Alaska Day 5 - Kenai Fjords National Park, Exit Glacier, bear encounter

Kenai Fjords National Park - Exit Glacier - AK Travel Blog

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Approaching Exit Glacier

A glacier is basically an overstock of snow and ice slowly making its way to lower grounds. Glaciers come into existence in places that have more accumulation of snow in winter than loss of ice by thaw in summertime. The excess of snow is stacked up, layer by layer. The pressure of the newer snow on the lower layers increases in such a way that the snow is compacted into a very specific type of ice that gets plastic. Because of that, and the fact that glaciers are usually formed on the top of mountain ranges, the ice mass starts "flowing" downhill at a very low velocity, like a slow-motion river. Because of this movement the upper layer is subject to huge straining forces which make it often tear or break, forming huge and often deep crevasses.

Upper part of Exit Glacier
When new snow falls the crevasses get covered by a thin layer of ice, which makes it very dangerous to walk on glaciers. Glaciers often transport a lot of debris, caused by the pushing and grinding ice. When the ice melts at the terminus of the glacier the debris is deposited forming a so called moraine

Kenai Fjords National Park contains the largest ice field that is located entirely within the US borders, Harding Icefield. With a surface of 2,849 km² (1,100 square miles) it is as big as the Dutch province of Zuid-Holland. It receives 10 meters (400 inch) of snow annually. Two of the glaciers that are fed by Harding Icefield are the Holgate Glacier (see yesterday's blog) and Exit Glacier.

Harding Icefield
Named as such, because it was the exit point of a 1968 expedition crossing the icefield.

Exit Glacier is ironically the entry point for many visitors. The National Park Service has constructed a road to its terminus. Several trails lead, next to the glacier, uphill to stunning views on the glacier and Harding Icefield. And that was our today's aim. A very heavy hike of 18 km (11 miles) and a height difference of 950 meters (3117 ft). The hike started at the very feet of Exit Glacier and was heavily winding its way op on the mountain next to it, offering amazing views. Every time we thought we reached the highest point, the trail took us farther, steeper, and higher. In the areas with bushes we did a lot of clapping. The Park Service, had instructed us to make a lot of noise because bears are everywhere in Alaska. More uphill we heard other hikers yell like their lives depended on it.

The black bear next to our trail (Photo: Stephan van Gessel)

At the highest point of the hike (1050 meters, 3445 ft) we could look out over the majestic Harding Icefield that stretched deep below us slowly rising to the horizon. A few summits of mountains pinched though the ice deck.

The way down was much more pleasant than the way up. Until, mid-way, in a part with a lot of raspberry bushes we suddenly saw movement next to the trail. A little black bear (Ursus Americanus) sat next to the path enjoying the abundance of the fruits. We made a lot of noise, clapped our hands and yelled but the black creature was not impressed and kept eating. We backed up a bit more, but by doing that we could not see where the bear went. When we carefully re-advanced we saw the furry raspberry-fan had moved away from the trail and we dared continue our hike. Impressed as we were we increased the clapping frequency and volume. But, after three more turns, behind a stone we saw another black furry creature. We bounced back, until.... we found out, to our relief, that this was just a marmot....

This hike was probably a bit too much for us jet lagging persons. At least we were tired and hungry like, a bear!

More pictures below!

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Approaching Exit Glacier
Approaching Exit Glacier
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
The black bear next to our trail (…
The black bear next to our trail …
Downstream Resurrection River
Downstream Resurrection River
Approaching Exit Glacier
Approaching Exit Glacier
Approaching Exit Glacier
Approaching Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier four years ago and now
Exit Glacier four years ago and now
At the very tip of Exit Glaciers …
At the very tip of Exit Glacier's…
At the very tip of Exit Glaciers …
At the very tip of Exit Glacier's…
At the very tip of Exit Glaciers …
At the very tip of Exit Glacier's…
At the very tip of Exit Glaciers …
At the very tip of Exit Glacier's…
Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier
Exit Glaciers surrounding mountai…
Exit Glacier's surrounding mounta…
Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier
Exit Glaciers surrounding mountai…
Exit Glacier's surrounding mounta…
Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Some sections of the trail looked …
Some sections of the trail looked…
Almost at the end of the trail
Almost at the end of the trail
Almost at the end of the trail
Almost at the end of the trail
Almost at the end of the trail
Almost at the end of the trail
Almost at the end of the trail
Almost at the end of the trail
Just when one thinks one is there,…
Just when one thinks one is there…
Your reporter in the snow field (P…
Your reporter in the snow field (…
A snow bridge over a ravine
A snow bridge over a ravine
In the snow field
In the snow field
View on Exit Glacier
View on Exit Glacier
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield
Your reporter looking out over Har…
Your reporter looking out over Ha…
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Rockland
Rockland
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Upper part of Exit Glacier
Some clouds come in
Some clouds come in
Blue ice
Blue ice
GPS trac of the descent of the Har…
GPS trac of the descent of the Ha…
GPS height profile for our hike on…
GPS height profile for our hike o…
Kenai Fjords National Park - Exit Glacier - AK
photo by: mdalamers