Alaska - The last frontier - Final Part: Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords is the smallest national park in Alaska. It represents the quintessential coastal Alaska with rugged & scenic landscape, majestic glaciers, unforgiving stormy seas, rocky headlands, magnificient fjords, diverse wildlife(birds, animals & marine life) and last but not the least, minimal human footprints. It is in the south central part of the state bordering Gulf of Alaska. The access town to Kenai Fjords is Seward, AK which is around 130 miles south of Anchorage.  The drive between Anchorage and Kenai is spectacular and is one of the top scenic drives in Alaska/US. The crown jewel of Kenai fjords NP is the Harding Ice field, which is around 700 Sq miles of glacial ice around a mile thick that was formed during the last ice age. This is the largest icefield in US and it covers more than half of the national park. There are around 33 glaciers flowing off this ice field, six of them are Tide water glaciers that flow into the sea. This park is best viewed from the sea(Kayaking/cruise boats). There is only one road into this park going upto Exit glacier. This park is well known for its marine life and is a popular whale watching spot.

On day 4 of our Alaska trip we drove from Denali to Seward, this is an almost 400 mile drive passing thru Anchorage. We left Denali around 9:30am and reached Anchorage around 2:00pm. We returned our camping gear at REI, grabbed a quick lunch and headed out to Seward around 3:30pm. The road to Seward hugs the shore of a Fjord for around 35-40miles. This section of the drive is very scenic, we made around half a dozen stops along different points during the drive. The weather was brilliant, we had great sunshine and blue skies which accentuated the beauty of this place. Initially when we started this drive it was low tide and the sand bars/ground was visible in most places in the Fjord. Shortly there after the high tide set-in. We were very lucky to witness what is called as "Boar Tide". This is basically a wall of water that comes like an inland wave(similar to what we see in beaches). The tide was around 1-2 ft tall. This is not the best boar tide in the world never the less it is a rare sight. 

One of the key stops we made in this stretch was at Beluga Point. There is a small rocky outcrop stretching out to the sea. I and Anu wanted to have a little adventure and climbed up this rock. It was not very big (roughly 75-100ft) however it was fairly tough and needed some advanced scrambling skills. Both of us ended up with a few scratches and Anu had a sprained ankle on completion of this climb. The view from the top of this rock was worth the climb. As the high tide set in we saw numerous Beluga whales which came along with the tide from this point. Beluga's are white colored whales roughly 10-15ft in length. They are found in the arctic waters only and are a very rare sight. Unfortunately we couldn't film these whales as they surface for 1-2 seconds take a quick breath and go down quickly unlike most other whales that stay at the surface for longer time and spout water while breathing. We made few more stops along the route, hung around for sometime enjoying the scenery and taking pictures and finally reached Seward around 8pm or so that night. We were staying in a Bed and Breakfast - Mobydick hostel for the next 2 nights.

The next day the weather started turning bad, it was very foggy and there was a storm expected later that day/next day. So we debated and finally decided to go ahead with our initial plan of the day long cruise through Resurrection bay and Aialik Bay. The cruise would take around7-8hrs long going upto Aialik glacier which is a large & popular tide water glacier and would drop us back at Seward. The first stretch of the cruise was scenic and we enjoyed the scenery. We saw Harbour seals, Bald eagle, Puffins, mountain goats etc. Ressurection Bay and Aialik bay are parallel to each other and we need to pass thru a short stretch of open sea(30-45 minutes) to reach Aialik bay. After a couple of hours when we reached this stretch of open sea it became very rough and the boat was bobbing up and down almost 10-15ft. Four of us(Me, Anu, Anitha & Anand) were caught in the front of the boat where this turbulence was more accentuated and we were getting sprayed with ice cold water. It was a pretty scary experience as we were caught in this suddenly and we couldn't leave our hand-holds to move back inside the boat. After about 5 mins the captain decided to turn back due to rough seas. Once the boat turned back into the bay the sea started to calm down. On the way back we saw Bear glacier, which is another Tide water glacier and some more scenery before returning to Seward. That afternoon we did some souvenir shopping and we went to Alaska Sealife center and watched some marine life there - Seals, Walruses, Penguins, Belugas etc.

The next day as well the weather was bad, however we were determined not to let the weather hamper our plans. We decided to go ahead and visit Exit Glacier. This is the only part of the park that can be accessed thru the road. This is around 10 miles from Seward. It was raining that day. We got ourselves some rain suits and went ahead with the Harding ice field hike. It is a strenous 8 mile round trip hike along the edge of the Exit glacier. It is a very scenic hike that takes us up roughly 3000ft high providing panoramic views of both Exit glacier and the Harding ice field. You also get great views of the sorrounding mountain ranges and the river flowing off Exit glacier. We saw a lot of wild flowers during this hike. Since it was raining we couldn't take too many pictures during this  hike. 

The trail was very slippery at places due to the rain. As you climb up and go higher you can see the vegetation changing from dense forest to Tundra landscape. Once you go beyond the tree line we were pretty exposed to the elements and it was very cold(probably mid 30's F). We went almost 3/4th of the trail upto the 3 mile mark. Around this point is where the Exit Glacier starts flowing from the Harding ice field. It offers excellent views of both Exit Glacier and  the initial stretch of Harding ice field. After resting here for a few minutes we decided to turn back due to bad weather. Over all we took around 4-5 hrs for the complete hike. Though the weather was bad and it was pretty cold, the hike is really worth the effort. We saw the glacier/ice field up close and we enjoyed the magnificient scenery of this area. We completed the hike around 4:30pm and it was time to head back to Anchorage. Like all good things our trip was coming to an end. The return trip to Anchorage was uneventful as the weather was bad and also bcos were tired/partly wet from the hike. We finally came back to Anchorage at around 8:30pm and grabbed a quick dinner and boarded our flights back home.

Looking back, the last 6 days has been wonderful and some of the best I've had. We had a chance to experience some of the greatest & the most magnificient scenery on earth, we also saw a lot of diverse wildlife which is rare these days. For me it was a dream come true after 5 long years. My resolve to visit Alaska only deepened after this visit. I definitely do hope to come back again to Alaska sometime down the line and enjoy its treasures!! Next time around I want to come here in winter to view Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and if possible try my hand at Mushing :-)

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