Kenai Fjords National Park

We’ve spent the last few days down in Seward, as wait you guessed it right – there’s another national park. Kenai Fjords National Park is in the south-ish part of Alaska and has a more temperate climate. That said it still rains a lot here. Luckily Alaska is having a nice warm stretch right now so it’s blue skies all round. Excellent as we did a day boat cruise which usually is more choppy. With the fine weather the gulf of Alaska looked and felt more like a lake.

Seward is another small Alaskan town, named after William H, Seward a former US Secretary of State who was instrumental in the purchase of Alaska from the Russians. It’s also the other Anchorage area port for cruise ships as it’s only about 2 hours to Anchorage. As the the national park is the fjord, the major tourist activity is getting out on a boat into Resurrection Bay and the other bay/inlets that make up the area. Many of the glaciers that are see in the fjord are glaciers coming off the Harding Icefield. The Harding Icefield is remnants of the Little Ice Age. The area is also excellent for wildlife spotting.

On our driving day here, we arrived late morning, so we headed of to Exit Glacier. Exit Glacier is actually part of Kenai Fjords NP. It too is a glacier from the Harding Icefield. It’s the only part of this national park that you can access by vehicle – everything else is by boat. Exit Glacier is a retreating glacier and as you drive in they have markers of where the glacier reached to at particular points in time. As you walk around the trails in the area it becomes more apparent as the trails were clearly built back when the glacier extended further. There’s not many trails in this area and it is easily accessible for most people. There is one longish trail though – the Harding Icefield Trail. 8.3 miles return, that takes you to the top where you can look out over the icefield. There was a sign at the visitor centre saying there was an avalanche danger pass a certain point, but we’ll see what the conditions are like on the day we attempt it.

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Exit Glacier
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Exit Glacier outwash area. Me trying to do one of those jump poses and looking rather awkward.

First full day we did a day boat trip out into the Northwestern Fjord. After being on a cruise for 1 week I was slightly hesitant about spending 9 hours on a boat. Not because the cruise was bad, but because I wasn’t sure what I’d see that I hadn’t seen on the cruise. Well it turns out we saw a lot of animals. Humpback whales – one with a calf, many Dall’s porpoise, harbour seals, a sea lion rookery, puffins, nesting gulls, sea otters (one with a baby), coastal goat with baby. As well as various birds who’s names I vaguely remember – murre’s, some rhinoceros bird (you can tell I’m not exactly a birdwatcher). We also saw more glaciers and probably the biggest glacier calving I’ve seen. The wave created spread out ice and soon there were many seals resting on the ice.

Prepare yourself for a pics onslaught of the boat trip (in no particular order):

Humpback whale
Humpback whale
Dall's Porpoise
Dall’s porpoise
kf-seal-rock
Seals
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More seals (I think?, if not they’re sea lions)
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Sea lion rookery
Sea otter. These guys look super cute, look at this paws and face!
Sea otter. These guys look super cute, look at this paws and face!
Puffin taking off
Puffin taking off
Seals on ice
Seals on ice
Nesting gulls
Nesting gulls
kf-goat
There is a coastal mountain goat in this pic – look about a third of the way up, a third from the right. Looks like a white blob.
View in the fjord
View in the fjord
Waterfall the boat got close to
Waterfall the boat got close to
Glacier in the Northwestern Fjord calving
Glacier in the Northwestern Fjord calving
Glacier upclose

The next day (today) we went and hiked the Harding Icefield Trail. A 8.2 mile return hike that takes you up high where you end up looking out on the icefield such that it almost looks endless. The hike up pretty much is uphill al the way, about 1000 feet climb per 1 mile. As mentioned before it was posted for avalanche danger 2 days ago, but as of yesterday it no longer has been. That said there was still a fair amount of snow, with the last 1.6 miles to end of trail pretty much being a snowfield. We actually turned around at one point as we thought there was still a lot to go and M was pushing his comfort levels re: snow hiking. It was somewhat slippery and you occasionally did post hole which wasn’t fun.

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Top of the Cliffs view of the Harding Icefield
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Harding Icefield, feeding the Exit Glacier

But on our way back down we noticed a pair coming back so we asked them if they made it to the end, and yes they had. Next question was how far was it. You’ve made it past the hard part, and are about 2/3 of the way to the end they said. Well knowing we were that close we did an about turn and kept on hiking. Luckily we hadn’t made it down the steepest snow section yet, otherwise it would have been no returns. So we pushed back up the hill we had just come down and went up the next rise. Hey, what’s out there it’s the emergency hut in the distance. We were really almost there.

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There was quite a bit of snow around!

More trudging across snow and up one final hill, we were at the shelter. The Harding Icefield Sheleter isn’t for overnight stays, but rather for emergency shelter. We weren’t going to need that today. Continuing pass that took us out to the end of trail area where you can look out upon the icefield. It’s pretty impressive. From where you are the icefield is endless. And having seen the many glaciers it feeds makes it ever more so impressive.

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Harding Icefield emergency shelter
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Made it. Looking out upon the icefield created in the last ice age!

After a break and some snacks it was time to turn back around and re-make our way through the snow. I may have fallen over a few times but the snow was soft enough. All in all, the hike itself was somewhat strenuous as the lower half of the climb had very hot weather with no breeze. We had to check our water along the way to make sure we had enough to get back. The later half was a lot cooler due to the snow and the breeze of the ice field. At least on the way down there was a slight breeze, but it was still warm nonetheless.