October 1, 2011

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On our 9th day we slept in after many early morning flights and boat trips.  We decided to hike along Exit Glacier to the Harding Icefield in Kenai Fjords National Park.  The hike begins at the valley floor and climbs 3,500 feet along side the glacier for about 4 miles.  It’s not every day you get to see a glacier and it certainly isn’t every day that you can hike the length of one all the way to the ice field that is feeding it.

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For the first mile the trail was very lush and green, almost like hiking through a jungle.  Then we started to emerge out of the dense trees and were greeted by a steep slope of colorful flowers.

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The open meadows and about 1,500 feet of gain gave way to some incredible views overlooking the mountains and the valley below where we started.

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As we started up a steep incline with lush grasses on each side of the trail I spotted a marmot sticking his head up out of the tall grass.

I tried to get as close as possible…

He calmly ate grass while I was able to get a few photos.  After we left you could hear their high pitch whistling signal as noisy hikers approached.

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The vegetation began to disappear and the landscape became a rocky moon-like surface.  We could look across the glacier and see the icefield and knew we were getting close.

At the top is a emergency shelter which is a small one room log cabin.  This photo was taken at the shelter and you can see the valley down below and the snow patches we had to hike through.  It was pretty surreal but an amazing accomplishment when you look down at the valley 3,500 feet below.

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The Harding Icefield is 300 square miles and receives over 400 inches of snow a year!  It is one of only only four Icefields in the United States.

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It is also the largest Icefield that is entirely located in the US feeding 40 different glaciers.

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We also saw 10 or 15 mountain goats on the mountain side enjoying the view.  There are a couple photos in the gallery at the end of the post.  The sun started to get “lower” in the sky and less people were coming up so we decided it was time to head back down.  As we left the moonscape and headed to the meadows we could see hikers ahead of us stopped and pointing.  When we caught up to them we could see a black bear grazing in the meadow.

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We took to some high ground above the bear and waited for him to pass.

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After 15 minutes the bear had passed and we headed back down the trail.  Within 10 minutes we looked up and saw the bear on the ridge 100 feet above us, we shouted at him making our presence known and he glanced at us and then walked over the ridge.

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We made it back finishing the 7.5 mile hike and 3,500 feet of elevation gain before the sun fully set.  This hike reaffirmed that we were made for each other.. who hikes 7.5 miles up a mountain on their honeymoon and has a smile at the end?!

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