So here it is. I've spent the last 3-4 months obsessing over a trail in Seward Alaska called the Harding Ice Trail and whether I'd be able to do it. It's 8.2 miles (actually longer because you have to walk .3 miles to the trailhead), rated as "Hard" and reviewed by hikers as "one of the hardest but most rewarding trails of their lives". 8.2 miles is long and it's more than twice the distance we've been doing for the other hikes. But I was DETERMINED to get this one done. So here are the pictures!
We began at 8am, knowing that it would take approximately 7-8 hours and I'd probably need more. You begin in a green forrest on pretty nicely marked foot paths, going over bridges, brooks and a waterfall. It's definitely an incline but wasn't as steep as some of our previous hikes. The views begin to open up fairly quickly and you get amazing sights of the Exit glacier, which you are moving towards.
Eventually you get to the first major waypoint called Marmot Meadows 2.5 miles in. Here is Exit glacier from Marmot:
Most people stop at Marmot and call it a day. Not us. We were doing this thing. You keep going and eventually hit more desolate mountain area way above tree line. There's still plenty of snow up here in the middle of the summer which makes for a beautiful view. Sometimes the snow has red coloring. I wasn't sure what this was from. Nathan guessed pollen from the wildflowers that spread from the wind. See below.
Towards the end of this section you hit a little hut, which we took to be an emergency shelter in case anyone got stuck up here in a storm....or maybe saw a bear.
Here's what it looks like when you reach the FULL Harding Ice Field at the end. This is the convergence of 39 GLACIERS. Note that we had a CLOUDY day and this normally stretches far beyond what I'm showing here, but its still pretty spectacular. Some people go out onto the glacier but honestly we didn't have the energy to add time onto this hike.
We ate some PB and J and apples up here before turning around. These are some of the views on the way back!
When we finished and got back to the car, my legs nearly gave way and Nathan asked me earnestly if I was going to have a heart attack. I did not. But we passed out hard when we got home until dinner. Ultimately this trail was difficult, but actually not the hardest hike of my life. You just needed stamina and only a couple of the inclines were very challenging. However, it ranks as either the best or the 2nd best I've ever done...one I did in Norway while visiting relatives was unreal. This hike was SO rewarding the the topography changed dramatically as you went (the sign of a high quality hike!) 10/10 would recommend.
At night we hit up Yukon Bar (below) which was a great rustic looking dive bar before eating our #1 meal of the trip at a place called Cookery.
We're Seward bound! Today we took Route 1 down the coastline to hit up some ICE in the Kenai Peninsula. There was a massive 8.1 earthquake here LAST NIGHT off the coastline but things seem to be back to normal after some middle-of-the-night alarms for the towns down here. The drive was mostly coastline until about an hour in when you suddenly start seeing glaciers everywhere around you. Here's a stop we made on the way- Nathan got a nice little photo op.
About an hour into the drive we took a short detour to do a trail to Byron Glacier. It was rated as "easy" and it definitely was. Portage Glacier is also nearby but that's a 4.2 mile moderate trail and we didn't want to do something moderate before tomorrow which is a HARD 8.2 mile trail. So here we are at Byron Glacier!
After Byron Glacier we got down to Seward, which is a cute little harbor town with a main street filled with restaurants, bars and nicknack stores. I'm writing this during the Olympics and a girl from Seward- Lydia Jacoby- just won a gold medal in Tokyo for swimming. This is huge for this small town so there were signs EVERYWHERE celebrating and congratulating her. Apparently the entire town erupted when she won- would have been a great sight to see.
We picked up some food for the hike tomorrow and went to our cabin (below) which is pretty cute.
Tomorrow we do the hike I've been waiting months for: the Harding Ice Field.
Food: Cheddar, Ham and Chive scones for lunch at the glacier. Alaskan Halibut for dinner.
