Facts and Statistics
The Harding Icefield Trail is approximately eight miles, suitable for day hikers. Beginning at the floor of the valley, the trail passes through alder and cotton wood forests. It then cuts across heather filled meadows and then ascends above the tree line, giving you a spectacular view of the ice field.
Finding Your Way
Some people might argue that the stats are not that impressive, however, the scenery is very breathtaking. The road to the Exit Glacier closes during winter, due to snow. However, the park remains open. It is not a hard hike, considering that you will only gain 1000 feet of elevation. However, you will need around six to eight hours of hiking.
The bottom section of this trail follows the molten glacier, and then cuts across spruce, then alders and willows as you approach the glacier itself. The trail is then lined with trees, as the glacier recedes. The higher you go the plants become sparser. Once you hit the ice field, the trees thin out almost completely.
You might encounter some red patches in the snow. Some form of algae lives in the snow. Strange enough, you might glacier ice worms that eat the algae. This area receives more than 400 inches of snow every year. Much of that snow is squeezed through the 20 major glaciers and other minor ones. Most of the glaciers eventually drain to Exit Glacier, due to its positioning.
Hiking up to Harding Ice Field is a distance of around 1 mile. These are mainly level 2 and 3 steep slopes all the way to the Exit Glacier and the same route as you descend. The temperature gets colder than the ice at certain times of the year. Therefore, be prepared to face colder temperatures on your way up.
In order to view the glacier, you can just pullout from among the several pullouts along the way. Each pullout presents a good situation for taking photos. If you want close up photos, then you can drive to the edge of the glacier. You should not that you have to pass through private land to access the glacier. This will cost you around $15.
Harding Ice Field will provide you with the adventure that you have been craving for. It climbs up to 3,500 feet, spread across four miles. This trail gives you the opportunity to capture great views of the glacier. The Harding Ice Field is huge sheet of ice that is found at Kenai Fjords National Park. It is best suited for hikers who are in form and wearing quality hiking boots.
You don’t require any form of special equipment to hike this trail from June to October. As indicated earlier, you will require a good pair of walking stick and a nice pair of hiking boots. The deep blue holes, the creaking ice and the sheer ice walls, will make this experience something unforgettable.
Things To Observe
The view from the top is worth the effort; however, you do not need to go all the way to the top to experience the full wonders of the trail. Even a short hike up the trail will provide you with amazing views of the Exit Glacier’s terminus and the valley floor beneath.
Before you set out to hike on this trail, check out its conditions before hand. The upper section of this trail is normally covered with snow from early July. Therefore, falling avalanche is a danger you should be aware of.
Be prepared for high winds, storms, sudden temperature changes, and intense sunlight. Bring rain gear, warm clothes, sunglasses, sturdy footwear, and sunscreen. You should also carry clean water and water filter. Impure water from the streams may have Giardia. This parasite can lead to severe abdominal problems.
Stay on the trail as much as you can. Alpine vegetation is not very stable. It can get fragile at some point. Some careless hikers have been cutting switchbacks. This coupled with numerous summer rains can lead to tremendous erosion. There is a group of volunteers who work to maintain and restore this trail each year. Respect the work they do.
As you might have known, this is an area frequented by bears. The thick vegetation, combined with the numerous thickets of salmon berries make it a favorite hunting ground for black bears. Black bears are regularly spotted on this trail, almost on a daily basis. Take the necessary precautions. Watch out for mother bears and her cubs. If you see the cubs, the mother is nearby. Avoiding getting in between a mother and her cubs.
Once you arrive at the Visitors Centre, you just need to follow the trail markets on Exit Glacier. These markers will first lead you to a paved trail. You also see some markers indicating where the glacier used to be. Some initial records indicate that the glacier had stretched more than eight miles away. However, it has retreated at a noticeable pace in recent times.
You will find a kiosk towards the end of the paved trail. This kiosk provides hikers with information regarding all the local fauna and flora. The trail then splits into three different directions, the Nature Trail, the Upper Loop, and the Lower Loop. Most hikers normally follow the Upper Loop. This leads them to the edge of Exit Glacier and later heads to the Harding Ice Field.
You can also use the Lower Loop, as it tends to be easy to stroll. However, this will depend on the weather conditions. During the warmer months, this trail will be flooded. As such, you might have to create your own trail. When the weather allows, it provides a very scenic hike. The only problem you might encounter on this section is a short rock climb.
You can be tempted to spend vast amounts of time hiking in this area, especially around the ice fields. However, you will need to get back. The good thing with this trail is that hikers can easily retrace their steps since it is an out and back trail. Hikers are advised to observe the few things highlighted to have a trip that they will enjoy and feel comfortable.