P1410352 (Medium)The Harding Ice Field hike was high on my list. It’s a challenging, visually stunning, day hike in a popular tourist area. This is my favorite type of solo adventure. I love a challenging hike, but when I’m by myself and doing something difficult I feel more secure knowing other people are hiking the trail and can call 911 if I happen to break myself.

I started up the 8 mile round trip trail full of confidence due to all the people around. I wasn’t too worried about bears. Surely with all these hikers around the bears will give this area a wide berth. Not so…

I said hello to plenty of people on the trail as they passed me and I passed them. There were so many people around that I felt a little silly about my standard practice of calling out “Hello?” in a loud voice every few minutes so I don’t surprise an animal.

I fell into a confident rythym of quiet hiking and then it happened. I rounded a corner and right there in the middle of the trail was a medium sized black bear. He was only 30 feet away and suddenly my very worst fear about solo hiking in Alaska was staring me in the face. I had surprised a bear and now he was incredibly close and looking right at me. He could charge, attack, do nothing, and I had no idea what was going through his little bear brain. I was frozen with fear for several seconds.

I can still picture the bear’s cute little face in my mind’s eye with his humble and lazy expression. His fur was a very dark brown and he had light tan markings around his face. His body language told me he didn’t have an ounce of threat in him but my heart was still beating incredibly fast. I backed up around the corner, grasping my large canister of pepper spray, panting with fear. I waited a few moments and some hikers came up behind me. I told them what I had seen and their eyes got wide and they also grabbed their canisters of spray. I was so happy to have them there.

P1410224 (Medium)We called out “hello mister bear” and other silly phrases until we heard him crashing through the brush below. The trail was safe now. We proceeded. Now I was a mini-celebrity on the trail. Everyone wanted to know what the bear looked like, how he acted when he noticed me. How big was he? Black or Grizzly? Did he look aggressive? How close did you get to him? I have to admit, I was eating up the attention having been immersed in pretty much total solitude for several days beforehand. I started to hike with a group of brothers from Minnesota after they quizzed me about the bear. They were a great group with great energy and I immediately felt like part of the family. I wish they were facebookers so I could have kept in touch with them. At least I got a great photo of us at one of the lower viewpoints of Exit Glacier.

I greatly enjoyed their company. When we got to the steeper ascent above treeline I looked behind me to see them far behind, sitting down for a break. I kept going, solo again.

P1410291 (Medium)I wasn’t alone for long. I met an awesome couple from New York and we enjoyed the rest of the hike together. They were so cute. Her name was Lisa too, but her partner used her nickname, “monster”, so there was never any confusion. She used a big, nice camera to capture the visually stunning glacier and I had fun posing for some photos. She’s an artist and he’s an engineer for Google so we had a lot to talk about. We reached the very high point of the trail and gazed across the Harding Ice Field. This has to be one of the most amazing sites in Alaska that can be reached by foot in a day. The Harding Ice Field feeds several glaciers which continue to carve out the deep fiords of Kenai Fiords National Park. It all starts here at this enormous Ice Field, shimmering under beautiful blue skies with the occasional shadow of a cloud racing across its surface.

P1410276 (Medium)We admire harding Ice Field from the top of the trail, then started seeing a steep foot path down to the side of Exit glacier. I’m happy I can push the envelope on this steep, sketchy descent with the comfort and company of my new adventurous friends. We make our way down to a spot in front of the blue, grey and white striped ice and enjoy a lunch break there. It’s COLD right next to the glacier and we all find ourselves putting on the extra layers in our packs even though we were sweating on the ascent. We all agree this is the best hike yet in Alaska. Monster snaps at least 50 photos during the lunch break. We descend the trail with lively conversation, plenty of photo breaks and no bear sightings.

When we get to the parking lot, I give them the tour of my van and lifestyle. We hug, part ways, and I feel filled with the love of all the people I hiked with that day. I also treasure the bear sighting. It’s something I both dreaded and hoped for during my time in Alaska, and it felt just as exciting as I thought it would, especially from such a close range.

I go into the town of Seward and explore camping options as it always not safe to have a 22lr ammo around the places where guns are forbidden. People are crowded into a waterside area in RVs and the view is gorgeous across the ocean to dramatic peaks, but there is no connection to nature here and all the obvious camp areas look full to capacity. I spend a couple hours in my van next to the water making dinner, checking email and facebooking pictures and then decide to use the campground shower.

I have two failed attempts at using the shower and after an eight mile hike with sweat, sunscreen and deet this is an incredibly disheartening event. First, I strip down and insert my quarters only to find out a couple of them are Canadian and the machine doesn’t accept them. No worries, I drive a few blocks to the gas station through heavy traffic to get more quarters. I return, strip again and insert the American quarters. The machine eats my quarters and the shower handle turns in all directions and doesn’t respond. The shower is broken. I wash my face in the bathroom sink and accept my fate as a dirtbag for the evening.

I am spent after the eight mile hike, the bear sighting, the manic energy of the busy town of Seward and the failed shower. I drive my van for a short distance and pull into a vacant lot which happens to have just enough greenery to shield me from the road. I feel grateful for this free spot so close to Seward and fall fast asleep in my van.

Lisa Hackett

About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, drive from Idaho to Alaska solo, live and work in a van in the wilderness and dodge encounters with wolves and bears. Seriously. More

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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