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Experiencing Alaskas glaciers in Kenai Fjords Nationwide Park – Lonely Planet

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Video Experiencing Alaskas glaciers in Kenai Fjords Nationwide Park – Lonely Planet

Visiting Alaska’s glaciers is among the state’s most iconic experiences. However oohing and aahing from a distant viewing platform or from the deck of a cruise ship aren’t the one methods you may encounter these grand pure wonders. Right here’s find out how to stand up shut and private with the glaciers of Kenai Fjords Nationwide Park.

Coming into Bear Glacier Lake

On the mouth of a small inlet, the pilot of our jetboat appears to be like over his shoulder, analyzing the swells behind us. He’s searching for an oncoming wave that may carry us into the quiet waters forward. The crests are effectively excessive of the small, fire-engine-red vessel, and thru the quiet stress I sense {that a} incorrect choice may ship the boat toppling into the waves. On the proper second, the pilot weapons the engine and we pace into the inlet, a breaking wave carrying us in like a surfboard.

I’m on the southern finish of Alaska, heading into one of many glacier-cut fjords of the Kenai Peninsula to Bear Glacier Lake.

The engine shudders to a cease, and we hop the gunwales and wade to shore. Even by means of the arctic dry swimsuit, the water is a chilly, brisk hand wrapping round my toes. On the shore, my information Ryan Fisher removes a tarp that hides a cache of paddleboards and paddles. He provides a fast rundown of stand-up paddleboard fundamentals: toes parallel and a shoulder width aside, knees barely bent. With the potential for taking an sudden dip in freezing waters, the lesson is heavy with the nervousness to get it proper the primary time. However, lastly atop the board, my toes appear to instinctively know what to do, and after a couple of strokes of the paddle, I’m prepared to move into the bay.

Paddleboarding amongst icebergs

We paddle round an island that simply earlier than blocked our view. Mountains flank the horizons to the east and west, and to the north, within the distance, a large wall of ice varieties the face of Bear Glacier. The lake earlier than us is affected by icebergs, some as small as basketballs, others the dimensions of homes.

As we float by the icy monoliths, the urge to the touch one is powerful, however Ryan warns me to not get too shut. The icebergs can roll or calve at any second, trapping a wayward paddleboarder beneath a mountain of ice. For security, kayakers and paddleboarders ought to keep a distance equal to the size of the berg itself, or twice its top, whichever is bigger.

Paddling additional, the blue world emits its personal universe of sound: a marine calm punctuated by the lapping of water towards huge objects, however there’s one thing else, too. As icebergs soften, they launch air bubbles which were frozen for millennia, exposing prehistoric air to the world. It’s the identical because the pop of ice in a pitcher of whiskey, however this sound is a gradual crackle, light from some icebergs and louder from others, however all are paying homage to the sound of falling rain on a metallic roof.

To paddleboard amongst icebergs is to expertise an Alaska of the creativeness: a wild, remoted place the place nature itself can do huge, stunning issues.

The hike to Exit Glacier

The next day, I set out for Kenai Fjords Nationwide Park, an expanse of fjords and forests masking virtually 600,000 acres. We start the trek early within the day, hoping to beat the summer season crowds which might be positive to clog the trailhead because the morning rolls on.

Established in 1980, the park is a wild land of mountain, water and ice. Over 38 named glaciers dot the valleys of the park, all coming from a single supply, the Harding Icefield, an expanse of ice that extends over 700 sq. miles. As the sting of the icefield spills over a ridge of mountains to the east, it varieties the park’s signature attraction: Exit Glacier, notable for being one of the crucial accessible glaciers in Alaska, lower than 15 miles from the harbor city of Seward.

It’s additionally notable for being one of the crucial seen indications of local weather change. All alongside the highway to the customer heart, indicators present the glacier’s retreat over the past century, every marker indicating the situation of the sting of the glacier through the yr written on the signal. It’s a hanging show, a visible illustration of a warming earth. From the flip of the twentieth century to 1951 – the yr I Love Lucy aired its first episode – the ice retreated virtually 3000ft.

Alongside a small group of different hikers, I observe the decrease portion of the Harding Icefield Path, my pack heavy with gear crucial for the spotlight of our trek: strolling on Exit Glacier. Climbing 1400ft in elevation in simply 1.5 miles, the trek is hard, leaving even a match climber gasping at each the exertion and the views. We wind by means of switchbacks overgrown with dense forest, pausing at every break within the bushes to catch our breath and stare on the glacier within the distance. From the tip of the glacier, a cloudy stream trickles by means of the valley, runoff from the melting ice.

Climbing the glacier

Ultimately, we make it to the foot of the glacier, resting earlier than donning crampons that may safe our toes into the ice. A grey sky caps the pillars of mountains on both aspect of the valley. Our information Henry tells us that the overcast climate is ideal for wanting on the ice: clouds enlarge the blue wavelength of sunshine it displays. In every single place the glacier can be lower by means of with stripes of a gray-black substance known as moraine – filth and rock caught up within the sluggish motion of the ice because it flows out of Harding Icefield.

Grabbing maintain of dual mountain climbing sticks with sharp, pointed ends to anchor into the ice, I work my means up the 45° incline, utilizing the crampon tooth on the ideas of my toes to dig into the ice. It’s essentially the most precarious a part of the hike – the awkward crampons and weight of my mountain climbing pack threaten to tip me backward – however quickly the floor evens out and I discover myself on the sting of a large blue runway heading up over the crest of mountains to the west.

A cool breeze wafts up from the ice. We work our means west to the middle of the glacier, crampons crunching into the ice, stopping to see into deep crevasses and study trickles of meltwater. Up shut, the floor of the glacier is a combination of easy, meltwater-polished glaze and jagged ice that appears as if salt had been tossed on it (gloves are a required piece of kit lest you fall and lower your hand on the tough ice).

From so shut, I can sense the disappearing act on stage earlier than me. It’s a sluggish one, happening over many years and centuries, but it surely’s there, within the trickle of water or the calving chunks that break off from the glacier’s forefront. As we head again towards the trailhead, I take one final take a look at the glacier, understanding it gained’t look the identical ought to I’ve the prospect to return.

Make it occur

Perched on the sting of Kenai Fjords Nationwide Park, Seward is the gateway city to journey. Transportation to Bear Glacier Lake could be booked by means of Seward Water Taxi (sewardwatertaxi.com), however outfitters like Liquid Adventures can present gear, guides and transportation. Unbiased vacationers have entry to the number of trails round Exit Glacier through the nationwide park, however these eager to stroll on the floor of the ice ought to go along with skilled guides. Exit Glacier Guides and Seward Windsong Lodge supply organized hikes onto the glacier.

Alexander traveled to Alaska with help from Journey Alaska (travelalaska.com). Lonely Planet contributors don’t settle for freebies in change for optimistic protection.

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