Walk a Mile in My Shoes: Alaskan Glacier Edition

Snowshoeing an Alaskan Glacier - Alaska Hike

(Words and Photos: Callie Stadler)

Alaska provides no shortage of adventure opportunities for myself and my husband, and we try our best to take advantage of the time we have while living here. We make an effort to get out every weekend to explore new places, especially in the winter. Anchorage only gets about 5.5 hours of daylight during the winter months so we try to get outside as much as possible on the weekends to soak up the sun while we have it.

To kick off 2021, we hiked to the Grewingk Glacier, which is located right outside of Homer, Alaska and is only accessible by boat or water taxi. The Grewingk glacier itself is 13 miles long and located in the Kenai Mountains, near Kachemak Bay. We chose to embark on this particular hike because we had some friends visiting Alaska who were interested in exploring in Kachemak Bay. Since Homer is about a 4.5 hour drive from Anchorage it was a great trip to make over a three day weekend. The Grewingk Glacier has a few different trails to choose from that are all different lengths and skill levels. We opted for a trail that leads straight to the edge of the lake that was about 1.5 miles one way. We chose to hike the short 1.5 mile trail out to the lake to ensure we would make it back in time for our water taxi pick up.

To start our day, we had to meet down at the dock at 10:00am to board our water taxi. The boat ride to the trailhead took about 45 minutes and was absolutely beautiful as the sun was just starting to come up over the mountains. We made it across the bay and were dropped off right on the beach and were off hiking by 11:00am.

Before any trip, I like to research as much as I can to try to plan ahead as much as possible to know what we are getting into. I have found it helpful to download the trail maps ahead of time on the AllTrails app on my phone so it will work even if we do not have phone service once we make it to the trailhead. The map will show you where you are on the trail so you can track how far you have gone, and how far you have left to go. Along with downloading maps to plan ahead, I also like to check weather and trail conditions to know what we should pack for.

So before this trip, I had been checking the weather all week to try to get a feel for what the trail conditions would be, and also to get a feel for what gear we should pack. It looked like it had been raining most of the week, and the day of our hike the temperature was pretty chilly and only in the twenties so we were expecting icy trail conditions. The weather in Alaska can also change very fast depending on what elevation you’re at, so we like to pack extra layers, rain gear and always our ice cleats and trekking poles!

The hike started out on a sandy beach and then with some wooden stairs that were a little slick with a thin layer of ice on them, but nothing too crazy. It only took about five minutes of hiking to realize we might want to put our ice cleats on. The trail ended up being covered in ice, and it was a pretty steady incline for about 600 feet of elevation. Luckily, my husband and I had brought our trekking poles because we ended up lending one to each person we were with to help get through all of the ice.

Despite the trail conditions, it was a beautiful winter day. It wasn’t super windy until we made it to the lake and the sun was shining down on us. We hiked up through the woods surrounded by tall spruce trees, and as we got up to the top of the ridge, the trail became a snowy, winter wonderland. We continued on our way and eventually we arrived at the edge of the glacial lake, and what a sight to see. The glacier was on the opposite side of the lake, but we had a clear view of it, and it was as blue as can be. We had planned to stop at the edge of the lake and have lunch and head back to the boat for just a quick short day, but the lake ended up being completely frozen over, so we were able to walk out on the lake and check out some of the nearby icebergs that had broken off the glacier before the lake froze over. We knew we wouldn’t have enough time to make it all the way to the glacier, but we ended up hiking about another mile until we had reached one of the icebergs. We had plenty of time to walk around, eat a quick snack and head back on our way.

When we made it back through the icy mess of the trail, we were surprised to see that the beach was now completely covered by the water. The tide had rolled in so much that we had to get back on our water taxi straight off of the wooden stairs. The sun was just starting to set, which made for a gorgeous boat ride back across the bay.

Alaska has so much to offer and I feel so blessed to be able to live in such a beautiful place and be able to explore and go on new adventures. Alaska has so many trails to explore for all different skill levels. This Glacier hike had such a big reward for being such an easy, short hike. I do want to mention that glacier exploring definitely comes with risks and I would just recommend researching before you go and evaluate the risk versus reward. I really enjoy winter hiking in Alaska because it is so peaceful, and you don’t usually run into a ton of other people. My husband and I have traveled to Homer quite a bit in the summertime and it is usually so crowded with people coming to visit, it can sometimes be hard to even find a place to park. This was our first time visiting Homer in the winter and there were barely any people at all, I almost felt like we had the whole place to ourselves!

No matter where you live, I would encourage you to get out and explore! You really don’t need fancy gear to get started, but as you adventure out more and more, you slowly find things that would help make your experience better or more enjoyable. After each trip we always evaluate and make changes for our next trip, whether that be needing different gear with us or wishing we had done more research ahead of time or whatever it may be and we make changes for our next adventure. All we needed for this trip was warm clothes, but our ice cleats, hand warmers, and trekking poles were a huge bonus as the trail was very slick, and it ended up getting cold once we were on the lake and near the glacier. We usually always end up overpacking just because you never know what to expect in Alaska and we would rather be over prepared than not have something that we need. If you do venture out, I would just recommend checking trail conditions and weather before you go. Have fun and be safe!

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