Alaska: Kenai Fjords National Park

We spent the best part of the day at ABC Motorhomes trying to get our RV exchanged.   The furnace wasn’t igniting properly and in fact the propane was leaking, so they exchanged the unit for a similar one.  It was also 21 feet but didn’t have a pop-out (meaning the dining area didn’t extend) so it felt smaller and we were all a bit disappointed but it was good enough for what we needed.  We headed south this time to Seward on the coast.  We started our journey late and there was a mild storm blowing so although the highway runs all along the coastline and has beautiful scenery we didn’t stop to take any pictures.

So many people RV Alaska that overnighting on any public land, as long as you don’t impede traffic, is allowed.  We felt odd about it at first but we were getting very tired and the storm was not relenting so we pulled out where we thought we’d be safe and made camp.  This is the view we enjoyed the following morning.

After breakfast, we quickly drove on to Seward where we got on the Kenai Fjords Boat Tour for which we had made reservations beforehand.

The boat follows the coast line sheltered by Resurrection Bay from the worst of the open sea.  It is named Resurrection Bay because the first Russian explorers to happen upon these lands did so in the midst of a terrible storm.  They took shelter in the fjords and when they awoke the next morning they found the brightest and clearest of days, on Easter Sunday.  We had chosen the 7 ½ hour tour since that takes you out all the way to two tidewater glaciers.  Tidewater glaciers are the ones which jut out into the ocean and from which huge chunks of ice fall off every now and again.  The first half of the ride was very smooth and we saw lots of wildlife, such as Sea Otters, which we learned have such a high metabolic rate that their temperature runs 104F even in the icy water and lose up to 25% of their body weight daily which means they have to feed constantly.

We also saw tons of Steller Sea Lions resting on the rocks,

Bald Eagles perched on trees

and Horned Puffins awkwardly flying around but then diving flawlessly into the ocean for fish.  We saw some Black-Legged Kittiwake (gulls), Mountain Goats on shore and Dall’s Porpoises playing around.  The highlight though were the four sleepy Humpback Whales swimming alongside us.

As soon as we left the bay and rounded the coast to approach the glaciers, the ocean hit us with all its fury.  It was raining and the water was very rough.  The crew estimated that about half the passengers were feeling sick and half of those were already tossing their cookies.  The captain (a very young girl and incredibly good guide) did her best to get us to the glaciers but the sea was not cooperating that day and regretfully she had to make the decision to turn around and not place us in harm’s way.   Alejandro and I weren’t feeling so good by then so we weren’t too distraught about it.  Once we got into the bay again, the water calmed down and we were able to recover.  We stopped at Fox Island for an all-you-can-eat-meal of Prime Rib and Salmon and the boys used this downtime to skip rocks in what, according to our crew, was the best rock-skipping island in the entire world.

While in Denali it seemed like most of the visitors were young adults and maybe not-so-young-but-in-great-physical-condition adults, most of them carrying the latest and most expensive photographic equipment; on our KF Boat tour you could tell most of the people were retired couples who had arrived by big cruise line.  A giveaway? The bland nature of our meal: the salmon was kind of dry and the prime rib needed so much salt it wasn’t funny, but a hot meal eaten by the fireplace while a park ranger explains the formation of the fjords is not to be passed on and I would thoroughly recommend this tour.

Once back on the boat, the captain apologized for having to cut the tour short due to sea conditions and announced that everyone would receive a partial refund of the fare paid to account for that.  We were all pleasantly surprised by this, one more reason I recommend this tour with no reservations.

After arriving back on land, we walked around downtown Seward for a bit where Ale found out he has a place.

Seward is a very small town but has a lot of charm.  Its downtown is mainly taken up with souvenir shops and small restaurants.  We found that many of the shopkeepers were from Eastern Europe and souvenirs have a Russian theme to them.  Oceanfront property in Seward is reserved for recreational use, meaning no private houses or shops can be built there and instead parks, walkways, and camping areas line the coast.  Looking at the town from the ocean side, it doesn’t make for the most appealing facade but on the other hand, it gives everyone the chance to enjoy the greatest view on the planet looking out.

When we got back to our RV, we found this Bald Eagle family living in the tree we had parked under.

The next morning, we headed to Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield.

The Harding Icefield is one of the four largest icefields in the USA and Exit Glacier is just one of the glaciers which flows from the icefield.  Exit Glacier might be one of the most visited glaciers due to its accessibility.  From the Visitor station, it is only a 0.7 mile easy hike.

Along the trail, markers have been placed indicating where the glacier used to be located.  It is one thing to read on the news about climate change and its effect on glaciers and quite another to see it for yourself.

There is another trail which leads up to the top of the Harding Icefield.

It is a strenuous 8.2 mile hike, round-trip. Saying it is strenuous is a terrible understatement, it is a killer.  No one but those in the best physical condition and with adequate gear should attempt this hike.  Live and learn…

The hike begins easily enough and meanders thru the forest but pretty soon it starts climbing and when I say climbing, I mean you must climb over boulder after boulder to get to…the next boulder.  It is a beautiful hike though and anyone who comes here should at least do an hour on the trail because the scenery is simply amazing.  We had to jump over streams and fashion ourselves walking sticks from fallen limbs to be able to round the many waterfalls that are part of this hike.

