2-Week Grand Alaska Road Trip with Kids - Day 11: There Can Never Be Too Many Glaciers!

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Start of our trip:

2-Week Grand Alaska Road Trip with Kids - Intro

Day 1: In Search of Gold

Day 2: Meeting the Reindeer

Day 3: First Hike on a Glacier

Day 4: Our Favorite Day of the Trip

Day 5: The Longest Drive

Day 6: Meeting Santa Claus

Day 7: Denali River Rafting

Day 8: Hiking with a View of Denali

Day 9: I Finally Met the Bears!

Day 10: The Magic of Fjords, Glaciers and Wildlife

 

This morning’s breakfast included slightly fishy-smelling (the fridge!) food that we had left over from the last few days – 2 brownies, some fries, a yogurt, microwaveable breakfast sausage + pancake combo, a few granola bars and a couple cups of coffee from the hotel’s lobby. That didn’t exactly sound like the breakfast of champions, yet as we were checking out of the hotel, we did not want to simply dump all the food in the garbage either. And most importantly, it got us through until our next meal, so goal achieved. 

We started our day with a visit to Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center in Seward. My boys wanted to pick up Junior Ranger Books again to earn their new badges. I think the Junior Ranger Program is a really awesome way to get young kids engaged into environmental issues in a fun and educational way, appropriate for each age level.  

The Kenai Fjords Visitor Center was small but had some really nice and interactive exhibits, so we spent a little time here exploring.

Although the boys wanted to stay longer, it was time to move on as we had some big plans for today. Our goal was to hike part of the 9-mile-long (14.5km) Harding Icefield Trail. It is a strenuous trail with over 3600 feet (1100m) of elevation gain, and the trail gains 1000 feet (300m) for every 1 mile (1.5km) right from the start, so there is no easy way to do it. Although my kids are quite experienced hikers, I did have to take into account that one of them was only 4 years old, so there would be limitations. 

The trail is split into 3 overlooks: Marmot Meadows (which is the first overlook of the Exit Glacier), Top of the Cliffs (which gives a full view of the glacier) and End of Trail (which brings you to the top and base of the Harding Icefield). 

My goal was to make it at least to Marmot Meadows and, depending on the situation, maybe Top of the Cliffs. We loaded our backpacks with water bottles and snacks and headed out. The trail started its ascent right from the beginning. Thankfully, the weather was sunny and dry, so we did not need to worry about slippery conditions. The whole way up to the first lookout the trail was zigzagging its way up through a forested area. Of course, my husband made me carry a bear spray ready to be used at a moment’s notice… This trail is frequented by black bears almost daily. 

And shortly before we reached the Meadow overlook, I spotted my first wild black bear! It was walking across a grassy and bushy area on the other side of the valley. Although this bear was at a safe distance, what made us weary was that we could smell bear presence somewhere right around us… yet we could not pinpoint the exact location.

After close to 2 miles (3.2km) of an uphill hike, we finally emerged from the trees and reached the Marmot Meadows. This was our first view of the Exit Glacier. There was a nice, large granite slab area where we decided to sit down and have a snack break.

Although the trees had grown in over the years partially obstructing the view of the glacier, it was still a rewarding sight.

From here, we could also watch climbers rappelling into the crevasses of ice. 

As I was contemplating whether or not to continue our hike up, I glanced at the next section of the trail, and it was a sheer cliff wall. No wonder the next overlook was called ''Top of the Cliffs''.  From the bottom it looked almost like a vertical wall. I made the decision to not make my kids hike it, yet I did want to do it myself. If I didn’t do it now, I would probably never have the chance again. My husband, however, was adamant he would not let me hike it by myself (bears and all). So, I waited around until I found a couple who were heading up there and joined them on their trek up while my husband and kids stayed at the Meadows overlook. 

This section of the trail was fairly short – a little under a mile yet with continuous zigzags along the side of the mountain. In retrospect, my kids could have done it, yet it would have been slow going. And I was very much so enjoying the faster pace and some adult conversations as my hiking buddies were a very nice married couple – the lady was born in Alaska but married an Australian man where she also lives now. And while chitchatting about this and that, we had reached the Top of the Cliffs! 

The Exit Glacier with Harding Icefield was stretching so far and wide that it was impossible to get it all in a photo. It was a truly stunning scenery, and I was very happy that I chose to complete this section of the trail after all.

Knowing that all my boys were waiting on me down below, we did not linger here for long. A few overlook areas, a few photos, and a little break to catch our breaths and we were ready to head back down. Only now did I notice the beautiful Alpine tundra we had hiked through up here with all the snowcapped mountains in the distance. 

Had I come with no kids, I would have definitely hiked all 9 miles (14.5km) to the end of the trail. Yet given our circumstances, I was very happy with what I had seen. 

Going down was quick and soon enough I bid farewell to my hiking buddies and joined my husband and kids. They, however, had a story of their own to tell. Apparently, 2 hikers had taken a small side-trail near Marmot Meadows overlook (where my husband and sons were sitting) and had come face to face with a black bear. The hikers said they were turning a blind bushy corner of the narrow trail and there was a bear standing – they almost ran into it, a foot away. Thankfully, the event ended with no incident and the 2 involved parties went each their own separate ways. I guess this was the bear we were smelling here yet could not see. Crazy to think it was just feet away, yet nobody heard or noticed. You always must be bear-aware in Alaska!

Once we completed the trail, my FitBit had logged 6.2 miles (10km) with 2300ft (700m) elevation gain. Although not the longest trail, yet one with most elevation I had done recently. 

Despite being quite tired and also hungry, I somehow still talked my family into going on the 2-mile-long (3.2km) Glacier Overlook Trail. Relatively easy with about 300 feet (90m) of elevation gain, the overlook of this trail showed Exit Glacier from the face of it. We had just seen this glacier from up top, so it was interesting to compare the different angles of view. 

Naturally, this trail was much more crowded and touristy than the Harding Icefield trail we had just completed. Also, over the last 100 years the glacier had retreated by many, many miles so the current overlook area of this trail did not actually bring you to the face of the glacier (which it did just 20 years ago)!

The information placard here showed the speed of Exit Glacier retreat over the years. And it was so sad to see and visualize that where we were standing right now, just 50 years ago would have been covered under thick glacier ice. At this rate, if nothing changes, future generations will be robbed of an opportunity to ever even see and touch a true, ''living'' glacier as they will all have melted.  

By now it was approaching almost 4PM and I think everyone had deserved overdue lunch for their efforts and accomplishments, myself included. We returned to Seward and sat down for a meal one last time before leaving this area. We also took one last walk along Seward boat harbor as a last farewell to all the amazing times we had here over the last 3 days.

The boys had filled out their Junior Ranger Books, so we walked over to Kenai Fjords Visitor Center for them to be sworn in as Kenai Fjords Junior Rangers and to receive their new badges.

From here, all we had left was a 2.5-hour drive back to Anchorage. As we had already become accustomed here in Alaska, the scenery outside the car windows was as stunning as always and we could enjoy amazing views all the way to Anchorage. We did not make any more major stops along the way and reached Anchorage just in time for hot evening baths and warm beds. 

 

 

Continue reading:

Alaska - Day 12: Mountains, Gold and Elves

Alaska - Day 13: The Moose are Everywhere

 

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