Today had originally been set aside for a Kenai River rafting trip but sadly this had fallen victim to the effects of the Swan Lake Fire, the poor air quality making outdoor activity along the Sterling Highway a no go and forcing the outfitters, Alaska Wildlife Adventures, to close this operation down for the season.
So instead we head out to nearby Exit Glacier, one of the most accessible glaciers in the state. As yesterday, the landscape appears through a haze of smoke. We stop to take a look out over the outwash plain where dead trees have been deposited by the waters of the glacier and it looks nothing short of apocalyptic, a desolate post-nuclear landscape in which the sun struggles ever to burn through. It’s sad of course, but makes for great photography!
The park service normally offers guided hikes up to the glacier but these have been put on hold to protect the rangers’ health so we pick up the self-guided trail leaflet and take the ‘moderately strenuous’ hike up to the overlook. It’s a pleasant walk made slightly more exciting by a trail closure due to the presence of a sow with cubs who has been demonstrating ‘defensive behavior’.
Aside from views of the glacier, we also get to see a dad ignore the multiple warning signs and clamber down the steep rocky slope below the overlook in order for his wife to photograph him with the main event in the background. Our enjoyment of watching this potential Darwin award winner dice with death turns somewhat sour when he instructs his son, who can be no more than 9-10, to join him. Clearly reluctant, the boy tentatively makes his way down, slips and begins to fall before regaining his balance. Dad’s reaction is to admonish him for such clumsiness before again posing for photos.
We don’t hang around to see whether they survive the climb back up.
By the time we’re back in Seward the smoke, while still casting a haze over distant mountains, has begun to lighten a little – maybe due to a change in wind direction – and we take a walk around the picturesque small boat harbor, its jetties lined with fishing boats and pleasure craft. We stop at the fish cleaning and filleting station where the overnight catch is being dismembered into shippable size portions.
We get into conversation with a Texan guy who’s brought two halibut for processing (regulations limit catches to no more than two halibut per day) and as he explains, it’s not a cheap pastime. A day trip will cost in the region of $300-400. Processing and freezing is around $1.25/lb, so a good size halibut will cost upwards of $100 (200 lbs is consider trophy size, the world record is 496 lbs). Add in FedEx shipping at $150 per 50 lb box and this is likely be the most expensive fish he’ll ever eat. But I guess that’s not the point. Fishing aside, the main reason he and his wife are in Seward is to visit their son, who’s working the summer … on the fish filleting station. So maybe he gets a discount?
On the advice of the son, we walk the 100 yards to Ray’s Waterfront for lunch, take a seat overlooking the water and enjoy a superb meal of roast garlic with cheese, following by seared ahi tuna. Signs proudly announce that Ray’s is a winner of Alaska’s Best Restaurant Award, an accolade that seems suspiciously vague to me, but there’s no arguing with the quality of the food.
And that’s it really for today. We head back to our apartment at Sauerdough Lodging, have a snooze, watch some TV, and edit/back-up some photos, before heading out for beer at the extremely characterful Yukon Bar and food at the highly rated Cookery and Oyster Bar.
It’s easy to feel guilty when you opt for an afternoon like this, that you’re wasting opportunities to do things that you may never get the chance to do again (despite it being no more than a five minute walk away, we fail to visit Alaska Sealife Center, but it’s amazing how good a bit of unproductive downtime makes you feel when you’ve been full on for a week or two.