About halfway into the hike there is a meadow full of the most dainty flowers.  Although there is no sign, a park ranger we encountered on the way, told us it is called Marmot Meadow.  After leaving the meadow we happened upon fresh bear poo right on the trail.  I was a bit wary of encountering a bear after I had read this sign at the visitor center.

Sure enough, after the next bend we did encounter a bear, it was a cub and although he seemed to be the cutest thing, I was scared when I couldn’t locate the mother anywhere and hurried my guys up the trail.

The boys took off as they like to do and Fernando nicely slowed down his pace to match mine.  About three hours into the hike, ice began covering the trail in patches and it was necessary to change into boots.  Before then I was thinking that I had brought my boots along for nothing and that a good pair of sneakers would do but once the ice and snow got ticker, even Alejandro clambered back down and asked for his snow boots.

Once we had changed, the boys quickly left us behind again.  The trail became ever more treacherous and the boys quickly put more than an hour distance between us.  At one point they became dots on the horizon to me.

On the ice we ran into the marmots which we hadn’t seen in the meadow.  They weren’t bothered by our presence one bit and kept calling to each other back and forth in high squeaky voices.

We had been climbing for five hours and I was beginning to feel I couldn’t go on much further.  According to the visitor center, the entire round-trip hike should take between 6 and 8 hours.  We had stopped for about 30 minutes to have lunch but I was still very conscious that it was getting late, I was terribly tired and the end was nowhere in sight.  We couldn’t see the boys anymore and over-protective mother my boys claim me to be, I was getting anxious.  I convinced Fernando to leave me behind and catch up to them.  I promised I would keep going slowly until I met them.  He left but although he put all his effort into it he couldn’t catch up with the boys until the very end where he found them sitting on the edge, dangling their feet over the abyss, happily sharing cookies and enjoying the view.

I kept climbing but the landscape was so desolate and the silence so deep I felt afraid and lonely.  The trail is marked with small orange flags along the way but given the weather conditions you can imagine that many of these flags are missing and although you can follow other people’s footsteps, there are places where two or more trails seem to lead depending on where people chose to walk.  I was very much afraid of getting lost.  I stopped to think what my best course of action would be and after about 20 minutes, I finally began seeing people on their way down.  I was so happy to not be all alone anymore.  Even more so when those people began giving me encouraging words, saying they had seen my kids at the top and they were well and I should continue because the view was amazing.  I slowly made my way up again and began noticing how everybody that I encountered on their way down would stop to talk to me, I finally figured out that Fernando on his way up was telling people that when they ran into a woman with a red jacket to encourage her on her way.  It really gave me the push I needed to keep going.

The view from the top is amazing.  You can barely see the tops of the Kenai Mountains jutting out from under the ice and snow.

Stormy looking clouds were rolling in and we were the last people on the mountain so we started making our way down.  If I had been scared on the way up, I was terrified on the way down.  It had gotten warmer and then colder and some of that snow had melted and refrozen into slushy ice.  Going down was very slippery and the mountain looked so steep I was afraid I was going to roll down the glacier and fall to my death.  Looking around, barely being able to see some orange in all that sea of white without end threw me into tears of panic.  Fernando went ahead of me trying to break my many falls but he was slipping himself and we went yards just sliding along unable to stop ourselves.  We had once again lost sight of the boys who, as mountain goats that they are, were having a grand old time “skiing” down the mountain, jumping off ledges into the snow and basically doing everything their mother would have told them not to do had she been able to see them.  As terrified as I was for myself, I was even more afraid for them because I could figure out that they were not staying on the trail and I worried that they would step into a snow-hidden crevasse and fall into the ice.

All the way down I kept thinking to myself: why? Why did we never take relaxing vacations where we just lounged by the pool and worked on our tans?  Why did we have to climb a snow-laden mountain?  Had my kids been girls and not boys, would I then be able to go to the ballet instead of trying crazy stunts? Why did I agree to this?  I was finally able to relax several hours later when the ice gave way to rocks and we entered the forest.  From then on down it was just a matter of busting my knees clambering down boulders but I wasn’t afraid for our lives anymore.  Had we run into a bear at that point I would have probably just said: “Don’t even start with me”.  I was that spent.

All the whys were still fluttering around in my head when we got to the parking lot and with shaky legs I looked up at the top of the Harding Icefield at 6,400 ft and I thought: AMAZING!  I walked all the way up to the summit, unbelievable.  Why indeed.

Categories: North America, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Alaska: Kenai Fjords National Park

  1. The Fayet-Faber Family

    Quick question: when you were in Seward, did you see folks on sailing boats there?


  2. The Fayet-Faber Family

    Lorena, you are an extra ordinary Mum, letting your boys enjoy, go with them on crazy tracks and so courageous !!!! You will to share you scare of crevasses with Florence, who could tell you how it looks like from inside a Crevasse, since she has true living experience of it !

    Wonderfull trip you are all going through.

    Read you more soon …


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