Trail Running · Weekend

A Bucket List Hike: Harding Ice Field

Hi everyone!  I’ve been trying to hike a lot this summer, and was happy to cross quite a few off my bucket list over the last few months.  But the #1 trail on my bucket list was still on there, and I was dying to cross it off.  My ultimate bucket list hike was the Harding Ice Field Trail, located down in Seward in Kenai Fjords National Park.  The trail consists of a 3,500 ft climb uphill for 4 miles, and the last mile is on a glacial moraine that is covered in snow for most of the year.  It’s a hard trail, and the combination of the snow and the fact that Seward is a very rainy and foggy town makes this trail a hard one to do.  But the conditions were perfect on Saturday, so I drove down to Seward with my husband and my friend to finally cross this off our bucket lists!

When we started the hike, it was only 45 degrees.  We were all wearing layers, but because the hike is 99% uphill to the top we had to lose the layers quickly!  The first mile or so is completely in the trees and was pretty boring, but at mile 1.5 we finally hit some amazing views of Exit Glacier and the surrounding valley.  At this point it got really hot and sunny and we were ready to rest.

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Seriously though, the views were amazing!

After a lunch/sunbathing break at Marmot Meadow, we headed steadily uphill for a few more hours.  It was so hot and tiring, and there were so many false peaks on the way up.  You thought you were almost at the top, until you got there and realized you had so much more to hike!  The only things keeping me from completing giving up were the amazing views and the bag of Skittles that I had in my pack (Skittles = the best hiking fuel ever!).  The higher we got, the more amazing Exit Glacier looked.  We also saw marmots and mountain goats!

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Exit Glacier
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The little white dots were mountain goats!

After around 3 miles, we hiked into an area that was the old glacial moraine.  There was no vegetation up here, and there were lots of piles of old, packed down snow.  The trail up here was marked with orange flags so that it could be hiked even with total snow coverage, but I can’t imagine how hard that would be if you didn’t have crampons.  It was beautiful in a really strange way.  It looked like we were on another planet!

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The final uphill climb to the emergency shelter

We’d been told by the park rangers and other hikers that when you could see the emergency shelter, you were at the end.  And we could see it from a long distance away – and also could see how much uphill we had to do to reach it.  I was so happy to collapse on the porch of the shelter and look down at how far we’d come.  But we weren’t at the top yet!  We had to walk a little bit further to get to the ice field, but it was worth all of the work!

I’ve seen some amazing views at the top of mountains, but I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life.  The surface of the ice field alternated between snow and the amazing crackly blue look of glaciers, and there were little mountain tops sticking up everywhere.  I could have stayed there forever, but it was cold at the top and we were dying to get to the bottom for hamburgers and milkshakes so we eventually had to drag ourselves away.  The hike back down was much easier, and I even had the opportunity to trail run a good portion of it!

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At the bottom we were overwhelmed by that awesome feeling you get at the end of a really long, hard hike – and with hunger!  So we got burgers at Chinooks, followed by milkshakes at the Harbor Creamery that we ate down at mile 0 of the Seward highway looking out at the bay.  The trail was about 9 miles from the parking lot up to the ice field, and took us 7 hours (including a lunch stop at Marmot Meadows and another long stop at the ice field).  It was one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done, and I’m crazy sore now.  But the best views always take a lot of work to get there, and it was definitely worth it!

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Have you ever seen a glacier or an ice field?  What’s the hardest hike you’ve ever done?  Do you ever use Skittles to fuel on long runs/hikes?

5 thoughts on “A Bucket List Hike: Harding Ice Field

  1. Awesome!! what did you do with your puppy during this hike? I have never seen an ice field but I have seen a big rock field in the Poconos, and that was cool! My hardest hike was probably up to Hawk Mountain. I love that hike, but I need some new ones!

    1. Ridley was back in Anchorage with a friend for the day, which was awesome because you can’t have dogs in national parks. Hawk Mountain is so hard! When I lived in Philly I had a hiking book with the top 50 hikes in the Philly area – it had Berks County in there too! I used that book so often!

  2. Wow this is incredible! Very cool to be able to hike up this high. I went to Alaska for the first time with my family this year and we were able to get in some hiking… but nothing quite this ambitious! Haha. Though we did some glaciers and it was truly spectacular. It reminded me a bit of the Rocky Mountains and Banff and Jasper here in Canada!

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