Alaska > Seward, a Glacier and Back to Anchorage

Today from our base in Seward (blue pin), we are going to see a major glacier up close – Exit Glacier of the Kenai Fjords National Park (red). Note Anchorage to the north (yellow).

It is just a pleasant 30-min drive away … well, to the visitor centre of Exit Glacier. President Obama made his way to this very same place just a week ago.

One great thing about the national parks in the USA are their facilities, especially the welcome or visitor centres, with ample amenities, full of information and manned by friendly, knowledgeable rangers.

And this is one mandatory information in Alaska. Read and understand it, your life might depend on it. Basically try to avoid a bear, never confront it. If in the worst case scenario a bear attacks you, then there are options (none good) — if black bear, fight it right away; if brown (grizzly) bear, play dead first, only fight back if it starts eating you!

And don’t pooh-pooh the moose too! “GET BEHIND SOMETHING SOLID” sounds ominous, right?

Armed with some useful basic bush survival knowledge, we set off for the glacier along a well-trodden path. Then we see a number along the path — turns out to be the year where the glacier was at that spot. So in 1917, the glacier was right here, i.e. the terminus of the glacier.

Soon we see ‘1926’, so the glacier had significantly retreated in just 9 years, and we are nowhere near the glacier right now. That’s global warming, I tell you. And that’s why Obama was here just last week — to see first-hand the impact of global warming.

There’s a beautiful stream next to the path, which obviously is carrying water from the melting ice of  Exit Glacier.

And now ‘1951’, about 12-min walk from ‘1917’ above. That’s quite a distance for the glacier to retreat, in just 34 years.

Finally, just five minutes after ‘1951’, we spot our glacier! But it is still a long way to go.

Still a bit of trekking needs to be done to get to the terminus of Exit Glacier.

With fantastic views all along the way, we are enjoying the walk. We are in Kenai Fjords National Park, established in 1980, for thousands of years shaped by earthquakes, fjords and glaciers.

Soon we arrive at the steps leading up to the edge of the glacier.

At the terminus of any glacier the most prominent feature is the tongue, an obvious name.

You can’t get any closer due to the danger of ice falling from the edge of the glacier.

Crevasses can be seen on the surface of the glacier. Don’t fall into one.

More crevasses and morraine (dark glacial debris mainly rocks) further up the glacier. Walk up that way and you would end up on Harding Icefield, a 720-acre plain of ice up to a mile thick.

 A nice graphic of the major bits of a glacier’s anatomy.

Exit Glacier is so named because, in 1968 when mountaineers first crossed Harding Icefield in the Kenai Mountains which spawned many such glaciers, they exited via this particular one.

Glacier visit done, we retrace our steps back to the outwash plain. This area used to be filled by the glacier we have just seen. In fact in just one year from 2013 to 2014, it had retreated almost 60 metres! Global warming is no joke.

Beyond the terminus of the glacier, the stream fed by its melting ice opens up into the outwash plain.

We go down to the rocky outwash plain and walk along the gushing stream. The water is very cold and virtually pure, the air as fresh as it could get. The rocks are pretty tough to walk on though.

We soon find our way back to the visitor centre, to return to Seward.

We are back in downtown Seward just in time for lunch.

There a few decent restaurants, but the town looks deserted as the tourist season has just ended.

Seward is located at the head of a bay formed by a fjord, so we drive further south towards the sea for another view.

Across the bay we see more spectacular wilderness — over there, no people, no roads, just forest and mountains.

The bay is only 5.5 km across at this point, but on the other side, pure wilderness.

At sundown, we take a walk in Seward for the final time. Tomorrow we are returning to Anchorage. And yes, the Alaska Railroad (ARR) southern terminus is always of interest. 

The ARR line truly ends here. Alas, still no train, but we spot something interesting to right, beyond the yard fence …

Yes. there is a small stream full of dead and dying salmons! I am a bit unsure if this is their spawning ground since it’s so close to the sea. 

This is the closest we ever get of seeing the ARR here — an old car turned into some sort of budget lodge.

The sun is low in the sky as we head for the marina.

The last bits of the sun illuminate the peaks on the other side of the fjord, as we reach the marina.

All is quite now as the tourist season has ended. Just imagine how busy it must have been only a month ago.

Fishes caught in the frigid water of southern Alaska are landed here too. Seward was founded as a fur trade post in the late 18th century.

Now the main income of Seward is commercial fishing and the seasonal tourism activities. Seward also hosts Alaskan cruise ships.

Boats used to explore the famous fjords and glaciers of southern Alaska lie silent, preparing to hibernate for the winter (off-season is normally October to April).

Fjord and glacier tours out of Seward are extremely popular during the season, but for half the year, the boats remain idle.

Final view as we bid adieu to spectacular Seward.

Morning check-out at Seward and we soon retrace our route back to Anchorage via Seward Highway. 

But not before a quick stop at Portage Valley.

The water of the lake is so clear, we are having fun spotting huge salmons swimming around.

Portage Valley is part of the Chugach National Forest, which we are leaving now as the highway skirts Turnagain Arm.

Refueling time, and even the service station looks scenic.

Another look-out to stop at to gawk at nature. This is Bird Point.

Turnagain Arm in full glory, its width probably five to six kilometres here.

Another view towards the other side of Turnagain Arm. One can never get tired of such a view — autumn leaves, calm blue water, snow-capped mountains, blue sky, white fluffy clouds.

There’s a spot where the ARR comes right between the highway and the sea.

Of course no train at this time of the day — everyday there are only two services, one would pass in the morning towards Seward, the other at night towards Anchorage.

So nobody really cares about the reminder.

Quite a lonesome railtrack this, only used twice a day. 

It is 180 km from Anchorage to Seward and the train takes 4.5 hours to do the trip.

Beyond the railtrack there is rocky outcrop extending into the water.

It seems to be very popular with people.

Soon we are back in warmish Anchorage after being away for eight days, on the road for 1600 miles. 

In downtown Anchorage and the first thing to do is lunch.

Tasty falafel and shawarma at this Jewish eatery. Lunch done and we head for the motel. Final night in Anchorage before we fly to Seattle tomorrow.

Departure day as we head for the airport.

Also the time to return our best friend for the last nine days, a Kia Sorento 3.3 V6 petrol, which took us to spectacular spots in Alaska, such as this one along the Seward Highway — 1600 miles she did with us, that’s about 2,600 km, in most comfortable fashion.

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, just 5 miles from downtown, built in 1951.

In the old days, Anchorage was a key refueling point for commercial flights, since the planes then did not have the range to do non-stop Pacific flights and also due to closure of Chinese and Soviet airspaces. Now it is a major cargo hub, the fourth busiest in the world, and that’s why the apron is crowded with cargo planes.

Our Alaska Air flight takes off with the backdrop of the snowcapped mountains of the Chugach State Park.

That’s downtown Anchorage on the left across the bay. Less than 300,000 people live here, and that’s 40% of the total population of Alaska. Although the biggest city in Alaska, it is not the capital, the honour belongs to Juneau, a city of just 30,000 people, tucked in the southeast.

The plane made a sharp right turn and is now passing over the mountains of Chugach State Park. Just three hours after leaving Anchorage, we are in warm Seattle.

Our Alaska journey thus ends here.

~ THE END (09/15) ~


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