Updated on February 4, 2021
Day 3 of 2020 Alaska Trip, Harding Ice Field
Third day of our Alaska trip. I would be hiking Harding Ice Field Trail, the most popular hiking trail near Seward, that ended with me stepping onto the expansive ice field.
Unfortunately, my friend wasn’t feeling very well after previous day’s boat trip, so I would be doing this hike alone while he rested in the Airbnb room.
The day started with a constant drizzle, not the most ideal condition for hiking. I had been counting on the weather forecast that the rain would abate in the afternoon. On the other hand, the trail wasn’t very demanding, so I chose to hold an umbrella for most of the hike, despite wearing rain-repellent jackets.
At 9:45 in the morning, I left the parking lot and started my hike.
Here’s GPS tracking of the day:
At the fork of trails towards the end of pavement, I opted for a 1.5km roundtrip detour to an overlook of Exit Glacier.
After that, I headed back to the fork of trails, for Harding Ice Field.
At about 2.9km from trailhead (ignoring the Exit Glacier detour), one emerged from the tree line. From now on, only shallow bushes could survive on this mountainous terrain.
That’s where things got exciting as one got the first glimpse of Harding Ice Field along the trail.
Together with views of outwash plains and distant mountains, that’s where one came from.
At the vantage point (“top of cliff”) just after the series of switchback, a group of tents were overlooking the valley of Exit Glacier. Later I learned there were a group of Texans making their annual visit to national parks. This year due to COVID, flights were cheap and they got to come here to Alaska.
That’s also the group scouting out the way beyond emergency shelter, following the footsteps of whom I would come down to Harding Ice Field later.
Luckily, weather had been on my side. Since coming out of tree line, rain had been dwindling down, so I packed my umbrella and had one less thing to worry about while enjoying this scenery.
Finally, at 1pm, 6.5km and 2.5 hours from trailhead (excluding Exit Glacier detour), I was at the emergency shelter, end of trail on the map. That’s where I caught up with the group of aforementioned Texans.
After a field lunch, I followed them down to Harding Ice Field.
After the emergency shelter, there’s a 1.2km downhill to the edge of Harding Ice Field. This was the most technical/difficult section of the trail, with steep declines on loose gravel (below). In addition, wind was strong near the ice field due to temperature gradient. Still, nothing I couldn’t handle.
At 2pm, I followed the group of Texans and made my way onto Harding Ice Field.
Without microspikes, the ice surface was extremely slippery. Quite a lot of us slipped on the ice, me included.
On the plus side, it’s a sensational feeling to be part of such expansive ice field, to experience its breadth, despite low-lying clouds that day limiting visibility.
However, after two slips in a mere 20 minutes on the ice, I decided the ice field was too dangerous for me, and headed back onto solid rocks.
By the time I got back to the emergency shelter, it was 3pm. Not bad that I had a lunch, went to the ice field, snapped lots of photos and came back, in a total of 2 hours.
After that, I traced my footsteps back downhill.
As I was making my way back, the morning continuous drizzle turned into periods of stronger showers, making the trip unpleasant at times. But overall, since the rain could be handled by an umbrella, afternoon’s better as that umbrella wasn’t needed all the time. Probably that’s the reason why I ran into lots of people on my descent, but not many during ascent.
I didn’t know whether that’s correlated with the rain, but I seemed to run into many more bugs in the woods during my descent, which certainly spoiled the experience a bit.
And finally, I was back at the trailhead parking lot at 5:40pm.
Since it’s still early in the day, after leaving Kenai Fjords National Park boundary, I stopped at a roadside turnout with views of distant Exit Glacier, and snapped a few photos there.
And here’s a video of my drone travelling up and down Resurrection River.
Finally, after picking up my friend at Airbnb house, we headed for downtown Seward for dinner. Rain had stopped by then, so we could afford to sit outside while enjoying the breeze.