Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Climbing Into the Ice Age

The big blue blob (center bottom, first one on the left) is me, 20 feet away from the edge of Exit Glacier.

How exciting.

We're here. At Exit Glacier. The only glacier in the whole Kenai Fjords National Park you can walk to. 

A little geography lesson: Alaska has a bunch of mountain ranges and the one called the Kenai Mountains wears a beret, of sorts, of ice, thousands of feet deep.  It's called the Harding Icefield and it spreads over the mountaintops for 700 miles. Thirty glaciers spill out of this icefield.

The Harding Icefield and its glaciers  are the reason the Kenai Fjords National Park exists.  To see most of these glaciers, unathletic  people like us travel by tour boat up and down the fjords (which we did) or take a plane (which we didn't) to do a fly-over. 

One of those glaciers, Exit Glacier, is the only one you can walk to. In fact, it's called Exit Glacier because the first documented time anyone walked across the Harding Icefield (in 1968), they exited through Exit Glacier.

Today we plan to hike up to the edge of this glacier (not across it), a distance of just a little more than a mile. No problem.

We drive to the beginning of the trail (the parking lot is packed!). And redress ourselves for warmth.  Exit Glacier's  all ice. So, of course, we'll get cold in her company. We wear scarves, sweatshirts, jackets. 

And off we go.

The first part of the trail (the part we see from the visitor's center, so it's the part that convinces us  to do the hike) is wide and paved, straight and nearly flat. Young and old, thin and fat trundle along.

Piece of cake. 

About 20 minutes into the walk, the crowd thins and the pavement ends. The trail turns into dirt and heads up to the right, into the trees and it gets narrower.

Piece of cake.

We hike on. Up. And up. There's no longer a crowd.  And our piece of cake gets crusty.

Our steps get steeper, rockier and slippery as solid ground gives way to loose glacier gravel. So as we ascend, the trail beneath our feet descends, just a little.  And, I notice the people heading my way, the ones climbing/sliding down, the ones who "HAVE BEEN THERE," mostly stare straight ahead, their cheeks reddened, their hair matted ... with what? Sweat?

We continue up, up, and it's so steep, the trail turns into multiple switchbacks littered with boulders and fallen trees embedded into the silt. Those trees become welcomed footholds as we climb this galcial stairway.

Look! There she is. Exit Glacier. We made it! She's big and cracked and cerulean blue in spots. And monstrous.

Allen and I the edge of Exit Glacier
I catch my breath,  then rush down (yes, it's downhill!) the final few hundred yards of path that are new (because the glacier is melting, receding) and narrow. I get to the very edge, but I'm still 20 feet away from my goal. I see a sign. Oh, pooh.  It says we can no longer touch the glacier. It's too dangerous. We could slip and fall underneath her giant foot, which would crush us after it froze us. 

So I stand 20 feet away from this monstrous piece of ice, and enjoy the coolness of her breezes because I now understand the sweat I saw on others. I've shed my scarf; my cheeks are warm and red. I'm tired. But happy.  Because I made it.

I'm not bragging. But I made it. I climbed up for 1.2 miles on a "moderately strenuous" hike. Then climbed/slid back down. 

Just explaining. I made it. 


LeLaLayla said...

I am so jealous!

Anonymous said...

Keeping up with you guys. Want more. Love Betty White