July 18, 2015 – Exit Glacier, Alaska – Easy day hike to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. Bright blue sky contrasted with lush green vegetation and recently scoured bedrock. Sparkling water and blue/white ice under the bright sun.
On the way into Seward Alaska take a right turn and check out the Exit Glacier. So named because it was the exit for the first recorded crossing of the Harding Ice Field in 1968. This is the most accessible glacier in the area, and a great day hike through a nice forest and over bedrock that was until recently covered by thick, scouring, glacial ice.
A fair sized parking area tends to fill up on nice days. I showed up fairly early and that wasn’t a problem, even on this prime day. Rangers are actively working to keep people parking where they should. A short walk from the parking lot leads to a small ranger station/visitor center and a restroom where you can fill up a water bottle as well. The trail to the glacier leads across the outwash plain through forest and makes a loop. To see the glacier up close requires heading up a little bit. For those who need more of a physical challenge the trail also heads up to the base of the Harding Icefield.
Today I did the trail to the lower viewpoint, about 2.6 miles stopping to take photos and soak in the view was just short of two hours. The elevation gain is about 200 feet, most of that in the last third of the hike in. The trail has two loops, one on the flat and one on the hill so you can take almost the whole walk without seeing the same ground again.
There were in fact a lot of people hiking, but all moving at different paces. Not so crowded that it was line of people moving up the mountain. Plenty of opportunity to pass or be passed and have the opportunity to chat with a few folks or be on your own. There were a couple of really large family groups here. One in particular I counted as they took a group photo was 25 people. I met a few people who were working pretty hard to get up the trail, and I would drop into my encouraging positive mode. After a little encouragement I often would leave them with a bit of advice I give my scouts and live by myself, “The right speed is the pace where you can still talk”. Seems like a good indicator of how stressed your body is. Now of course if you are in good shape that’s going to be faster, maybe a lot faster. As for me, I’ve always been about a two mile per hour guy. Pretty much since I was about 12.
I spent a lot of time looking at the rock textures. I took a few photos and have included a couple below. Very interesting to see rock that has until quite recently been under a moving river of ice. Also interesting to see the ground up rock that has been piled up as the glacier recedes. It is a pleasant trail, with steps where the bedrock is steep. This means that you can pay attention to your surroundings without worrying as much about your footing. That bedrock can be tough when it has a little sand or gravel on it, not to mention when it might be wet. I also took the trail out to the outwash plain and got up close to the river there.
The Exit Glacier is a good place to get a feel for glacier recession first hand. There are signs that mark where the face of the glacier was historically in a given year. A few interpretive signs give an overview as well. In my travels around Alaska I heard a ranger elsewhere mention that all the glaciers in the state being studied are receding, with four prime exceptions. These four are growing longer and deeper year over year.
So, Exit Glacier, a nice little day hike to get you out of the car, right on the road to Seward.