Odds and Ends: Today at a stop along the highway, we saw a disgusting and large turkey standing on another turkey's back. Seriously it was horrifying. He kept moving his feet around as it he was massaging the other turkey who seemed to be LOVING IT. Totally bizarre. I need to know what was going on here- some mating ritual I'm unaware of?
We're doing 2 days in Anchorage so Nathan can work in the mornings. There's not a whole lot to do in this city and I'm hesitant to hike alone in Alaska (bears, people!) BUT we did do one hike when we got in: Rendezvous Peak Trail (Difficulty: Moderate). We drove up a badly paved road into the mountains for miles to an old ski area and hiked into the valley which featured lots of wildflowers (2nd fav trail feature after glacial lakes), some babbling brooks and a couple foot bridges. Then we turned towards a much steeper incline which was HARD the rest of the way up. Lots of water breaks. The clouds at the top were so thick that you couldn't see the breathtaking views, which was unfortunate. But here are some pictures from he valley.
Food: More reindeer sausage, dim sum, excellent Turkish food featuring carrot yogurt dip. Ice cream flavors we tried: Spruce, Rhubarb, Campfire S'mores and Wild Blueberry.
Odds and Ends: Lupe Fiasco was playing a concert in a STREET ALLEY between two restaurants the other night. So if you're wondering where he's been, he's playing streets in Anchorage.
We also took bikes and went down the coastal pathway which surrounds the city. I looked for moose the whole time but didn't see any. Some images:
Day 3 Highlights:
We drove from Denali back down to Anchorage. On the way we stopped by Igloo City, an abandoned Igloo Hotel built in the 70s that never even opened because they couldn't meet the codes. Now it's just a hilarious eyesore. See below. We also stopped for some Alaskan BIRCH flavored ice cream, which kind of tastes like a mild syrup flavor. It was good. Also purchased some brittle.
Then we hit up Palmer, which was a very rural, beautiful drive to the east of Willow and Wasilla area. Stunning views. Found a cool magic bus in the middle of nowhere (see below)
Then we did the April Bowl Trail (Rating: Moderate) which was amazing but the fog was thick. The mountains surrounding this area are steep, dramatic and green. It felt a bit like Norway at times. People were hang gliding off of them which was fun to watch. This hike had my favorite hiking feature: GLACIAL LAKES. See below. Nathan spotted some acquaintances on the mountain which was unexpected and very fun. We met up with them for drinks later.
Finally, we stopped by an abandoned gold mine that was working until the 30s and 40s. It was built during the gold rush era. Pretty creepy. See below. An overall eventful sabbatical day.
Odds and Ends: Palmer, AK is known to grow some of the largest vegetables in the US due to the sun being out most of the day.
We have reached ALASKA- the final frontier! Highlights:
Day 1: Climbed Mount Baldy Loop (1st picture- you can click on each of them). Difficulty: Moderate. STEEP incline up and then a nice walk along the ridge. Was paranoid of a bear encounter. You're supposed to make noise when you hike and indicate to the bears that you're a human so we spent the latter half of the trail lamely yelling "we are human beings!" into the brush. Overall, good first hike of the trip. Then drove up to Denali. On the way we stopped by the spirit houses (2nd picture). They are funky grave markings- a tradition that fused together Russian Orthodox Missionary customs with local Athabascan Indian customs. Then we stopped in Talkeetna- a funky, small village with some cool shops (Nagley's store below).
Food: Breakfast burrito with reindeer sausage. Best asian food (Laotian) I've had in years in Wasilla (home to Sarah Palin but now also home to my favorite Alaskan restaurant). Brazilian limeaid in Talkeetna- gotta start making this at home.
Odds and Ends: Saw a Confederate flag up here :(
Day 2: Denali bus tour. Saw 3 moose before the tour had to stop and go back due to rain damaging the road. Bummer but you make due. Did Horseshoe Lake Trail in light rain (4th picture). My red jacket is paying dividends here. Difficulty level: Easy. Beautiful lake scenery and a number of dramatic beaver dams.
Food: PB and J while hiking. Dinner: will update later.