Harding Icefield Trail

The adventurous Harding Icefield Trail is a spectacular day hike near Seward in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska. The trail climbs up four miles from the valley floor, ending above the tree line at the stunning lookout over the Harding Icefield.

 

The hiking trail is an adventure into the Ice Age, through lush forests and fragile, alpine vegetation, ending with the awe-inspiring, icefield view. Harding Icefield is an enormous sheet of snow and ice, covering 700 square miles and over 30 glaciers. The sight of dark peaks piercing the enormous sea of ice will stay with you for life.

 

It wasn’t until after the 1020s the icefield started getting attention. The first attempt to cross it was made in 1936 by Yule Kilcher, and the first known crossing was in 1940. Two Alaskans, Eugene Smith and Don Rising, crossed from Bear Glacier to Tustumena Lake. Today only experienced glacial hikers may attempt to walk on the glacier, due to extreme danger from the many deep, snow-covered crevasses.

 

Take care not to stray off the path in these areas, as this may cause erosion and damage the vegetation, and volunteers spend quite some time repairing and caring for the trail and its surroundings.

 

Sights along the way

The Harding Icefield at the top is the real treat, with scenic views over same ice that covered much of Alaska 23,000 years ago in the Pleistocene Epoch, although the trail offers more awe-inspiring experiences along the way.

 

The edges of the Exit Glacier are skirted while hiking the trail, and keen ears can listen to the cracking ice. The sight of black bears and mountain goats is an exciting one, though take care to admire from afar. It is also possible to see soaring eagles and fluffy Dall sheep, making the trail rich with animal life.

 

Preparation

From June to early October, it is sufficient to bring good hiking boots, spare clothing and perhaps a walking stick. Keep in mind that it might be cooler at the top by the icefield, so bring an extra jumper to keep warm.

 

The weather may well be wet and foggy, and change fast so wear waterproof clothes even if the sun is shining. Pack some spare clothing, or you´ll get pretty cold if admiring the snow and ice while wet. If you are travelling in September or October it may be quite cold at the top; consider bringing gloves and woolly clothing.

 

Tips before travelling:

Black bears roam the area, and are seen almost every day near the trail, so be sure to take precaution. You don’t want to surprise them; to be safe, to make some noise while hiking. Keep an eye out for cubs; never come between them and their mother, and stay as far away as possible.

 

The trail is challenging, with approximately 1,000 feet of elevation per every mile, and is best suited experienced hikers. It takes at least 6-8 hours to hike to the top, though the striking view and amazing scenery makes the strenuous hike definitely worth it.

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