and would try it again if we would. The four of us decided we would give it another shot, but it looked very dangerous and we eventually came back down.
We ate a snack bar lunch at the glacier lookout and then started to make our way back towards the trailhead. About 10 minutes en route, this voice was in my head telling me I simply could not turn around. The images of falling sick with AMS on our previous years’ Everest Base Camp trek kept going through my mind and pushed me to not give up. So I spoke with my wife and told her what was going on in my head and she was happy to join me. I told my brother and cousin that we would meet at them at the RV as I simply had to complete this trail to the maximum extent permissible.
So the two of us headed back up through the snow. This time we had the company of two 6 foot well built guys travelers from Seattle and their dog, so we felt a little more confident. When we reached the point which scared us a shitless earlier, we decided that since the trail was kind of non-existent, the only way was upwards.
Scrambling over loose rock, snow and literally holding on to some tree branches (for our lives) we rejoined the trail after about 50 metres ascent. It felt really great. Eventually after ascending through a few snowfields we reach the “Top of the Trail” which was a great reward with wonderful views.
We hung out there to just take it all in and made our way back down. We used our legs as normal hikers do but also our padded behinds, which was like a toboggan without the toboggan. This was all at the risk of getting ice, slush and snow in my underwear (definitely worth the experience).
We joined up with our compadres after an additional 1 ½ hours of hiking. We both felt great that we achieved our objective that we had set out in the beginning. We drove back to the RV park to rest out our tired legs and settled in with some Peruvian quinoa for the evening.