Parting Words on the Harding Icefield

…continued from The Shores of Kodiak Island

I was set to fly out tomorrow, finally, after two unforgettable months in the Last Frontier. My life in the great north, like all great things to me, was part of a cycle. Profound, life changing, impossible to fully articulate, the wonder of this country abounds. But it is nonetheless finite and constrained within the limits of time. Whatever I could get out of this had to be now. These were my last fleeting moments of solitude and escape in the great country of Alaska. I would find whatever is left for me on the edge of the Kenai Fjords National Park.

Known for its 38 glaciers and numerous fjords along the south coast, the park encompasses a huge section of the Kenai Peninsula just west of Seward. It is a two hour drive out of Anchorage to the trailhead of the Harding Icefield Trail, a steep four mile climb of 3,000 feet to the edge of the Harding Icefield. From there, hikers can see across a huge 300 square mile field of snow.

I arrived in the late morning. The welcome center is nestled between high, steep mountains with the view of the Exit Glacier ahead, cutting out from the snowfield high above. I started on flat ground, hiking past groups of tourists through the dense alder and cottonwood forests of the valley floor. Soon, the trail went steeply up the ridge. It switched back and forth up the mountainside, occasionally flattening just enough to cross a rushing creek. At times, it was so steep that they had to handcraft staircases out of rocks. Nonetheless, it was well maintained, given all the traffic it gets in the summer.

Eventually, the trees thinned out and I could see the valley floor, 2,000 feet below. I’m leaving all of this behind tomorrow. For two months, I planned, I explored, I rode, and I paddled. To find out – only if even for an instant – who I am in my most memorable moments of solitude, adventure, excitement, reflection.

I hiked on, exhausted, up this seemingly endless four mile climb. Hard as it was, the view of the glacier, the valley behind, and numerous lupine and fireweed patches distracted me just enough. Soon, I walked along a huge scree slope across occasional patches of snow. The massive Exit Glacier descended down the valley to my left. 500ft ahead was an emergency shelter. If the weather were to take an unexpected turn, as it often does out there, hikers can find refuge in there to wait it out.

Finally, I reached the ridge above the snowfield and the end of the trail. There was snow as far as the eye could see.

This quiet, frozen landscape marked the end of the most meaningful trip of my life. I set up my camera and tripod, pointed it at the far mountains, and timed it to hit every 5 seconds. To the sound of the clicking shutter and cool breeze along the ridge, at last, I got out a notepad and began to write.

I’m on the edge of a vast wilderness of ice, snow, wind and stone. As I watch the clouds roll across the ridgelines of the snowfield, I feel like this is going to be it for a while. I spent four years of my life obsessing over Alaska. It got to the point where people started asking me if I was going to move here. I don’t see that happening, but I did need two months to at least try to be satisfied. After hundreds of miles and pictures, I think I finally am.

This all began on my computer four years ago. Mere photographs made me curious about the Alaskan country. I ended up going on three bike trips that summer, and remember feeling profoundly changed by each.

I remember the first time I saw Denali on a clear morning. I came over a hill after a night of hard riding, and saw a huge, immense mountain of granite, snow and ice, carving into the morning sky in resounding glory. It wasn’t just a memory – it was a life changing catharsis. It showed me a love for the wild country that I never knew existed.

Since then, whether by bike, train, or some other way around, I have made it my lifetime goal to find and capture as many experiences as I can. I have been a lot of places in the last four years, but Alaska was always on my mind. I needed to come back. I needed to finish what I started. I finally feel like I have, and it’s time to go home.

Thanks for reading! This story begins in Denali National Park.