Today I felt good enough to hike to the edge of Exit Glacier. That’s really the name of the glacier – but it sounds like it ought to be the punch line for a joke or a stage direction in some play.
Exit Glacier is part of the Kenai Fjords National Park, just minutes north of Seward. It is in the northeast corner of the Harding Icefield. The area has three different trails you can take: a half-mile hike (one way) takes you just below the glacier’s terminus (aptly named the Toe Trail); a 1.25 mile hike (one way) over somewhat more difficult terrain brings you to the glacier’s edge; a 3.9 mi (one way) hike brings you to the top of the glacier at the Harding Icefield.
We opted for the 1.25 mile hike. The first part follows the same paved trail as the smaller hike to the toe. After that, the terrain became uneven and rather steep. At about the 1 mile point, I was ready to give up. The steep climbing was making my lungs ache. But I couldn’t give up. I had worked too hard to get to that point. So I rested for a few minutes, then started anew. One foot, then the next, and the next . . . until I was on my way again. I was very proud of myself for that decision. Almost as proud as I was that I hadn’t caved in yesterday and got a big dish of ice cream.
When we reached the top, I couldn’t believe the view of the valley as well as the glacier. I sat on the rock and contemplated the glacier. 10,000 year old ice. Just imagine the history that has occurred while that ice was sitting there, covering huge areas of land. And the land that we were on – just a few short years ago it had been under all that ice. In a sense we were standing on new soil – at least new to the effects of modern life.
Looking at a glacier from the valley or another mountaintop, it appears to be white and clean. But up close, glaciers can be very dirty. They are moving and they grind soil into the ice as they do. So there are streaks of brown in them. There are also areas that glow with an eerie kind of blue ice – areas where there are cracks and holes in the ice. The glacier we saw on our cruise, Holgate Glacier, made a considerable amount of noise. Exit Glacier did not make any significant noise. The only sound besides the wind was the rushing of water flowing from beneath the glacier.
The return hike was a bit easier because, as the saying goes, it was all down hill from there. I felt so exhilarated that I had completed the 2.5 mile round trip and got to experience for myself the beauty of the glacier and the view. All that treadmill walking had definitely paid off.
Driving out of the glacier access area, we were treated to a visit by a young coyote. He was wary but not fearful as he trotted down the road next to the car. The only time he felt the need to move into the undergrowth was when a vehicle came along going a bit too fast. He was a treat.
We drove north a bit to a scenic overlook and were treated to a bald eagle soaring on the thermal currents above us.
We stopped at the market on the way back to our room and picked up some beverages. Tomorrow we check out here in Seward and drive over to Homer for the remainder of our vacation. I’m looking forward to that. As incredible as the view is from this room, I just have a good feeling about staying in Homer. We’ll see how this intuition pans out.