The Harding Icefield is an expansive icefield located in the Kenai Mountains of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. It is named for United States President Warren G. Harding.
The Harding Icefield is over 300 square miles in its entirety (although, if one were to count its glaciers which descend from the icefield in all directions, the icefield measures in at over 1,100 square miles). The icefield spawns up to 40 glaciers of all types. Some of the more notable glaciers include the Tustumena Glacier, Exit Glacier, and McCarty Glacier.
The icefield is also one of four remaining icefields in the United States and is the largest icefield contained entirely within the United States. The icefield itself receives over 400 inches of snow each year. Pretty impressive huh? This is why we decided to hike to it!
This trail is suppose to be only an 8.2-mile round trip, but the truth is, it's about 10.5 miles when all is said and done! Harding Icefield Trail is a spectacular day hike. Starting on the valley floor, the trail winds through cottonwood and alder forests, passes though heather filled meadows and ultimately climbs well above tree line to a breath-taking view of the Icefield. The top of the trail is a window to past ice ages - a horizon of ice and snow that stretches as far as the eye can see, broken only by an occasional nunatak, or lonely peak.
This trail is very strenuous and hikers gain approximately 1,000 feet of elevation with every mile. A person should allow at least 6-8 hours for this hike. Although the view from the top is well worth the effort, plan on being sore for a couple of days! OUCH!
I'm not ashamed to say that going up the trail was pretty hard! Not far up the trail, my heart rate immediately shot up, messages about altitude and lack of fitness pumped to my brain from my surprised heart. How could I be so out of shape! (Maybe because my radiation treatments zapped about 25% of my lung capacity.) I was so out of breath and my muscles were already starting to hurt! Plodding on I thought, “You can get through this, it’s just initial achy muscles, warm up a bit and see how you go…” But I never did warm up, in fact I got worse. With every step I took the muscles ached more! Mentally, I was a little wrecked. I like to think I’m a pretty tough cookie. But that day I wasn’t even a crumb. Nothing felt right as I tried to put one foot in front of the other. That worked by the way, but I was horribly slow. At the time, the climb didn't seem worth my suffering, or anyone else’s suffering of my suffering but I continued on. Stopping at the emergency shelter to eat a small snack motivated me to get to the end. It also helped knowing that the end was real near. We finally reached the top! It was awesome!
Was it worth the effort to get up there? Heck, yeah! It was amazing! My motto is, "Pain is temporary but quitting lasts forever!" I was not going to give up! I wasn't going to stop because I was sore and tired, I was going to stop when I was done! Remember, challenges are what makes life interesting, overcoming them is what makes life meaningful!
Finally, we stood there and enjoyed the prize. This was a true reward for not giving up! (I would almost do it again). Now it was time to go back down. Going down the trail was a lot easier and quicker than going up! We actually ran some of it! Not because we we're super fit people, but because it was so steep we really didn't have a choice! Here we went, down, down, down, and with every step my body ached, but different muscles this time! I dreamed of removing my quad muscle and smashing it with a meat cleaver, making it nice and long to put back in. That was not such a good visual thought! Anyway, we finally made it back to the truck. My body was aching immediately! John seemed to be okay, until... the next three days! OUCH!!!! At least we were in pain together!