Finally, another post about Alaska! I feel like this happened a lifetime ago, and I want to finish writing about the trip before the details slip from my mind forever.
I think Day #4 was one of my favorite days. We didn’t do anything fancy or expensive. Instead we climbed a mountain.
Well, Daniel and I did. While we were out hiking, Daniel’s parents took Trinity to Seavey’s Ididaride Sled Dog Tours. It was the #1 thing she wanted to do while in Alaska, and she had a blast. Seavey’s is owned and operated by two time (and current reigning) Iditarod champion.
Trinity said she had fun. She got to be the ‘backup musher,’ which means she stood on the back of the sled with the guide, and she got to hold a 22 day old puppy!
While she was having the time of her life, Daniel and I headed out to tackle the Harding Icefield Trail. We live in the coastal plains, so we are not used to mountains. I think we bit off a bit more than we could chew, but we still had a great time.
It’s a 8.2 mile (round trip) trail that gains approximately 1000 feet per mile, so about 4200 feet in total. I read that before we decided to do it, and figured we could do it anyway. No big deal, right? Right?
If the crazy climb didn’t scare us away, this sign should have.
It’s scary to think that people actually get attacked in this area on a regular basis. Bears are scary, man!
Ignoring all the warnings, we started up the mountain. The first few miles were easy peasy, and the views were breathtaking.
We also got a better look at Exit Glacier, which we visited on Day #3.
Eventually, though, our nice trail turned into a skinny path through shale and snow. it was pretty intense, and there were moments I felt like we were basically climbing straight up.
I slipped and fell in the snow at one point, and had a panic attack. I seriously thought I was going to fall and slide into the glacier, where I’d be frozen for a million years like some caveman. Oh, anxiety, how I love you.
Daniel’s response to this? “Don’t worry. I’m sure we’ll recover your body.” Gee, thanks.
Did I mention the snow was pink?? Because it totally was. I wasn’t sure why at the time, but Google has since taught me that it is due to a type of algae the thrives in frigid climates. I’m so happy I didn’t know this at the time, but there are apparently glacier worms that live in the pink snow, eating the algae. Ugh. I fell in this stuff, guys. Gross.
Daniel and I joked that it was pink because someone didn’t fight back. That might actually be more terrifying than the glacier worms. Alaska is a scary place!
Eventually, I got it together, though. Daniel told me that we were only a mile away from the end of the trail, which helped me believe we could do it.
That turned out to be the biggest lie in history. An hour later, we were still hiking, and I was starving. We stopped to eat our packed lunch with the most amazing view. Three and a half hours of hiking through snow up a mountain was totally worth it.
AND! We had the cutest little lunch guest. A marmot, which is a variety of groundhog… or a groundhog is a variety of marmot, watched us eat. He was seriously so adorable. We saw at least five others along the way.
We got to a point where we could see the emergency shelter that is near the end of the trail and the icefield, and decided that we’d had enough. Daniel’s knee was hurting, my shoe was broke, and we were both still starving…. apparently intense hiking burns calories. Who would have thought?
I’m a tad mad at myself for not pushing through until the end. If I ever make it back to Alaska, I’m going to tackle this trail. It’s going on my list.
I guess I should get back on point, though. I’m sure some of you are wondering what exactly an icefield is, right? Well, according to thefreedictionary.com it’s a “large area of floating ice covering a mountainous area and consisting of several interconnected glaciers.” It’s basically snow and ice as far as you can see, only broken by the occasional mountain peak. These mountain peaks are called Nunataks. Learning that solved the mystery of the origin of our whale watching boat’s name.
We might not have made it all the way to the end of the trail, but the end was in sight, and I was pretty happy with this last view.
It took us four hours to climb that beast, and only two to go back down. That time might have been faster, but Daniel’s knee was hurting. That slowed our descent a lot, especially where we had to climb down stair like rocks.
Needless to say, we had a pretty low key, relaxing evening of card games and reading.
The Harding Icefield Trail is open year round, but they suggest checking the website for trail conditions first. There were some seasoned hikers climbing this thing like nothing, but for the average active person, it was very difficult. I wouldn’t suggest you try this if you’re not used to hiking. Also, maybe wear a bear bell and take pepper spray or something just in case. We met up with two people who reported seeing black bears only minutes before.
I still tear up thinking about that view, guys. It was awesome, and not in the overused sense of the word.